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Professor Receives HUD Grant to Study Effects of Energy-Efficiency Measures on Indoor Air Quality

May 22, 2012. Weatherization improves a building’s energy efficiency by keeping cold air out in the winter and hot humid air out in the summer. But do these measures affect indoor air quality?

That’s what a team from Appalachian State University plans to find out. 

Dr. Susan C. Doll, an assistant professor in building science program in the Department of Technology and Environmental Design, has received a three-year $696,810 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to compare air quality measurements in homes in North Carolina mountain and coastal communities to see if weatherization affects the level of indoor air contaminants.

“One approach for improving energy efficiency is to seal up the buildings so you are not losing conditioned air, but we can’t forget about the people living in these buildings,” Doll said.

“Tightening” a house can trap whatever contaminants might be in the building, Doll explained. Those contaminants can include carbon monoxide, radon and formaldehyde. “The leakiness of a building was the old-fashioned way of ensuring good indoor air quality,” she said.

In addition to other faculty in her department, Doll will be assisted by individuals from Appalachian’s Department of Sociology, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Institute for Health and Human Services and the Appalachian Energy Center. Community partners are W.A.M.Y. Community Action Agency, which conducts low-income housing weatherization projects in Watauga, Ashe, Mitchell and Yancey counties, and Coastal Community Action’s Weatherization Program, which serves Carteret, Duplin and Onslow counties. 

Doll’s career as an engineer and environmental health scientist has focused on the intersection of the built environment and energy use and the impact both can have on the occupants of that space. 

She was an analyst with the Biosphere 2 closed habitat in Arizona and a spacecraft environmental control and life support system engineer with The Boeing Company in Huntsville, Ala., where she worked on the International Space Station, and habitat and spacecraft concept development for lunar and Mars applications.


After completing her doctoral work at the Harvard School of Public Health titled “Limiting conditions for fungal growth in the built environment,” Doll worked for an environmental consulting company conducting building assessment and diagnostics for indoor environment problems. Most recently before joining the faculty at Appalachian, she conducted research on household energy and indoor air quality in rural Rwanda.


For the HUD-funded project, air monitoring equipment will collect data in the 72 homes selected for the study for one week before and one week after weatherization. The study will look for changes in carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particles, radon, formaldehyde and total volatile organic compounds that could be in a home, as well as temperature and humidity.


“One thing that makes us different than the typical indoor air quality researcher is that we are also have expertise in building performance,” Doll said of those assisting her with the study. “When we understand how building performance impacts the indoor air quality, which in turn impacts human occupants, we can do something to fix it.”


Recent changes to N.C. building code related to weatherization now require installing ventilation to ensure acceptable air quality. “If it turns out that the data show the ventilation is doing the job properly, than that’s good,” Doll said. “If we find out there might be certain circumstances where there are issues, such as occupant activities or materials in a house that can produce off gassing, then we can address that. And that’s information that will be useful to policy makers.”