In 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completed a study to assess the trade-offs between energy, indoor air quality and comfort objectives for HVAC systems to help formulate strategies that would achieve superior performance. Through this study, the agency found that heating and cooling buildings uses a lot of energy, and producing it requires burning fossil fuels, which contributes to air pollution and generates large amounts of greenhouse gases that harm the quality of our air.

When building owners and operators work to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings, they typically do so through air sealing and other techniques to reduce the escape of air. But as buildings undergo this type of transformation to save energy, they may experience unintended indoor air quality problems. For example, consider an older multi-unit apartment that undergoes a renovation or retrofit project. If lead and asbestos are present during this process, it can become a serious health risk to other building occupants who also shared the space.

The conversation must shift back to a holistic strategy that improves both energy efficiency and indoor air quality in the home, without sacrificing one for the other. One resource that serves as a guide to help businesses and homeowners evaluate products and solutions related to energy efficiency is the EPA’s ENERGY STAR program. ENERGY STAR provides resources that can help businesses determine cost-effective approaches to managing energy use in buildings and homes giving them the tools to save energy, increase profits and strengthen their competitiveness.

At the same time businesses and homeowners work toward energy efficiency, they need to consider the impact they have on the quality of air in parallel. By prioritizing IAQ at the beginning of making energy efficiency upgrades, pollutant exposure problems can be avoided, and public health can be protected further. Additionally, building managers and homeowners can reduce the risks of additional costs to resolve IAQ problems down the road.