U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Building Technologies Program

Indoor Air Quality R&D

On this page you'll find information about the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) indoor air quality research and development activities focusing on developing new ventilation strategies that simultaneously improve indoor air quality and reduce the energy impact of increased ventilation.

A variety of factors contribute to poor indoor air quality in buildings, including indoor pollutants, outdoor pollutants near the building, pollution transport through ventilation systems, and emissions from building materials, furnishings, and equipment. Poor indoor air quality can harm the health and reduce productivity of workers, students, and even families in their own homes.

As tighter building envelopes and high-efficiency windows make buildings more energy efficient, they also increase the need for adequate ventilation to compensate for the air that gets into buildings through cracks and small holes. Increased ventilation generally translates into improved indoor air quality, but there is often a related energy penalty—for example, hot air pulled in from the outside for ventilation must be cooled and dehumidified. DOE's Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) R&D activities focus on developing new ventilation strategies that simultaneously improve indoor air quality and reduce the energy impact of increased ventilation.

Project Goals and Strategy

There is an established need for buildings with healthy indoor environments that use energy very efficiently. DOE's Indoor Air Quality project provides the connection between these two requirements, which are often in conflict. The following goals have been established:

  • Reduce ventilation energy demands without degrading IAQ
  • Revise and improve ventilation standards and building codes
  • Enable energy-efficient building practices that have low risk of creating IAQ problems

In accomplishing these goals, the Building Technologies Program's strategy calls for focusing its indoor air quality R&D activities in the following areas:

Industry Standards on Ventilation

DOE provides support to help develop and revise the ASHRAE Standards for ventilation in commercial (Standard 62.1) and residential (Standard 62.2) buildings. These standards establish minimum acceptable ventilation rates.

Novel Ventilation Strategies

Research efforts in this area focus on several different approaches to improving ventilation in buildings: hybrid ventilation, task ventilation, and demand control ventilation. Hybrid ventilation combines natural ventilation systems and mechanical ventilation systems to reduce the amount of energy used for air distribution. Task ventilation looks at replacing whole-building ventilation with dynamic, personalized ventilation that is delivered right to the workstation, decoupled from conditioning. Demand control looks at ways to change ventilation rates depending on occupancy and pollutant sources.

Improving Ventilation in Residential and Commercial Buildings

Current R&D projects focus on improving commercial building airflow and ventilation measurement techniques, measuring and improving filter efficiency, measuring airflow in ducts and through registers in residential buildings, and developing air cleaning techniques that use ultra-violet radiation and photocatalytic oxidation techniques.

Source Reduction of VOCs

Research efforts in this area focus on identifying and quantifying sources of indoor pollutants in residential and commercial buildings. This research helps to identify new products that reduce or eliminate VOCs in buildings.

Impacts on Energy Efficiency, Health, and Productivity

This research seeks to develop parameters and data for an economic model that will tie these topics together. An economic model connecting the value of ventilation, health, and productivity will help decision makers weigh the costs of ventilation strategies versus the productivity and health improvements for building occupants.