Have you ever heard of sick building syndrome? It’s what some people call the undefined symptoms that can appear in building occupants when the indoor air quality is poor. According to the World Health Organization, up to 30% of new or remodeled commercial buildings may have unusually high rates of health and comfort complaints that may be related to an indoor air quality problem. People being affected by building-related illnesses may complain of congestion, lethargy, headache, dizziness, nausea, and/or forgetfulness, all of which may come and go as they enter or leave the office.
Of course, you shouldn’t wait for an employee to begin experiencing signs of illness to improve the indoor air quality in your building. Here is what you need to know about IAQ for your office building.
What Causes IAQ Problems?
1. Air Pollution
In any building, whether it’s a home or office, one of the biggest factors in air quality is indoor air pollutants. The EPA lists some of the most common air pollutants in offices: asbestos from insulation and fire-retardation materials; formaldehyde from pressed wood products; organics from office furnishings and carpets; cleaners, air fresheners, paint, adhesives, and other chemical agents; contaminants from dirty ventilation systems; and, finally, pesticides.
2. Ventilation Systems
There is a lot to consider about the ventilation system in your office. Poorly designed, operated or maintained ventilation systems can contribute t indoor air quality issues. Because they’re designed to draw in and circulate outdoor air, using or maintaining the system incorrectly could lead to poor ventilation.
Ventilation also becomes an issue when interior air supply and return vents are blocked or positioned so that air never reaches the building occupants. IAQ could also be affected if exterior air intake vents are bringing in too much outdoor pollution like car exhaust, boiler emissions, dumpster fumes, or vented air from restrooms.
Finally, biological contaminants (bacteria, fungi, pathogens) could be spread through ventilation systems where they have multiplied, including ductwork, dehumidifiers, and air conditioners.
3. Building Use
Buildings often get used for more than one purpose simultaneously, and sometimes the by-products on one business or department in the building can be circulated to other areas. For example, if one building houses both a restaurant and offices, the air quality in the office could be affected by the fumes from the restaurant.
Also, buildings originally designed for one purpose may now be used for something else with lasting air quality affects from the previous occupants. If the HVAC and ventilation systems weren’t modified from their original use, the oversight could lead to IAQ issues.
If you suspect that your office may have a problem with indoor air quality, whether because one or more building occupants have experienced symptoms or because of other factors like a poorly installed or maintained HVAC system, you have a several options.
If you are the building owner, contact HVAC professionals who can help you assess whether your HVAC and ventilation systems may be causing IAQ problems and make recommendations for how you can alleviate the issues.
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