Survey Finds Many Wisconsinites Believe Air inside Their Homes is Cleaner Than Outdoor Air, Despite Data Suggesting Otherwise

There’s no place like home – except when it comes to air quality.

A survey released today by Denver-based Johns Manville found that a fourth, or 25.6 percent, of Wisconsin homeowners believe the air inside their homes is cleaner than air outside their homes. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says a growing body of evidence suggests air inside homes and other buildings can be “more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities.”

There are a variety of sources of indoor air pollution, according to the EPA, including building materials containing substances such as added formaldehyde; wet or damp carpet; certain household cleaning products; central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices; the combustion of oil, natural gas or wood; and outdoor air pollutants such as radon or pesticides.

According to the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the average American spends about 90 percent of his or her day inside, making indoor air quality is an important issue, particularly for people with asthma or allergies. An EPA report, “The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality,” says polluted indoor air can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.

The survey found 56.8 percent of Wisconsin homeowners are “concerned” or “very concerned” about indoor air quality. By comparison, a total of 41.3 percent of Wisconsin homeowners said they are “unconcerned” or “very unconcerned” about indoor air quality.

Nationally, the survey found 65.7 percent of U.S. homeowners are “concerned” or “very concerned” about indoor air quality. By comparison, a total of only 33.2 percent of U.S. homeowners said they are “unconcerned” or “very unconcerned” about indoor air quality.

The most common strategies used by Wisconsin homeowners for improving indoor air quality, according to the survey, included upgrading furnace or heating system components (24.2 percent); cleaning heating/cooling duct systems (22.9 percent); purchasing an air purifier (19.4 percent); making ventilation improvements (17.4 percent); and eliminating or reducing individual sources of indoor air pollution, such as building products containing added formaldehyde or those that give off VOCs/fumes (10.6 percent). Some 36.8 percent of Wisconsin homeowners said they had not taken any steps to improve their homes’ indoor air quality.

More than two-thirds of the Wisconsin survey respondents said they were “somewhat likely” (45.1 percent) or “very likely” (27.6 percent) to look for homes with features that enhance indoor air quality when shopping for a new home. By comparison, 13.2 percent said they were “somewhat unlikely” and 4.8 percent said they were “very unlikely” to look for homes with features that enhance indoor air quality.

The online survey of 1,002 U.S. homeowners was conducted on behalf of Johns Manville, the global building products manufacturer. The survey had a sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points and was conducted July 21-23, 2008. A representative sample of 398 homeowners living in Wisconsin was also surveyed regarding their opinions about indoor air quality.

As Temperatures Rise, Indoor Air Quality Can Decline

Homeowners should pay particular attention to their homes’ indoor air quality during the summer, when many homes are closed up tightly and air conditioners are running to combat the summertime heat, according to Dean Johnson, host of the PBS “Hometime” television show and recognized home improvement expert.

“August is the hottest month of the year in many parts of the U.S., and homes have been tightly sealed all summer, trapping dirty indoor air. In addition, heat and humidity can cause the glue in ordinary fiber glass attic and wall insulation to break down more rapidly and release formaldehyde into the home,” Johnson said. “Newer homes can be even more susceptible to poor indoor air quality, because building codes now require homes to be built and sealed more tightly to improve energy efficiency. And most new homes do not have continuous mechanical ventilation, which gives them the added issue of tightness with low ventilation rates.”

Breathing Easier at Home

To improve indoor air quality, Johnson said homeowners should look for products that have been recognized by the Home Safety Council (HSC). For instance, the HSC in 2006 awarded its “Commendation Award for Product Innovation for Consumer Safety” to Johns Manville’s (JM) complete line of Formaldehyde-free™ fiber glass building insulation products, citing JM’s contribution in helping consumers maintain a safe home environment.

Johnson offered these tips for homeowners who want to improve their homes’ indoor air quality:

Follow -- California Environmental Protection Agency recommendations and select or specify building products free of added formaldehyde, including insulation and wood products, when adding a room, finishing a basement or adding attic or wall insulation

  • Use paints free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Purchase mold-resistant building products
  • Install low VOC carpets
  • Use cleaning products that emit less VOCs, are allergy-free and do not contain ammonia, fragrances, dyes, chlorine and other known irritants
  • Help your home “breathe” by providing adequate ventilation. Signs of poor ventilation include condensation on windows or walls, stuffy air, dirty air systems or mold growth
  • Locate air intakes away from exhaust vents and driveways
  • Use an exhaust fan when cooking

According to the EPA report “The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality,” “the most effective way to improve indoor air quality is to eliminate individual sources of pollution or to reduce their emissions,” including exposure to formaldehyde. Formaldehyde, a colorless gas, “can cause watery eyes, burning sensation in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty breathing in some people exposed to elevated levels.” Using building products with no added formaldehyde can be an important part of a family’s plan to make their home healthier and safer by reducing their overall exposure to formaldehyde.

“Besides the health benefits of breathing clean air, it’s simply more comfortable to be in a home with outstanding air quality,” said Johnson. “Taking steps to enhance indoor air quality helps improve the health, safety and comfort of the home, for you and your family.”

“Most homeowners clearly are interested in improving their homes’ indoor air quality,” said Mark Ziegert, Johns Manville senior brand manager. “From choosing fiber glass insulation with no added formaldehyde to using paint with low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), there are many simple, practical steps homeowners can take to make indoor air cleaner and safer for their families.”

Commercial Building Workers Also Concerned About Indoor Air Quality

Air quality is also a concern for workers in commercial buildings, the survey found. More than a third, 37.4 percent, of Wisconsin respondents who are employed outside the home said the air in their place of work was either “dirty” or “very dirty.” In addition, some 29.8 percent of respondents said “no steps have been taken” to improve the indoor air quality where they work.

Nationally, 34.5 percent of respondents who are employed outside the home said the air in their place of work was either “dirty” or “very dirty.” Some 39.4 percent of respondents said “no steps have been taken” to improve the indoor air quality where they work.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), scientific studies have shown that improved indoor air quality in workplace settings, hospitals and schools has direct benefits. Workplaces that have taken steps to improve indoor air quality have seen increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, reduced health care claims and minimized remediation.

About the Survey

The 2008 Indoor Air Quality Survey was conducted by Forrest W. Anderson Research for global building products manufacturer Johns Manville. The survey was conducted online using Zoomerang between July 21-23, 2008. The results are based on a national representative sample of 1,001 homeowners age 18 years and older, living in the United States, and 398 homeowners living in Wisconsin. The survey had a sampling error of 3.1 percentage points.

About Johns Manville

Johns Manville, a Berkshire Hathaway company (NYSE: BRK.A, BRK.B), is a leading manufacturer and marketer of premium-quality building and specialty products. In business since 1858, the Denver-based company has annual sales in excess of $2 billion and holds leadership positions in all of the key markets that it serves. Johns Manville employs approximately 7,800 people and operates 41 manufacturing facilities in North America, Europe and China. Additional information can be found at

Johns Manville Mark Ziegert, 303-978-2888 or Linhart Public Relations Kelly Burke, 303-951-2567