Starting the new year with health resolutions is not just a classic deed but also an essential one. While many of us plan to focus on doing yoga, going to the gym more frequently, and eating healthy and fresh, not everyone is taking time to rethink air quality in buildings. 

What happens when we continue to ignore the importance of improving air quality? Our plans to stay on top of health will become ineffective and we’ll continue to become vulnerable to health threats such as asthma, bronchitis, heart diseases, lung cancer, and virus infections. 

As we head into the new year, it’s a good time to change the status quo and focus on improving air quality inside built environments. 

What is indoor air quality?

The US EPA defines indoor air quality or IAQ as the quality of the air within and around buildings such as schools, offices, malls, airports, and hospitals; and how it can affect an occupant’s health, wellbeing, comfort, and ability to perform work. Indoor air quality can be composed of temperature, humidity, gasses, and particles. 

Why is indoor air quality important? 

Indoor air quality affects occupant health

We spend 90% of our time indoors – in offices, gyms, shopping centers, coffee shops, and schools where the air can be two to five times, and even a hundred times more polluted than the air outdoors. Numerous indoor air pollutants can take a serious toll on health and can be a culprit to various health problems, take formaldehyde as an example. Formaldehyde  which can occur in products found indoors such as pesticides, cleaning chemicals, and air fresheners, or through off-gassing from new furniture can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, aggravation of asthma symptoms, and respiratory health problems. 

VOCs, which can come from wall paints, wood preservatives, and adhesives can cause headaches and loss of coordination; nausea; and damage to the liver, kidneys, or central nervous system. Some VOCs are proven carcinogens, meaning they can cause cancer. 

Particulate matter or PM that is produced by tobacco smoke, cooking, burning of candles, fireplaces and/or kerosene heaters can cause coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Some particulate matter found indoors may also originate from the outdoors since these particles can be easily carried away by wind and enter indoor spaces through doors, windows and leaks in building structures. 

Indoor air quality impacts productivity

Sick people tend to work and do less. When a person is sick due to poor indoor air quality, it is indeed obvious that the way he performs work will also get damaged. Exposure to poor air results in employees taking more frequent leaves due to ill health or continuing to work at a reduced speed and efficiency. 

Additionally, poor indoor air quality in buildings can adversely impact mood and cognition. It can lead them to experiencing fatigue, mood swings, loss of ability to focus, irritability and depression. 

Focusing and rethinking air quality helps boost operational efficiency

The ability to improve air quality has measurable operational and financial benefits. HVAC systems account for an average 39% of a building’s total energy consumption, but through accurate indoor air quality data, building managers and business owners can easily identify areas that are over-cooled and are spending excessive amounts of energy. Business leaders can then adjust the performance of their HVAC systems based on their facility’s requirements, and eventually achieve efficiency, and operational savings. 

Compliance to air quality standards is mandatory

Numerous studies reveal the impact of high concentrations of volatile organic compounds and carbon dioxide on cognitive performance, some reports have also shown the connection between poor indoor air quality, virus spread and sick building syndrome. The information uncovered by these studies has become a factor in strengthening health regulations relating to IAQ and has forced buildings to comply.  In fact, states like California have already seen the state government step in to ensure acceptable IAQ, the European government has also recently developed a law mandating schools and educational institutions to adopt carbon dioxide (CO2) monitoring solutions to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus, which  will be welcomed by many for the coming school terms. Other states and nations are expected to have stringent IAQ mandates in place soon. 

Additionally, building certifications such as WELL, Fitwel, LEED, and RESET recognize the importance of IAQ and therefore establish air quality standards that building projects are required to follow. For example,  the WELL Standard provides guidelines for improving air quality such as Smoke-Free Environment, Air Filtration, and Ventilation Effectiveness. It also includes an Air Quality Monitoring and Awareness guideline that requires ongoing measurement of air contaminants. 

With LEED, , projects must establish minimum IAQ standards and control the impact of tobacco smoke on the premises. While RESET Air requires continuous monitoring of air quality parameters including total volatile organic compounds, temperature, and relative humidity.

Improving your building’s air quality: A step-by-step guide

Step 1: Understand what indoor air quality is and the factors that contribute to it. These factors include: 

  • Building ventilation
  • Chemicals used inside the building
  • Building location
  • Weather
  • The number of occupants
  • The activities done by the occupants inside the building

Step 2: Know the possible sources of indoor air pollution including particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and molds. 

Step 3: Be able to analyze the signs of poor air quality. Signs can include health problems experienced by occupants such as coughing and wheezing, damaged building materials such as discolorations and cracks, and bad odor. 

Step 4: Perform strategies to improve air quality such as frequent dusting, ensuring proper ventilation, and keeping your building smoke-free. 

Step 5: Continuously monitor your indoor air quality to maintain air quality factors always in its optimal level and to ensure that the strategies being performed to improve air quality are effective. 

Rethink air quality and invest in ways to improve it not just in the beginning of 2023, but all-year-round

Thanks to research bodies, health organizations, and reports on IAQ, we are now seeing indoor air quality being taken as seriously as outdoor air. Homes are starting to adopt technologies, businesses are also beginning to make adjustments to improve their buildings, but despite these milestones, there’s still much to hope for. If we truly wish to secure a completely safer and healthier future, the best time to act is now. 

Begin your journey towards safer indoor environmental quality with uHoo. 


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