The Smart Decision That Can Make You Dumb
100 years ago, nobody believed we’d ever run out of energy.
There didn’t seem to be any end to the supply of coal and oil. Hundreds of rivers were dammed to harness waterpower, too. Plus, our energy usage was just a fraction of what it is today.
Now we understand our energy supply is limited. So we’ve taken steps to cut our energy use where we can. But it turns out one of those steps might not be as smart as we’d thought… because it may be affecting your ability to perform effectively.
Simply put, this smart move is making you dumber. At least temporarily.
As energy prices have gone up – and we’ve realized that our supply is limited – we’ve made our buildings tighter and tighter. Plugging energy “leaks” has become an obsession.
We’ve become so focused on saving energy, we even wrap whole houses in sheets of plastic. All the better to keep the heat inside during the winter and out during the summer.
Unfortunately, we’ve created something of a monster. Because it’s not just warm or cool air that’s getting trapped inside our houses.
According to scientists from the Department of Energy (DOE), we’re also trapping carbon dioxide – CO2 – in our houses.
So why is a little CO2 bad news? Because you can’t breathe it.
Outside air normally contains about 380 parts per million (ppm) of CO2. Inside homes, the researchers found CO2 levels as high as several thousand ppm. They also discovered that levels as low as 1,000 ppm are high enough to impair thinking.
The researchers measured volunteer’s thinking abilities nine ways. At 1,000 ppm of CO2, the volunteers had problems with six of the nine. At 2,500 ppm, they were rated as “dysfunctional” for taking initiative and strategic thinking… and underperformed on five other measures.
Although the effects were only temporary, the study revealed two alarming points. First, until now, doctors thought people could handle far more CO2 with no problems. Now we know that CO2 has negative effects at just one-tenth the concentration once considered safe.
Second, no one is certain about long-term effects. But we now know that people are affected well below the federal guideline of 5,000 ppm.
Fortunately, you can some simple steps to keep CO2 levels lower in your home – even if it’s highly energy efficient.
First, use natural ventilation whenever you can. In other words, as long as the weather allows, keep your windows open. Circulating fresh air is the easiest way to keep CO2 levels down.
When you can’t have the windows open, be sure your ventilation system is clean and in good working order. Have your heating and air conditioning systems cleaned and serviced at least once a year.
And, finally, invite plants into your house. People take oxygen from the air and exhale CO2. Plants do just the opposite. Photosynthesis uses CO2, and creates oxygen as a byproduct. So green plants replace the oxygen you use.
Keeping a few plants in your home not only brightens it up, it sweetens the air. And that may just be the smartest way to beat the effects of CO2.
Source: “Elevated Indoor Carbon Dioxide Impairs Decision-Making Performance,” Science Daily. Oct 17, 2012.