The past year has brought about unprecedented changes in the way offices do business. While the business sector has shifted paradigms with work from home efforts, there is still a global struggle with lockdown orders due to the new strain of the coronavirus. There is that hope to gain back a sense of normalcy, albeit with a number of meaningful changes. Apart from social distancing measures, rapid testing procedures and basic hygiene, there is also the invisible factor – IAQ or indoor air quality – that is being revisited as an overall yardstick to the health of the workplace.
Air pollution is often misunderstood as something that occurs outdoors. In fact, indoor air pollution can be considered just as deadly because of the enclosed space. The WHO lists major sources of indoor air pollution involving by-products from chemicals and other technical activities. These activities can lead to long term debilitating health conditions such as allergies and asthma — more than 339 million people have a recorded case of asthma in 2016, and is considered to be one of the major non-communicable diseases globally. IAQ standards have to be carefully considered as building tenants are most often indoors than outdoors.
Because of this, there has been a rising demand for information about the air that we breathe indoors, not just because of asthma, but due to many other harmful pathogens that can propagate indoors.
IAQ refers to the state of the air in an enclosed space. Good IAQ ensures the enduring comfort and health of building tenants.
Building owners and facility managers need to know the three main factors that are needed to ensure safety for tenants:
- Air Ventilation – refers to the movement of air around an enclosed space. Coming from an outside source, air is filtered and distributed indoors through air conditioning and windows. A crucial point of measurement would be managing levels of CO2 buildup that may be directly proportional to the number of people in a certain space. High CO2 levels affect productivity levels by being a culprit to headaches and drowsiness after frequent exposure. Taking a look at a 2010 IAQ Guide from The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), IAQ considerations would attribute “good” air to minimum standards of ventilation rates. These standards, known today as Standard 62.1 were rewritten ten years later to account for modern advances in green design. Specifically, with air ventilation, the assumption that outdoor air would be better than indoor air was a wrong assumption. Compounded with the fact that many office spaces had centralized air conditioning, running water would be considered a culprit in developing mold and other bacteria.
- Occupant Comfort – refers to the general wellbeing of occupants indoors so that they can focus on their work. The main parameters being monitored are temperature, humidity and air pressure. Joseph Allen’s Indoor Spaces: How Healthy Buildings Drive Performance and Productivity, the correlation between productivity and temperature can be quantified. “One study of young adults found that every 0.5°C (1°F) deviation from an optimal indoor temperature came with a 2% decrease in output. In another study, researchers found that every time you double the rate of outdoor air delivered into an office, worker performance improves by 1.7% across four simulated office tasks: text typing, addition, proofreading, and creative thinking.”
- Airborne Pathogens (such as COVID-19) – refers to the amount of harmful bacteria and chemicals that can propagate within a closed environment. The main parameters monitored are PM2.5, PM1, TVOC as well as CO2, temperature and humidity. For instance, cooking food indoors can greatly increase CO2 buildup while indoor construction work with low ventilation can drastically increase TVOC, PM2.5 and PM1 buildup which can have slow but long term effects for occupants. Allen’s 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building discusses how the use of pesticides can be a chicken and egg dilemma as the chemicals can actively contribute to an increase in TVOC despite the promise of a healthier environment for getting rid of pests.
The decade-long improvement of 1997’s Standard 62.1 to the 2007 revised collaboration for IAQ with ASHRAE, the EPA and the American Institute of Architects has identified seven factors that directly affect IAQ:
- Moisture buildup in ventilation
- Moisture buildup in building envelopes
- Poor ventilation
- Indoor contaminant sources
- Contaminants from indoor activities
- Bad filtration
- Poor outdoor air
These seven factors are building-wide and can vary depending on the layout of a facility. Seemingly negligible conditions such as carpeted rooms, air conditioning, and the presence of windows directly affect IAQ.
Having visibility on the IAQ of each room will allow building owners and facilities managers to make better decisions in solving overall air quality. A “what works / what doesn’t” approach can easily be deployed across the entire facility based on the air quality and virus index data that uHoo’s sensors compile. uHoo allows you to take control and manage indoor air quality in office buildings by providing you with real-time access to air quality data so that you can take immediate and appropriate action to address specific issues. It simplifies management by providing a consolidated view of your entire facility on one dashboard. Moreover, by connecting uHoo with your facility’s building and HVAC management systems you can have a more integrated approach to air quality management.
EPA – Introduction to Indoor Air Quality
World Health Organization – Asthma
9 Foundations for Health, Harvard TH Chan
Harvard Business Review – What Makes an Office Space Healthy (Joseph G. Allen and John D. Macomber)
ASHRAE – Using ASHRAE’s New IAQ Guide (Andrew Persily, Ph.D and Martha Hewett)