Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) refers to the quality of the air in and around buildings, especially how it affects the health, comfort, and well-being of a building’s employees or occupants. As most Americans spend the majority of their time working and living indoors, IAQ is a major concern to businesses and building owners.
Unfortunately, studies by the EPA show that indoor air can sometimes be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air and as a result, indoor air pollution has been listed as an important environmental health problem. EPA has also reported that improving indoor air quality can result in higher productivity and fewer lost workdays. Studies have linked poor indoor air quality to sick building syndrome, building-related illnesses, high absenteeism in the workplace, reduced productivity, reduced infectious disease transmission, and impaired learning in schools.
What causes poor IAQ
Poor indoor air quality is caused by indoor or outdoor pollutants and insufficient comfort controls in commercial HVAC systems. These pollutants, which may adversely affect health, include gases such as carbon monoxide, scents and odors from organic chemicals, mold, bacteria, microscopic material suspended in the air (particulates), and other sources. These indoor air pollutants can result from building maintenance activities, pest control, building products such as engineered wood, housekeeping, renovation or remodeling, new furniture or finishes, and the activities of the building’s occupants, such as smoking.
- Biological contaminants include bacteria, viruses, molds, fungi, dust mite allergen, animal dander, pollen, and other sources.
- Chemical pollutants include tobacco smoke, emissions from office equipment, wall and floor coverings, dry erase markers, dry cleaned clothing, cleaning products and furniture, and gases caused by combustion, such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.
- Suspended particles in the air include dust and dirt brought from the outdoors or from activities like sanding wood, cutting and sanding drywall, and certain equipment.
How to improve indoor air quality
Source control is usually the most effective way to improve indoor air quality. Toxic areas can be sealed or enclosed and appliances like gas burning stoves can be adjusted to decrease emissions. Well-maintained HVAC filtration and ventilation components are critical for diluting indoor air contaminants, and carpets, upholstery, area rugs, and hard surfaces should be cleaned regularly.
Moisture and humidity control are of great importance in controlling indoor air quality. Moisture and dirt can cause molds and other biological contaminants to thrive. Humidity levels that are too high can contribute to the growth and spread of these biological pollutants, and humidity that is too low can contribute to dry eyes, sinus discomfort, and irritated mucous membranes.
Ventilation systems are designed in part on the projected number of people expected to occupy an indoor space and the amount and type of equipment they’ll use. When areas are used differently than their original design, HVAC systems should be modified to deliver enough conditioned air to the area. Without sufficient ventilation, CO2 levels become concentrated, making the occupants uncomfortable and tired.
Adequate outside air is delivered through the HVAC system to dilute indoor air pollutants in the building. The proper distribution of outside air is critically important. Without sufficient fresh air, a building quickly becomes stuffy and moist, allowing odors to collect undiluted. Ventilation systems introduce a minimum of 5-10% of outside air regardless of the outdoor temperature.
Filters for outdoor air. Properly installed and maintained filters in the ventilation system can trap many outdoor air pollutants like carbon monoxide before they enter the building. Specialized filters may be required for gaseous or chemical pollutants.
Thermostats and air vents should not be blocked by equipment and furniture. Heat generating equipment like computers placed too close to thermostats may cause the HVAC system to deliver too much cold air to the rest of the zone or building. Furniture or equipment placed too close to air vents may block airflow, leading to higher concentrations of indoor air pollutants.
HVAC maintenance is essential to ensure that the system is working optimally to deliver quality air to the building. Annual maintenance plans are available from your commercial HVAC contractor, including Chadwick Service Company, to keep your building’s HVAC system in good working order.
Use eco-friendly cleaning products in the workplace. These green products cause fewer or no odors or scents that trigger allergic reactions in building occupants.
Have an IAQ specialist test indoor air periodically to check for humidity levels, airflow, ventilation, mold, odors and indoor air pollutants.
Want to know how you can improve the indoor air quality of your building? Get in touch with Chadwick Service Company today.