Sealing the deal on a better NYC starts with improving indoor air quality

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By Michael Berry
New Buildings Manager for NYC Accelerator

To make New York City cleaner, healthier, and more resilient, the city aims to reduce emissions from buildings and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. While the move is sure to improve outdoor air quality around the city, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that concentrations of pollutants can be two to five times higher in indoor air. People in the United States spend about 90% of their lives inside, so considering ways to improve indoor air quality is essential for quality of life in the future.

One way to enhance air quality inside is to ensure buildings are properly sealed. Air can enter homes and businesses through windows and doors. But it also can leak through the stack effect, where warm air rises from the basement or first floor and ultimately escapes through the roof. When air infiltrates through a basement, crawl space, sill, or attic, it can spread contaminants throughout the living space. Measuring the volume of air moving through a building using infiltration testing can help determine how well a building is sealed.

Compartmentalization, or air sealing each unit in an apartment or commercial building, is a technique that can provide many benefits to health, comfort, and energy use, such as:

  • Keeping pests out and restricting their movement
  • Reducing the risks of mold and water damage
  • Preventing contaminated air from entering living or working spaces
  • Reducing drafts and hot or cold spots
  • Cutting down on noise, smoke, and odor transmission between indoor spaces
  • Lowering heating and cooling costs
  • Saving on building maintenance time and costs

If you are planning a new building or major renovation in New York City, consideration of indoor air quality should be an integral part of the project. To avoid potential leaks that negatively impact indoor air quality, it is important to create a continuous air barrier during construction. Incorporating good design can prevent elements like soffits, top plates, sills, and floor joists from creating big holes in the air barrier.

Sealing even minor cracks in the foundation, exterior walls, and around window and door frames can prevent larger air leaks. Finding and sealing holes cut for plumbing, lighting, exhaust, and wiring can prevent leaks in building exteriors. Avoiding air leaks during the design phase can improve ventilation and balance humidity, which increases long-term health and comfort throughout a building.

To improve air sealing in your new construction or major renovation projects, take advantage of free support from NYC Accelerator – a city program that provides technical assistance, resources, and training to building professionals. The program has assisted nearly 10,000 buildings since 2015 and can help you identify upgrades to improve your building, reduce energy use, and enhance health and safety for occupants.

Get in touch with an energy expert today at accelerator.nyc/newbuildings.

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