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Indoor Air Quality—How to Not Let It Walk All Over You

Posted on Feb 19, 2020 in:
  • Building Science
  • Built Green

Author: Sonja O'Claire, Built Green Program Manager

There’s a lot of focus these days on how volatile organic compounds (VOCs) contribute to unsafe indoor air quality, from building materials to finishes. With the average American spending about 90% of their time indoors surrounded by these materials, there’s good reason for concern. However, another major contributor to poor indoor air quality often escapes attention—shoes.

While outside, shoes can pick up many harmful pollutants such as allergens, radon, pesticides, mold, heavy metals, and numerous other VOCs. These VOCs can then be tracked into homes, undermining the time, money, and energy put into constructing Built Green homes out of low-VOC materials.

The EPA states that exposure to such pollutants, even short-term, can be detrimental to health and have lasting implications after repeated exposure. Short-term health effects can include dizziness, eye/nose/throat irritation, headaches, and fatigue. Long-term health effects can range from lifelong heart and respiratory diseases to potentially fatal cancers. Asthma is the third-ranking cause for hospitalization among children younger than 15, and Washington state ranks 1.1% above the national median of 9.4% for adults who self-report suffering from asthma.

Built Green recognizes the importance of providing healthy indoor air for all those living in Built Green certified homes. That is why there are numerous checklist credits dedicated to decreasing the amount of pollutants being tracked into Built Green homes by shoes. Credit 4-69 of the multifamily checklist, a requirement for all 4-star certified and above projects, earns a project three points for permanently installed track-off mats, carpets, and/or shoe grates at the principle entryway of a building. On both the multifamily and single-family checklists, two points can be earned by providing a dedicated shoe removal and storage area at the entrance to each unit.

Contemporary home featuring a built-in shoe storage area, built by Model Remodel and designed by CAST Architecture. Photo by Cindy Apple Photography.

Durable and effective entryway strategies for multifamily projects include:

  • Exterior metal architectural grills
  • Interior architectural metal grills with carpet and/or rubber tread inserts
  • Metal roll-up mats (with a cleaning contract)
  • Replaceable carpet tiles (with a cleaning and replacement schedule)
  • Segregated vestibules with grills or walk-off carpeting (with a cleaning and replacement schedule)

For single-family homes, a designated shoe removal and storage area could be designed into the home’s entrance to provide an attractive and intuitive place for residents to reduce their exposure. There are a variety of ways to achieve this; examples include built-in seating and/or shelves, space-defining flooring materials, or a closet next to the entrance.

Addressing entrance track-off areas in Built Green projects during the design phase, rather than at the end, will go a long way in providing better indoor air quality, lower maintenance, and higher value for buyers. It could also be the difference between a multifamily 4-star and 3-star certification.


Pictured: Contemporary home featuring a built-in shoe storage area, built by Model Remodel and designed by CAST Architecture. Photo by Cindy Apple Photography. Learn more about this Built Green whole-house remodel in this case study.


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