Good air quality indoor smart home domotic touchscreen system. air. Woman touching touchscreen checking air purifier filter at green level with thumbs up graphics.
Adobe Stock By Maridav

At the recent Builder PropTech virtual event, C.R. Herro, vice president of innovation at Meritage Homes, and Alex Akel, president of Akel Homes, outlined both the importance of healthy air to customers and the necessity of a strong indoor air quality system—not just as an upgrade, but as a standard feature of a living space.

Air quality has always been a strong point of concern for customers, Akel said, even before COVID-19. In a 2018 study, the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies found that 30% of American home buyers had expressed concern about their homes endangering their health. Out of all participants, 75% were concerned about indoor air quality, with millennials between 25 and 34 years old the most likely to be concerned.

Akel surmised that if the study were redone today, following COVID-19, the percentage would only be higher. Not only do buyers want to keep the virus out of their indoor spaces, but the experience of the pandemic—increased time spent at home, in particular—has created a greater understanding of the relationship between indoor air quality and health.

“Customers are having different conversations about it, and it’s definitely more at the forefront,” Akel said. “And customers are overwhelmingly concerned about their new homes, especially buyers who are looking at resale or older inventory compared with new construction. And for new-home builders, this is where we can really set ourselves apart.”

New-home builders have more access to low- or no-VOC building products now than in the past. Some have become so prevalent that builders may be using them and not even knowing it. This offers an advantage in itself over resale inventory or older homes. Furniture, paints, glues, finishes, construction moisture, and carpets can all be sources of VOCs—especially older carpets, Herro said, as they were often treated with formaldehyde, a major carcinogen.

“So much of this strategy comes down to making an opportunity for consumers to be aware of the fact that … it isn’t necessary to accept that minimum standard anymore,” Herro said. “And what we’ve found out since the mid-1970s is that not everything chemists can make is good to breathe.”

Even if VOCs cannot be eliminated from all building products, Herro said a hallmark of building for a healthy indoor air environment is to limit VOC sources wherever possible. This not only includes avoiding building products that produce particulate, but also ensuring the proper ventilation to reduce moisture, remove particulates, and bring in fresh air as well as conveying the importance of that ventilation to customers.

Akel said he touches on four goals of indoor air quality systems—minimizing indoor emissions, outdoor emissions, and moisture, as well as efficient circulation—when he has initial conversations with home buyers. Beyond minimizing or eliminating sources of VOCs within the home, creating and maintaining healthy indoor air means filtering or eliminating outside particles that may serve as allergens. The most straightforward solution is a whole home air purification and filtration system, which can remove up to 90% of particles at 2.5 microns or smaller.

HVAC systems and layouts should be optimized to the layout of the homesite in order to ensure efficient operation, and the home itself should be built to prevent moisture intrusion or buildup—especially as homes have been built to greater efficiency standards and with tighter envelopes. “The point is not to depend on your owners to have a Ph.D in indoor air quality,” Herro said. “It’s to create systems that allow the home to proactively manage indoor air quality for the occupants.”

While this has always been important, Akel emphasized that COVID-19 has changed the narrative on the importance of healthy air in the home for customers. “People now have a greater understanding of the relationship between quality of construction, the type of materials used, indoor air quality … our homes are really a safe place, a healthy place, where we can spend a lot of time,” he said. ”They shouldn’t be making us sick, or even killing us. It’s not just about differentiation. It’s the right thing to do, plain and simple.”