Airing Out (and In)

How kitchen and bath designers can help improve indoor air quality
By Brent Coffey
June 20, 2012

Carbon monoxide, cleaning chemicals, pet dander, pollen, pesticides, formaldehyde—homes are loaded with pollutants that can cause a whole host of health issues (asthma, fatigue, dizziness and headaches, just to name a few). However, there are a number of simple steps—installation of ventilation fans, range hoods, make-up air dampers and central vacuums—that kitchen and bath designers can use to make a big impact on the overall indoor air quality (IAQ) in their clients’ homes.


One of the easiest ways to improve IAQ is with ventilation fans. But because homeowners don’t always remember to turn fans on while showering or bathing, models that do so automatically when they sense a rise in humidity are ideal at helping prevent the growth of mold and mildew, as well as other problems caused by excess moisture.

Designers also have the ability to specify smart ventilation fans that not only address spot bathroom ventilation needs, but also help with overall IAQ. Some can communicate with each other and turn on at prescribed times throughout the day to boost the number of air exchanges in the home. Smart fans alter their run times depending on daily use. For instance, if the homeowner takes a 30-minute shower at 8 pm, the fans automatically adjust their run times to meet the recommended air-change requirement.

Installing ventilation fans in laundry, utility, craft and other rooms can enhance the quality of the air in these rooms too.


Designers can maximize the benefits of ventilation fans and ducted range hoods with make-up air dampers, which facilitate air exchanges by bringing fresh air into the home to replace air that’s being exhausted out. By allowing fresh air in when a compatible exhaust fan/range hood is in use, the damper helps prevent conditions that can cause a variety of indoor air problems.

“Unfortunately, in today’s ‘tighter’ homes, natural ventilation is drastically limited and fresh air is not able to flow in and out of the home, causing an increase in indoor air pollutants and allergens,” said Brian Wellnitz, marketing manager, kitchen ventilation, Broan-NuTone. Installing a make-up air damper “helps provide superior IAQ by allowing outdoor air to enter the home while controlling energy costs.” When the range hood or bath fan is turned on, the damper opens and lets fresh air into the home. When turned off, the damper tightly closes, preventing unwanted air from entering the home during heating and cooling cycles. This provides synchronized operation for complete and effective ventilation.
Make-up air dampers, such as the Broan Automatic Make-Up Air Damper, are particularly useful in home with larger-cfm fans, “which have more capability to depressurize the house,” Wellnitz said. “If a range hood is trying to do its job over a large cooking surface in a fairly tight home without make-up air, then the range hood can't operate properly. Your range hood could be on and smoke still might bellow out. The make-up air damper helps the range work more effectively and get rid of the smoke."


For new and remodeled homes, designers should consider adding central vacuum systems to help IAQ. With a central vacuum system, dust particles and allergens are not scattered throughout the room as they would be with a conventional vacuum, and the air is expelled outside the home.

Besides these benefits, central vacuums are easier to use than upright vacuum cleaners because they’re lighter-weight. They also are three to five times more powerful, and because the power unit is located in a remote location such as the basement or garage, they’re quieter.
Consider adding a central vacuum system, which can also improve IAQ.

Leading manufacturers can offer you the guidance and resources you need to not only provide the proper ventilation for kitchens and baths, but also to improve IAQ throughout the home.

—Brent Coffey is product manager of Low-Voltage Products, for Broan-NuTone, LLC. He has been a product manager since 2008 and was an industrial designer from 2005 to 2008. Coffey has a master’s degree in project management from Penn State University and an undergraduate degree from Auburn University.
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