Nick Hurst – US EPA, Indoor Environments Division – The EPA Indoor airPLUS Program

Air Date: 6-29-2018|Episode 509

This week on IAQradio+ we welcome Nick Hurst. Nick is an Environmental Protection Specialist with the US EPA and the Program Manager of EPA’s Indoor airPLUS label for new homes. He has been involved in the construction industry for over 17 years as a self-employed remodeling contractor, project manager, green building consultant, and trainer.

Nick earned a Master’s in Technology concentrating in Building Science from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, and he later served as Education and Outreach Director for the North Carolina Energy Efficiency Alliance at ASU’s Energy Center. Before coming to EPA, Nick also worked as a consultant at ICF in their Federal Energy Efficiency portfolio.
Nick is also a BPI Building Analyst and participates with a number of standard setting organizations and technical committees in the building industry.
Z-Man’s Blog:

EPA’s Indoor airPLUS Program

Nick Hurst is an Environmental Protection Specialist with the US EPA and the Program Manager of EPA’s IndoorairPLUS label for new homes. Prior to joining the EPA he worked in the construction industry for 17 years as a self-employed remodeling contractor, project manager, green building consultant and trainer. He holds a Master’s in Technology with a concentration in Building Science from Appalachian State University.


What is Indoor airPLUS? 

Indoor airPLUS is a voluntary partnership and labeling program that helps new home builders improve the quality of indoor air by requiring construction practices and product specifications that minimize exposure to airborne pollutants and contaminants. Compliance with program specification is verified by independent 3rd parties.

Why was Indoor airPLUS created? 

EPA created Indoor airPLUS to help builders meet the growing consumer preference for homes with improved indoor air quality. Indoor airPLUS builds on the foundation of EPA’s ENERGY STAR requirements for new homes and provides additional construction specifications to offer comprehensive indoor air quality protections in new homes.

Construction specifications include the careful selection and installation of:

  • moisture control systems
  • heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems
  • combustion-venting systems
  • radon resistant construction
  • pest prevention
  • low-emitting building materials
  • buyer education & commissioning

How Does a New Home Become Indoor airPLUS Qualified?

A builder must first design a home to earn the ENERGY STAR Certified Home label — the government-backed symbol for energy efficiency. The result is a home that is significantly more energy efficient than a home built to minimum code, helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To earn the Indoor airPLUS label, the builder then adds additional home design and construction features to help protect qualified homes from moisture and mold, pests, combustion gases and other airborne pollutants. Before the home officially earns the Indoor airPLUS label, it is inspected by an independent third-party to ensure compliance with EPA’s rigorous guidelines and specifications.

What are the benefits to building an Indoor airPLUS home?

By constructing homes that meet EPA’s Indoor airPLUS specifications, builders can distinguish themselves by being among the first recognized by EPA to offer homes designed to truly deliver better indoor air quality. Participating builders can expect higher levels of quality assurance, improved reputation, reduced callback and warranty costs and less business risk. Partners are also eligible to use Indoor airPLUS marketing materials and tools to help promote their qualified homes as well as access technical and marketing assistance.

Concerned home buyers?

Homebuyers today are increasingly concerned about the indoor air quality of their homes. Issues like mold, radon, carbon monoxide and toxic chemicals have received greater attention than ever as poor indoor air quality has been linked to a host of health problems. With ENERGY STAR and Indoor airPLUS, builders can employ a variety of construction practices and technologies in their new homes to help address these concerns.

Homes displaying the ENERGY STAR Certified Home and Indoor airPLUS labels provide unparalleled energy efficiency, comfort, durability, indoor air quality, and peace of mind.

Benefits of Indoor airPLUS Homes?

Healthier Homes by Design-Indoor airPLUS qualified homes have numerous advantages:

Improve Indoor Air Quality

Indoor airPLUS is a companion label to ENERGY STAR. Together, these programs provide comprehensive health protections. Homes built to earn the Indoor airPLUS label include features to reduce contaminants that can lead to poor indoor air quality, including mold, moisture, radon, carbon monoxide, toxic chemicals and more.

Minimize Pollutants

Moisture and pest control, among other things, can help protect your family by eliminating common allergens from entering the home, such as mold and pest residue. Your builder will provide a first line of defense against pests like cockroaches and rodents by fully sealing, caulking, or screening where pests enter your home.

Improve Comfort

Your ENERGY STAR and Indoor airPLUS home can provide a more comfortable living environment because it includes properly engineered HVAC system sizing, improved duct and equipment installation, improved filtration and whole-house and spot ventilation to dilute and remove indoor pollutants.

Protect Against Combustion Pollutants

The home provides protection from potential exposure to combustion pollutants by the installation of heating equipment that cannot spill combustion gases inside the home and preventing pollutants in the garage from entering your house. Also, carbon monoxide alarms are in all sleeping areas.

Home Maintenance Manual

After purchasing a home with EPA Indoor airPLUS qualification, you’ll receive a manual explaining your home’s indoor air quality features and how to operate your home to continue minimizing the risk of indoor air quality problems. In addition, your home will have a label as proof that it was built to the high indoor air quality specifications if you resell the home.

Energy Efficiency

All Indoor airPLUS homes must first earn ENERGY STAR certification. ENERGY STAR certified new homes are designed and built to standards well above most other homes on the market today, delivering energy efficiency savings of up to 30 percent when compared to typical new homes. A new home that has earned the ENERGY STAR label has undergone a process of inspections, testing and verification to meet strict requirements set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), delivering better quality, better comfort and better durability.

Nuggets mined from today’s episode:

Nick Hurst’s Comments:

Program originated in 2008 when the first Indoor airPLUS Construction Specifications were released. Due to the growing interest in health, the program has seen a steady increase in participation and labeled homes over the last few years. As building science and construction technologies continue to evolve, EPA engages with industry, academia, and allied stakeholders to refine the Construction Specifications. The intent is to offer best practices for comprehensive IAQ improvements in homes, while considering cost-effective approaches that can be readily implemented by builders and trade contractors. The most recent specification was revised and updated in 2018 with new advisories and refinements including: dehumidification of crawlspaces, pipe insulation in walls, hard surface flooring guidance, and recommendations for best practices in radon-resistant construction outlined in ANSI standards developed by the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists (AARST) Consortium.

When encountering challenges and barriers, the program tries to find alternative solutions.

Some builders use low cost monitors to measure success.

Builders shouldn’t make extravagant guarantees about the program such as “you’ll live longer”, etc.

Home owners must maintain their airPLUS home.

Moisture control. Slope away from the foundation. Install drain tile at footings of basement and crawlspace walls, add drain or sump, capillary break (6 mil vapor retarder), 4” layer of clean aggregate, climate and radon zone specific. Seal slab edge at walls. Seal slab penetrations. Damp proof exterior foundation. Seal insulated basement perimeter, condition crawl spaces or alternatively install active dehumidifier with drain.

Radon control- Depressurize the sub slab. Passive or active radon system. Active system incorporates a fan. Leaning towards “radon rough-in”. Soil gas collection system. Pipe, T fitting, electrical receptacle in attic. Use of polyurethane caulking for sealing floor and wall joints, improves fan pull under slab. Gut rehab can earn the label, must install an active radon system and pass test on final inspection. (4pCi/L picocuries per liter) the recommended action level for radon.

Pest exclusion of chimneys and mechanical systems using “corrosion proof” rodent and bird screens.

HVAC- promotes the use of dehumidifiers in humid climate zones where the combination of latent load + ventilation load results in excessive moisture. Design HVAC system using ACCA Manual D  ASHRAE handbooks or equivalent software. Mastic preferred for sealing ductwork and duct fittings. Don’t use building cavities as HVAC supply or returns. Prevent debris and dust from entering ductwork during construction, vacuum ductwork after construction, change filter before commissioning.

Whole house ventilation should meet ASHRAE 62.2. Options include using a combination of exhaust ventilation and timer control; fresh air damper with a ducted fresh air supply (which can also be filtered); or a balanced and filtered ventilation system is even better.

Filtration. Filters are important because although outdoor air is generally cleaner than indoor air, indoor particulates still need to be removed. MERV 13 or higher is recommended on both fresh air intakes and central HVAC systems. ASHRAE 52.2.2012.23 filtration standard. MERV 8 or higher is required for central HVAC equipment. No ozone producing air cleaners. Run filters in system during construction. Change filter during final inspection.

Combustion equipment. Mechanically draft or direct vent gas or oil fired combustion devices. Fireplaces should be mechanically drafted. Rater will check to ensure that pellet stoves and similar devices must meet emission standards.

Garages- CO from auto exhaust poses a serious health risk to building occupants. Garages should be isolated from conditioned space. No HVAC or ducts should be in garage. Garage door into home should be tested for air seal with zoned pressure test or install exhaust fan.

Low emission materials. Require 3rd party certified labels. CRI Green label or Green label+ carpet. Low emission composite wood, Interior paints and Adhesives/sealants. Hard surface flooring (currently recommendation). Two types of standards are common for addressing VOCs in products: either based on the amount VOC % within the product, or the VOCs emitted through chamber testing. Standards that meet VOC emission testing are generally preferred.

How to find Indoor airPLUS Compliant Low-Emission Products

Low Formaldehyde Products- compressed wood used in cabinets, shelving, doors, stair treads, plywood, OSB, laminated beams, etc. CARB PHASE II or EPA TSCA Title 6.

Commissioning is a funny term. People don’t understand it. Wider use in commercial construction. Flushing out the building as best we can. Ventilating at highest rate possible. Raters check for good filter. Educating the homeowner about what the Indoor airPLUS Certificate and label on the breaker box means. Conducting a walkthrough with the homeowner to explain all the features.

Updates Refinements- Version 2 2018-2019   Specification updates. Low emissions, increased filtration. Likely opening eligibility to multifamily mid and high rise buildings. Certification program for existing homes to earn the label.  There are 11,000 changeouts annually. 56 million homes and schools updated yearly without a comprehensive plan or incentive for environmental health.

Certification of 3rd Party raters and IAQ verifiers who will help develop the scope of work and perform the final inspection.

Nick’s Final Word:

Seeking comments on the specifications, Version 2 and application to existing homes.

Z-Man signing off

Trivia Question:

Name the EPA administrator who later went on to become Director of the FBI


Trivia Answer:

William Ruckleshaus