Researchers look into a future life indoors

Lamb-BPULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University researchers will evaluate a dozen local homes as part of a national study on climate change’s effects on future indoor air quality.

While people spend 80 percent of their time indoors, little research has looked at how the changing climate will affect that environment, said project leader Brian Lamb, Regents professor in the WSU Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The three-year, multidisciplinary project is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and includes researchers from civil engineering, computer science and construction management. The WSU researchers work in the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture.

Tightening up to save energy

Outdoor air pollution infiltrates homes, but the problem is made worse when homes are closed up during hot weather – especially if a house lacks proper ventilation.

WSU graduate student Yibo Huangfu with air quality measurement instruments on a house roof.

“One of the reasons we are interested in climate change is because what happens inside a home is, in part, driven by what is going on outside the home,” said Lamb. Trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and save energy in homes requires sealing them up, which can decrease incoming fresh air and worsen indoor air quality.

“If there are new regulations related to addressing climate change through energy conservation, how will that affect the way buildings are constructed – and how will that affect indoor air quality levels?” Lamb asked.

Computer model employed

The researchers are using a sophisticated computer code developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), called Contam, to measure current and future indoor air quality in more than 200 different home types. These represent the bulk of U.S. housing, from basic one-story designs to apartment complexes to three-story homes with garages.

WSU Professor Tom Jobson works with Contam to measure air quality inside a home.

“When we say future climate conditions, we’re talking generally about climate conditions in the 2050s,” said Lamb. “If the weather changes, then how will that affect people’s behavior, and in turn, how will that affect indoor air quality levels?”

The team will run tests on 12 local homes, measuring indoor and outdoor pollution, weather conditions, ventilation and with what frequency doors and windows are opened. Researchers will then compare their real measurements to the computer model’s predictions.

“We will use our measurements to understand how Contam works and how to best apply it,” said Lamb. “Then we will turn around and use Contam to test the 209 housing types across the U.S.”

Varied team compounds expertise

The WSU team, including professors Diane Cook, Tom Jobson, Max Kirk, Shelley Pressley and Von Walden, will look at future climate scenarios at the regional level, track occupant behaviors in homes and assess building structures and building codes.

“We are looking at the linkages between occupant behavior, indoor air quality and climate change,’’ said Lamb. “We have people with the right expertise to cover all the different bases.”


Brian Lamb, WSU civil and environmental engineering, 509-335-5702,
Tom Jobson, WSU civil and environmental engineering, 509-335-2692,
Brett Stav, WSU Voiland College communications, 509-335-8189,