Impacts of Mixing on Acceptable Indoor Air Quality in Homes

Publication Type

Journal Article



Ventilation reduces occupant exposure to indoor contaminants by diluting or removing them. In a multi-zone environment such as a house, every zone will have different dilution rates and contaminant source strengths. The total ventilation rate is the most important factor in determining occupant exposure to given contaminant sources, but the zone-specific distribution of exhaust and supply air and the mixing of ventilation air can play significant roles. Different types of ventilation systems will provide different amounts of mixing depending on several factors such as air leakage, air distribution system, and contaminant source and occupant locations. Most U.S. and Canadian homes have central heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, which tend to mix the air; thus, the indoor air in different zones tends to be well mixed for significant fractions of the year. This article reports recent results of investigations to determine the impact of air mixing on exposures of residential occupants to prototypical contaminants of concern. We summarize existing literature and extend past analyses to determine the parameters than affect air mixing as well as the impacts of mixing on occupant exposure, and to draw conclusions that are relevant for standards development and for practitioners designing and installing home ventilation systems. The primary conclusion is that mixing will not substantially affect the mean indoor air quality across a broad population of occupants, homes, and ventilation systems, but it can reduce the number of occupants who are exposed to extreme pollutant levels. If the policy objective is to minimize the number of people exposed above a given pollutant threshold, some amount of mixing will be of net benefit even though it does not benefit average exposure. If the policy is to minimize exposure on average, then mixing air in homes is detrimental and should not be encouraged. We also conclude that most homes in the US have adequate mixing already, but that new, high-performance homes may require additional mixing. Also our results suggest that some differentiation should be made in policies and standards for systems that provide continuous exhaust, thereby reducing relative dose for occupants overall


HVAC & Research Journal

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