Indoor Air Quality

Indoor Air Quality and Why it is Important

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) refers to the air quality in and around buildings and structures, as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants. Poor indoor air quality can, at worst, be a hazard to those who are very sensitive such as those with asthma or allergies. It can also be annoying to many others who are not sensitive but have to deal with it. Sensitive groups may experience headaches, respiratory ailments, and various other symptoms including agitation of seasonal and other allergies. Non-sensitive groups may find smells or stuffiness to be uncomfortable to deal with.

Many modern buildings are sealed for energy efficiency and therefore rely on ventilation systems all year round. There are no federally enforced standards for air ventilation in public buildings except for health care buildings. There are ventilation guidelines, but they are just guidelines and are completely voluntary. Due to the pandemic the government has initiated The Clean Air in Buildings Challenge to bring awareness, and is asking building owners and managers to adopt strategies for improving indoor air quality, however it is not a requirement yet.

There are two main things that may negatively contribute to indoor air quality. They are the materials used in the facility and efficiency of its ventilation system. Air quality issues stem from odors and VOCs in the materials and products we bring in such as carpet, furniture, and paint. Issues can also stem from how we clean and maintain facilities like dust, moisture left behind from improper cleaning or using chemicals inside without proper ventilation. 

Ways to keep indoor air healthy:

  • Ensure humidity stays within the optimal range (between 30-50%) to prevent the damp conditions that lead to mold growth
  • Avoid excessively dry air that irritates eyes and nasal passages
  • Monitor for carbon dioxide levels in the air
  • Make sure that the ventilation system is in good working order and that filter replacement and cleaning occurs on a regular basis
  • Vacuum and mop flooring frequently and wash textiles regularly
  • Reduce or remove carpets if possible because they trap harmful particles and allergens including bacteria, mold, pollen, and dust mites
  • Ensure that building materials, paints, and soaps don’t contain formaldehyde, phthalates, or triclosan
  • Check ducts annually and clean as needed
  • Use antibacterial in AC drain lines and pans
  • Use cooking vents in kitchens and breakrooms
  • Consider placing high-performing air purifiers, rated to remove 99.97% of dust, bacteria, viruses, and other common air pollutants, in the gathering rooms and common areas
  • Focus on ventilation before filtration. 
    • Get the clean air in and the old air out – set up proper ventilation rates
    • Control the source of VOCs – use filtration only after you’ve eliminated the source of pollution 

Using filtration before you have done the other items above leads to wasted money and effort. Even the best filtration will struggle unless you address the sources of the pollution first.

The introduction of outdoor air is another important factor in promoting good air quality. Air may enter a building in several different ways, including:

  • through natural ventilation, such as through windows and doors
  • through mechanical means, such as through outdoor air intakes associated with the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system
  • through infiltration, a process by which outdoor air flows into the house through openings, joints and cracks in walls, floors and ceilings, and around windows and doors.

As facility managers continue to hold strict cleaning standards for their buildings, they need to show the same dedication to eliminating indoor air pollution. Just as housekeeping has gone beyond cleaning for appearance to cleaning for health, building ventilation has gone beyond keeping people cool or warm to keeping them healthy.

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