An important design consideration that can sometimes be undervalued is maximizing indoor air quality. Between work, school and home life, humans spend about 90% of their day indoors, where air quality can be two to five (or more) times more polluted than the outside. These pollutants come from combustion of fuels used for heating and cooling, building materials (i.e. carpets, pressurized wood products, etc.), outdoor air pollution, cleaning supplies, chemical products and other various sources. Poor indoor air quality has been linked to an increase in cases of asthma, allergies, heart problems and lung cancer. The problem has become so widespread that people are starting to take notice.
Engineers are responsible for designing the building’s mechanical systems to filter and move air in and out of our living spaces. Most building owners are becoming increasingly more aware of the pollutants humans can be exposed to and are investing in mechanical and natural ventilation systems that maximize indoor air quality well above the industry baseline standards. Rating systems such as LEED have created design criteria with higher indoor air quality design standards for engineers and building owners to use (for a detailed description of these strategies, click here).
Even if a building’s systems are designed to the highest possible standards, there is always room for improvement. Growing plants inside is great for our atmosphere because all plants absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. However, certain plants can also filter harmful pollutants from the air and are a low cost solution to be used in almost any building at any time.
The idea of using plants as a filtration system was first used by NASA as a way to clean the air in their space facilities and is now a common practice here on earth as well. Here are a few examples of plants that go above and beyond the limits of an engineered ventilation system:
1: Snake Plant- Known for filtering out formaldehyde, which is most commonly found in cleaning products, personal care products, toilet and tissue paper. Experts recommend you put it in your bathroom, as it can survive in humid conditions with little exposure to sunlight.
2: Bamboo Palm- Best plant for filtering out both benzene and trichloroethylene, which can cause a number of health problems including certain cancers, pregnancy complications and neurological disorders.
3: Heart Leaf Philodendron- Excellent at removing VOCs, however this plant may not be a good option for households or schools with children or pets, as it is toxic to humans when eaten.
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