Skip to content

Air quality an enrgey-saver

Energy Matters

Did you know that air losses through cracks, holes and chimneys in our buildings can account for up to 40 per cent of the heat lost?

Indeed the vast majority of the regular fireplaces in our community likely have their dampers open at this very moment, even without a fire in them. Sadly many “air tight” fireplace inserts and gas units also leak.

Yet as we continue to work toward sealing up these unnecessary heat losses in new and existing buildings, we may very well be creating a new issue: indoor air quality.

When we hear the word “air pollution” most of us think about industrial sources such as Harmac.

The largest source of outdoor air pollution, though, is almost always from motor vehicles.

In the winter woodsmoke adds a lot of particulate matter to the mix.

What is rarely understood is the fact that indoor air quality is usually worse than it is outdoors.

In fact, Health Canada has found that indoor air quality is frequently six to ten times worse indoors. This is likely only becoming poorer as we continue to seal up those drafts.

Indoor air pollutants originate from both natural and human-made sources. The most frequent natural source in our homes is dust mite feces, generated by millions of these microscopic bugs that happily live in our furniture, carpets, and especially beds. This is one major reason why it is illegal to sell a second-hand bed.

Trying to vacuum this toxin does little good unless done outside, or with a vacuum cleaner that sends the tiny white particles outside, or traps them in a high quality filter. Mould is another culprit, as is smoke from that fireplace.

Human-made pollutants in our homes include cigarette (and other) smoke, chemicals such as formaldehyde (found in laminates, press-wood, underpads, and many others), fire retardants used in cloth-covered furniture (couches, beds, etc.), most cleansers, many paints, air fresheners, drier sheets, CDs and DVDs, plastics, and many, many more.

Symptoms of polluted air include breathing problems, watering eyes, dry coughs, headaches, runny noses, lack of sleep, asthma, allergies, frequent colds and more.

The incidence of childhood asthma has shot up four-fold in the last two to three decades, in part because children spend more time indoors.

It is becoming more evident that indoor air quality is linked to a number of diseases.

Given the fact that we spend nearly 90 per cent of our time indoors, and that we depend on air far more than we do on food or even water, it is surprising we have done so little to study or understand the issues of clean indoor air.

According to Natural Resources Canada the best solutions are (in order): eliminate the sources, then to filter the air, and then lastly to remove the air.

If it’s not practical to install a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV), which ensure fresh air with minimal heat loss, then do consider buying a high-quality air filtration system (built in or free-standing).

So here’s to energy efficiency that contributes to financial and planetary well-being, and to human health.


Ian Gartshore is the president of the non-profit Energy Solutions for Vancouver Island (

Pop-up banner image