Sustainability in buildings is more than just about energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions. With numerous studies demonstrating how buildings have the potential for both positive and negative impacts on the health and productivity of people, truly sustainable buildings should be designed to improve the wellbeing of the people who work in them. Indoor air quality is a critical area that is now at the forefront due to the increasing concern on health hazards that occupants are regularly exposed to.
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and Green Building Standards
Improving indoor air quality as a way to promote health and wellbeing in built environments is an important tenet in green building certifications such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), RESET and the WELL Building Standard. These certifications and standards have specific provisions pertaining to the role that good indoor air quality plays in ensuring health and wellness and the factors that need to be managed and regulated in relation to promoting good indoor environment quality (IEQ).
From ventilation parameters, thermal performance, emission source control, to acceptable levels of volatile organic compounds, carbon dioxide and more, the guidelines are clear in outlining the indoor air quality requirements to achieve sustainability in buildings.
IAQ Monitoring and Building Health
Incorporating IAQ improvement with energy and resource management to achieve sustainability standards may seem like a daunting challenge. To this end, building owners and planners can turn to new technologies that provide ways to monitor and manage the various factors that impact health and wellbeing. Real-time monitoring helps building owners and planners make proper assessments, decisions, and interventions in improving IEQ and achieving a healthy building. Below are the important foundations of a healthy building where IAQ monitoring is a valuable tool.
Indoor air quality
Indoor air quality is critical to become a healthy building because it has a direct effect on the health of occupants as well as their productivity. There are numerous sources of air pollutants indoors such as printer emissions, cleaning supplies, paint and even personal care products. There are about 82,000 chemicals that are commercially used; 85% of which do not have available data. Being able to monitor the indoor air quality gives you the ability to determine the problem in the air and take proper action to address them.
Ventilation is used in buildings to create thermally comfortable environments and ensure proper air exchange to flush out stale indoor air and various pollutants. Modern buildings are designed to be airtight to minimize energy loss. However, this results in pollutants and stale air accumulating indoors when not monitored and managed properly that negatively affect the health and well-being of occupants. Monitoring air quality properly provides insights into the effectiveness of ventilation rates inside the building. The visibility of occupants and the quality of air inside the building also allows you to effectively manage and optimize your ventilation.
Thermal health – also known as thermal comfort – is determined by various factors: air temperature, airspeed, humidity, metabolic activity level, and clothing insulation. Thermal conditions not only affect your comfort but also viruses and higher maintenance costs. Suboptimal thermal conditions increase the survival rate of viruses while consistently high humidity levels would result in the formation of mold that would eventually increase wear and tear of your building and create allergens that affect people’s health and well-being. Properly monitoring air quality parameters that affect thermal conditions – temperature and humidity in particular – allows you to optimize the comfort of people in the building and simultaneously reduce virus risk.
Although seemingly innocuous, dust can act as a storage for a variety of harmful particles – from mold spores, bacteria, mites, pollen to viruses. And unlike chemicals in the air, chemicals that are accumulated in masses of dust are known to likely continue to expose occupants even after the sources have been eliminated. There are bodies of evidence that show a direct correlation between the amount of toxic chemicals in indoor dust and the amount of chemicals found in the blood of people in those environments – thus highlighting the need to understand how dust affects health and wellbeing. Solutions that can monitor levels of particulates in the air in real-time allows for immediate adjustment of filtration and ventilation systems to minimize its impact on human health.
The pursuit of sustainability for buildings should go beyond compliance, and indoor air quality is a critical piece that needs to be integrated into any building design, planning, and management process. Now more than ever, sustainable buildings are those that promote the health and well-being of its occupants where proper management of indoor air quality is at the core.