Building With the Future in Mind Since 1955

Rick Dubrow’s “On The Level” Column in the Cascadia Weekly; Submitted 4-4-09

Asked to throw something away, little Johnny replies to his mother with “…but Mommy, there is no away.  The waste doesn’t disappear. It remains in our closed system and all our natural systems are in terrible shape.  Did you know that………..”

She heard him out, yet tired of hearing his tidbits of environmental doom and gloom, his mother returns with “Hey Johnny, thanks for sharing that.  Say, while I finish up with my outside chores, why don’t you go inside and do your homework?”

Now this kid Johnny has got it down.  He says to mom “There is no inside, Mom.”

 “What do you mean, Johnny? There’s no inside? What’s that about?”

So Johnny shares this thought — that their house seems to be a box that temporarily traps some of the outside …. inside …. like a bubble or a balloon.

This intrigued his mother, leading mother and son to google ‘indoor air’ together.  Johnny was on to something. A building is like a shell…. an envelope or box…. that simply surrounds and encapsulates a portion of outside.  Our exterior walls, floor and roof are like membranes that isolate inside from out, but really, it’s a bit more like Swiss cheese.  We’ve got windows and exterior doors that allow inside and outside air to mix.  And beyond the obvious intentional holes in the walls, small cracks and openings all over the house allow more mixing.

A healthy home, they learned, allows about a third of the building’s inside air to recycle itself with the outside air every hour.  In other words, it takes about three hours for a healthy home to replace all of what is inside with what is outside.

If your home is too tight the air stagnates and pollution levels can reach levels a hundred times that of the air outside.  If, on the other hand, it’s too loose, then you’re expending massive amounts of energy to maintain comfortable temperatures.  Interesting paradox….. a loose home can have great indoor air quality and cost you and the planet far too much energy.

In the end mom ended up hiring a weatherization expert to perform a blower door test on their home.  Why?  Because such a test is the singular diagnostic test to determine just how loose or tight their home’s envelope really is.  This led to some relatively inexpensive repairs to tighten it up, reaching healthy standards for their respiratory systems and a level of energy usage supporting their desire to be responsible stewards of this great outside we all share.

The day ended with mom really getting it. As little Johnny was falling off to sleep, she said to him………….”Johnny, our bodies are much like our house.  I inhale air into my body and before I exhale my body dumps some wastes into it and also harvests some nutrients out of it.  In fact, part of your exhalation becomes my inhalation.  There really is no inside.  We’re all simply sharing nutrients and wastes, material and energy.  Inside and outside are one and the same.”

There is no inside.

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