The Air We Breathe

People live, work and play in buildings the majority of their lives. Whether in a home, the workplace, a school, or in other buildings, people are spending less and less time outside. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American spends nearly 90% of his or her time indoors in a building; and that exposure to indoor air pollutants may be two to five times higher than the levels usually found in outdoor air. The kinds of indoor air pollutants typically found in buildings include various chemicals, smoke, molds, radon, allergens, pesticides, dust particles and other air contaminants. 

In addition, buildings are being designed and retrofitted to be more energy efficient. When better insulated to keep out unconditioned, outdoor air, buildings then must recirculate more of the air that has already been heated or cooled, further reducing the introduction of fresh air. While doing something good for the environment by reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, we are keeping more of the potentially less healthy air in the living space. Fortunately, there are things we can do to address some of the more common indoor air pollutants. 

Options for Healthier Indoor Air

There are three typical methods for minimizing these pollutants: improved ventilation, cleaning the air and one of the most prevalent: source control. Active systems such as exhausts may be used to vent radon, smoke or moist air from a building space. Air cleaners or filters may be used to mitigate some allergens and dust particles from the room. Finally, many indoor air pollutants can be controlled in the living space by minimizing or eliminating the source. For example, one common contaminant is mold. Although it is impossible to eliminate all mold spores from the living space, it is possible to prevent the introduction of moisture into the environment thereby preventing mold growth. Other mold control techniques may be found on the Responsible Solution to Mold Coalition’s website

Source Control for Chemicals

Eliminating the source of chemicals in the living space is the primary control mechanism that architects, designers and owners have to reduce the risk of hazardous chemical exposure in indoor air. The primary sources of indoor airborne chemicals include office and household products, furnishings and building materials. By proper selection of these items, the potential for exposure can be minimized.

The principles of green chemistry are used to reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals in building products. By choosing the healthiest chemicals and using the right formulations, manufacturers can help ensure the products delivered to customers are safe and healthy for building inhabitants, such as products that emit fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. 

VOC emissions certification contributes toward higher levels of achievement in green ratings systems such as the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC®) LEED system, Green Globes®, Living Building Challenge™ and WELL Building Standard®, among others. 

Customers look for low-emitting products, and at USG we’ve taken that commitment a step further by obtaining GREENGUARD certification for more than 200 of our wallboard, ceilings, joint treatment and plaster products. The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, part of Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL), is the industry’s leading provider of VOC emissions certifications. Certification comes in two categories, GREENGUARD-certified and GREENGUARD Gold-certified. All USG products certified to date have earned the much stricter GREENGUARD Gold certification, which is very well respected by architects, builders and contractors. Each product certified represents USG’s commitment to improving indoor air quality and making a positive impact in the places where we live, work and play. For additional tips to improve indoor air quality, visit the GREENGUARD website.