Tom Philips is a consultant on healthy sustainable buildings. He has spent over 35 years working at the intersection of research and policy to address public health, pollution, and buildings. He has served as a technical adviser to national, state, and local agencies, NGOs, and private firms on IAQ, climate change adaption, and green building programs for homes, schools and offices. Tom is passionate about climate change.
Nuggets mined from today’s episode:
What are you most proud of from your time at CARB?
Our great team. An outdoor agency addressing indoor problems. Achievements include work on: tobacco smoke, ozone machines, unvented gas heaters, removal of formaldehyde from composite wood products. Activity pattern studies. Pushing Green building. Trying to apply research to make things and lives better. [Update: EPA has yet to adopt the California type limit for formaldehyde in composite word, last I heard.]
What do you wish you were able to do more of while at CARB?
1) More healthy home work. Based on the Seattle studies we were aware that asthma could be reduced through intervention. 2) Early on, we didn’t push stakeholders hard enough on climate change adaptation of buildings and communities.
What are the facts on how climate is changing and how will climate change affect different parts of the US?
The oceans are warming. There is a growing need for cooling. Humidity is also a growing problem in many areas. People living in poverty are uncomfortable, at higher health risk because they cannot afford cooling. There is increased mortality and hospitalization. Older building stock is poorly adapted to increased warming. There are: economic, health and moral reasons to take climate action. The recent National Climate Assessment summarizes the science, includes regional summaries, and puts cost numbers on the impacts.
Extreme events will become more common. Longer more intensive heat waves. Less time is spent outdoors due to more intense heat, causing changes in lifestyles. Cascading effects or perfect storms: droughts (less hydro power, more soil heating), heat waves, wildfires. Scandinavia now has wild fires. Depression and mental health issues increase. More biological vectors: mosquitos, ticks and valley fever (caused by soil fungus in dry areas) If the November wildfires in CA had occurred in the summer, it would have been much worse with higher mortality. The air quality advisories do not adjust the AQI for combined ozone and PM impacts such as wildfires.
What are the overheating metrics?
This is an evolving area. There are several types of metrics, and some try to represent the body’s response to thermal stress. For example:
Discomfort Index (DI) is the average of Wet Bulb and Dry Bulb temperatures.
Wet Bulb Global Temperature (WBGT) is used in occupational health and safety standards and is based on physiological responses of healthy young male U.S. soldiers. It adds the effects of radiant heat and wind speed.
What comes before heat stress, heat stroke and death?
There is a continuum of health effects, depending on the peak, short-term exposures and perhaps chronic and intermittent exposures, and depending on the individual’s sensitivity. The effects can be extreme and not linear. Human task and learning performance drops due to lowered thermal comfort. Studies done in student dorms and on PSAT test taking confirm that brain performance drops off due to thermal discomfort. Regional and ethnicity differences were found, and were comparable in size to student performance gaps between ethnic groups. Due to high indoor temperatures, students are sent home early from schools, schools are closed, and schools can be sued. Heat also affects the teachers, which can include pregnant women. Beyond the perception of thermal comfort, indoor thermal exposure is now considered a potential “thermal health” impact.
What is Time Dependent Value Energy and why is it becoming important?
It is the value of grid electricity adjusted for time of use electricity rates. Electricity is more expensive during peak demand periods, and usually emits more carbon because it is generated by fossil fuel plants (Duck/armadillo single curve of daily power demand, versus 2 daily peaks in TVA regions due to predominance of electric heat.)
How does heat affect sleep?
It’s harder to sleep when we are uncomfortable. Its harder to recover from hot days. Both National Geographic and Psychology Today ran articles recently about sleep’s systemic health effects. For example, sleep disruption affects our immune system and increases our sensitivity to environmental health risk factors. With climate change, night time temperatures have been warming faster than daytime temps, especially during heat waves.
Tell us about the guidance on wildfires that you helped develop.
I had a small part in that process, and there are several guidance documents out there now. A combination of strategies is required: Sealing/weatherization of buildings is primary as it keeps fire related particles and gases outside. Minimize other indoor pollutant sources. HEPA Air-cleaners are secondary and work well in small spaces. Install higher efficiency HVAC filters. Keep meds with you. For respiratory and cardiovascular disease patients, ask your physician and public health officers for advice on when to evacuate.
Gaseous pollutants are irritating. You cannot always smell or see gaseous pollutants. University of CO at Boulder and others are studying how weatherization can protect buildings during wildfires. (HEPA air cleaners don’t remove gases.)
Low cost monitoring sensors are now available to help detect outdoor particle intrusion. Sensors are being developed to automatically operate ventilation and air cleaning systems. Technology doesn’t repair itself and has it’s own environmental impacts, so we should not overly rely on technology.
- You can receive Google News Alerts about overheating, extreme heat, and resilient design in buildings.
- The size of the California market drives the national market for healthy, sustainable products.
- Timing is important. Black carbon exposure study in Denmark found that daily exposure to black carbon, an indicator of diesel smoke, was mainly determined by indoor exposures at work and home, rather than short-term peak exposures during the commute to and from the job,
- The human factor or behavior is critical but hard to control. People need to operate ventilation systems, change filters. Noisy exhaust fans are less likely to be used. We need quieter fans, which are more likely to be used. Quality control and recurring training are essential.
- During the 1911 Northeast heat wave there was a rise in suicides, and people were sleeping in city parks.
- In the UK energy saving retrofitting had unintended consequences of moisture build-up in tightened buildings. Overheating of homes also occurred in some cases. Wasn’t well executed due to lack of training and quality control. Pushback in UK and bad PR.
- We can Save Carbon and Improve Health if our methodologies are well thought out and well executed.
- Reducing Outside Contaminates in Indoor Spaces (rocis.org) is using low cost particle sensors to study what’s happening inside homes by working with stakeholders. They are testing intervention measures such as air cleaning, filters, and range hoods. The basic principles of intervention apply to all of North America.
We must factor climate change and full life cycle performance into our thinking and decision making at all levels. Better health, comfort, and building performance can be achieved that way over the long term. In the past we should have done more, so we need to be very aggressive now.