Welcome to our comprehensive guide on Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)! In today’s world, where we spend a significant amount of time indoors, the air we breathe inside our homes, offices, and other indoor spaces plays a crucial role in our overall health and well-being. But what exactly is indoor air quality, and why should we pay attention to it? From understanding the basics to identifying and mitigating common air pollutants, this guide is designed to address your concerns in a simple, easy-to-understand manner. Now, let’s dive into some of the most frequently asked questions about indoor air quality.
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) refers to air quality within and around buildings and structures, particularly concerning the health and comfort of building occupants. The quality of indoor air inside offices, schools, and other workplaces is important not only for workers’ comfort but also for their health. Poor indoor air quality can lead to a variety of health issues, including headaches, fatigue, concentration difficulties, and long-term effects like heart disease and cancer.
Common sources of indoor air pollution in an office environment include environmental tobacco smoke, asbestos from insulation and fire-retardant building supplies, formaldehyde from pressed wood products, and other organics from building materials, carpeting, and similar office furnishings. Indoor air pollutants can also be circulated from portions of the building used for specialized purposes, such as restaurants, print shops, and dry-cleaning stores, into offices in the same building.
Poor indoor air quality can directly impact health and productivity in the workplace. Indoor air pollution may not be visible, but the symptoms of it are diminished cognitive function, poor concentration, and reduced productivity. The U.S. EPA reports indoor air pollution can cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, respiratory illnesses, heart disease, and even cancer. In addition to bodily illnesses, poor indoor air quality significantly impacts employees’ productivity at work.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, each employer must legally furnish each employee with a “workplace free from recognized hazards”. The General Duty Clause of the OSH Act requires employers to provide workers with a safe workplace that does not have any known hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious injury.
Indoor air quality can be measured using a variety of tools and techniques. These can include air sampling, where air samples are collected and analyzed for specific contaminants, and indoor air quality monitors, like ZiggyTec, which provide real-time measurements of specific conditions or contaminants. Other methods include biological sampling, where biological materials (like mold or bacteria) are collected and analyzed, and occupant surveys, where building occupants are asked about their perceptions of air quality and health symptoms.
The most common pollutants found in office air include Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Particulate Matter (PM2.5), and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC).
The main purposes of a Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) system are to help maintain good indoor air quality through adequate ventilation with filtration and provide thermal comfort. HVAC systems are among the largest energy consumers in workplaces. The choice and design of the HVAC system can also affect many other high-performance goals, including water consumption and acoustics.
Symptoms of poor indoor air quality can include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, respiratory illnesses, heart disease, and even cancer. People also react very differently to exposure to indoor air pollutants.
To reduce the level of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in office air, it’s important to control the sources of VOCs. This can include using low-VOC or no-VOC paints, adhesives, and other materials, ensuring good ventilation, especially during and after activities that release VOCs (like painting or cleaning), and using air cleaners that are specifically designed to remove VOCs.
Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is a term used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. The complaints may be localized in a particular room or zone or may be widespread throughout the building. In contrast, the term “building-related illness” (BRI) is used when symptoms of diagnosable illness are identified and can be attributed directly to airborne building contaminants. Poor indoor air quality is often associated with cases of SBS and BRI.
Long-term health issues from poor indoor air quality can include respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer. The risk of health effects from indoor air pollution can depend on the type and amount of pollutants, the duration of exposure, and individual factors like age, pre-existing health conditions, and individual sensitivity.
Outdoor air pollution can affect indoor air quality when outdoor air enters a building through windows, doors, ventilation systems, and other openings. Outdoor pollutants affecting indoor air quality include particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone. The impact of outdoor air pollution on indoor air quality can depend on factors like the local outdoor air quality, the design and operation of the building’s ventilation system, and the activities and behaviours of building occupants.
High humidity levels can increase concentrations of some pollutants and can also promote the growth of biological contaminants like mold and dust mites. On the other hand, low humidity levels can cause discomfort and can increase the risk of respiratory infections. Controlling humidity levels, for example, through the use of humidifiers or dehumidifiers, can, therefore, be an important part of managing indoor air quality.