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Indoor Air Quality Testing

Indoor Air Quality Testing - Hot Issue, Hot Topic

"Each year as winter approaches, people begin to close up and tighten their homes, all in an effort to reduce energy. Yet at the same time people also become concerned with their (IAQ) indoor air quality," said Brian Baker, President of Custom Vac Limited.

What many people do not realize is that IAQ problems can and do exist at anytime spring; summer; fall; and winter. Why then do the vast majority of consumers only relate poor IAQ with wintertime? "This is because of our cold climate area and the fact that homeowners are able to detect the visible signs (moisture on cold window surfaces), which in turn often cause and lead to structural damage. During the other three months, the air is typically warmer and it's ability to hold more moisture increases, so the visible signs of moisture is hidden but almost all other pollutants are invisible and not detectable with the naked eye, yet the vast majority of people relate only moisture problems with poor indoor air", said Baker.

Air Sampling & Quality Testing

What about these air sampling devices that I've heard about, do you use them for testing IAQ in homes? "Many people assume that in this high-tech world there must be an "air quality instrument," some sort of air sampling device that will collect air samples, list them all and print out a list of recommendations and/or products to make the air better. After all with the vast array of products on the market promising better IAQ this would seem quite logical to assume.

However, while such equipment does exist to some extent in research laboratories, its application in the field would be impractical", said Baker. The main reason Baker stated that they do not air sampling devices was to date there are no established levels of many of the chemicals, molds, etc. found. In addition, molds are naturally found in the environment everywhere so testing does not add information to write a prescription to improve the indoor air. Does this mean that you suggest air sampling never be done? "No, in the case of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, temperature and humidity we do test because there are established limits and guidelines", said Baker.

"There are no magic instruments, hard written remedial measures, or one-size fits all solution to resolve an IAQ issue(s), homeowners need to locate and work with people who have taken the "Residential IAQ Investigator Course" training offered by (CMHC) Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation," said Baker.

The reason for this is that in practice, testing and measuring of indoor air involves many different tools and interpretive knowledge. Even having some knowledge of specific pollutants the task becomes even more difficult because for many pollutants there are no acceptable or unacceptable levels that have been set. This because a pollutant that affects one person at a certain level may not even register as a complaint with another person within the same indoor environment.

The IAQ Investigative Protocols

There is also the effect of combined pollutants, these may create a problem yet be extremely difficult to determine as a cause for complaints. In addition, as mentioned earlier the individual reaction responses to certain chemicals, odors, etc can all be different making it difficult to establish guidelines or recommendations.

This is where the IAQ investigation protocols established by CMHC can be put to good use. The protocols can be very useful in determining potential pollutant sources and establishing recommendations for improvements. All IAQ investigations should begin with a simple but thorough audit of all potential pollutants including those from the building envelope; the mechanical systems; the occupants and their activities; and adjacent spaces. Gord Cooke, P. Eng. a CMHC trainer said recently, "In my experience trained investigators can resolve over 80 per cent of IAQ issues without needing any specific test equipment."

The objectives of a residential indoor air quality (IAQ) investigation using the CMHC IAQ Investigative Protocol are to determine if there is an outdoor air quality problem; to identify the causes; and to recommend solutions. The ultimate goal is to advise the client on the actions that should be taken to improve the air quality of the dwelling. The inspection is an indoor air quality investigation, not a health inspection. The elements of the residential IAQ investigation are the pre-site interview, the site investigation, and the analysis of the observations and preparation of the written report to the client. (Source: CMHC course materials)

The RIAQ Investigative Course

The best part of having taken the "Residential Indoor Air Quality Investigator Course" training from CMHC has been the interest by everyone involved to help support the us (the field practicing investigators). "Knowing that we have the support, access to the latest information and research to assist us in making certain that the recommendations that we make are being made in the clients best interest, makes work in this area very satisfying," said Baker.

Brian, having taken the "Residential Indoor Air Quality Investigator Course" May 15, 2003 wants to make it very clear that while he is in the HVAC business the code of practice and agreement he entered into with CMHC at the beginning of the course, does not allow him to compete with his competitors where he has been the IAQ investigator. This assures the integrity of the investigator and the investigative process. It also allows him to work in cooperation with other contractors to help resolve their customers IAQ issues.

For more on IAQ visit

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