Penetration of ambient submicron particles into single-family residences and associations with building characteristics


B. Stephens
Department of Civil
Architectural and Environmental Engineering
The University of Texas at Austin
1 University Station C1752
Austin, TX 78712-1076 USA
Tel.: (512) 471-2410
Fax: (512) 471-3191



This work improves knowledge of particle penetration into buildings by (i) refining a particle penetration test method that minimizes the duration and invasiveness required by individual tests without sacrificing accuracy, (ii) applying the method in an unoccupied manufactured test house and 18 single-family homes in Austin, Texas, USA, and (iii) exploring correlations between particle penetration and building characteristics, including results from blower door air leakage tests. The mean (±s.d.) measured penetration factor of submicron particles (20–1000 nm, not size-resolved) was 0.47 ± 0.15 in 19 residences that relied on infiltration for ventilation air, ranging from 0.17 ± 0.03 to 0.72 ± 0.08. Particle penetration factors (P) and outdoor particle source terms (× air exchange rates) were both significantly and positively correlated with results from blower door air leakage tests. Outdoor particle source terms were also significantly and negatively correlated with the year of construction. These results suggest that occupants of leakier and older homes are exposed to higher indoor concentrations of outdoor submicron particles than those in tighter and newer homes, and that simple air leakage tests may be able to provide an approximate prediction of outdoor particle infiltration into single-family residences.

Practical Implications

Results from this work suggest that knowledge of simple building characteristics (i.e., the year of construction and blower door test results) may be used to predict the ability of outdoor particles to infiltrate into single-family residences, which could facilitate easier estimates of indoor exposures to outdoor particulate matter across the building stock. The methods within can also be extended to other buildings and can be used to assess possible changes in penetration factors because of envelope retrofits. Because outdoor particle size distributions were not measured during this study, these tests should also be repeated with size-resolved particle instrumentation.