The impact indoor air quality (IAQ) within buildings has on the health of its occupants is a growing concern. According to many studies, building owners, designers and managers are often unaware of the costs and benefits of indoor air quality improvement.
T. Harris Environmental Management (THEM) experts have conducted thousands of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Assessments in public, commercial, institutional and residential buildings. Here are some tips from THEM to give you an idea how indoor air quality can impact your tenants or your workplace.
What you don’t know can hurt you:
- It is more than discomfort – poor indoor air quality can make tenants feel ill. It is called Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and Building Related Illness. Symptoms of a Building Related Illness are usually linked to a specific source in the environment. Carbon monoxide poisoning from a malfunctioning appliance, allergic reactions to mould growing in the space and Legionnaires Disease from contaminated water features in a building are just some examples.
- Indoor pollution has similar if not worse effects to outdoor pollution. Canadians spend most of their time indoors breathing air which is often 2 to 5 times more polluted than the worst outdoor air. Most people recognize the concerns of outdoor air pollution and its health risks. Why then are we neglecting to consider and address the effects of poor indoor air quality?
- IAQ problems are not always noticeable by sense of smell or sight. Some of the most devastating IAQ issues are related to infiltrations of radon or carbon monoxide gas, both of which are invisible and odourless.
- The source can be hard to find even if the IAQ problem is obvious. For example, Objectionable Odours are the leading cause of IAQ complaints, and few people would think of attributing them to the placement of building air intake vents. Yet, they can be related to the intake vents being too close to dumpsters, loading docks, kitchen exhausts, plumbing vents or local ventilation exhausts.
How to recognize indoor air quality issues:
Many simple steps can be taken to counteract the undesirable outcomes poor IAQ may have on a building.
- Check your indoor air quality if many building occupants are getting cold-like symptoms. Indoor air quality tests help detect the sources of Building Related Illness. While IAQ problems can cause various health conditions, many of the symptoms are very similar a cold or the flu. It is prudent to test the IAQ if these symptoms occur soon after employees in the building start their workday and if they feel better after leaving the building. It is also an IAQ red flag if many people at once report similar symptoms, or if all of them work in the same area of a building.
- Check your indoor air quality if you are switching between cooling and heating. In the fall and spring there are often periods of time when the weather is just right and building occupants turn off ventilation systems. Many buildings only get air flow through the HVAC system circulation, so when it is not running, residents see more allergies, odours and other health issues. Even if there is some air filtration, older systems may not provide any fresh air and the level of filtration may vary. Additionally, temperature changes and inadequate relative humidity may also cause issues for your building, your staff and your health.
- Check your indoor air quality if you have recently done renovations or if you made your building more energy-efficient. Good air quality often depends on the careful use of everyday materials inside of a building. Problems may arise if there is less natural fresh air infiltration in the more airtight energy-efficient buildings. Low air flow inside an energy-efficient building can cause a buildup of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from building materials, chemical products, personal care products usage, and/or carbon dioxide.
- Check your indoor air quality if you are moving. The “new house smell” found in many buildings is not always something to be desired. It consists of outgassed chemicals released by heat within a closed environment such as an office. Concentrations of chemicals within closed environments have the potential to reach significant levels where air is stagnant or recirculated.
Improving indoor air quality provides benefits:
Apart from health benefits to tenants, there are significant benefits owners and managers can derive from improving IAQ.
- Better work and study environment attracts better tenants. Maintaining great indoor air quality benefits employers as it maintains higher productivity and reduced absences at work. Progressive property management companies, workplaces and learning environments implement IAQ Assessments annually. They know that it is a factor in creating a healthier workforce and lower staff turnover.
- Better maintenance for fewer bucks. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, mold and moisture remediation costs are more than 100 times greater on average than the cost of a prevention program. Indoor Air quality testing can help prevent the spread of these issues in early stages. Additionally, it will help adjust humidity levels, which helps preserve building materials from deterioration.
About T. Harris Environmental Management
T. Harris Environmental Management Inc. (THEM) is a leading Canadian environmental consulting firm in the fields of environmental services, hazardous materials management, industrial hygiene, and occupational health and safety. Our professional staff serve a wide range of clientele including commercial, government, industrial institutional, and residential. We are passionate about health & safety and committed to excellence. Since 1979, we continue to provide high quality services, taking pride in building long-term relationships with our clients. We are dedicated to understanding your concerns and meeting your needs by delivering efficient, cost-effective solutions.
Mission: To be the preeminent niche environmental and occupational health and safety consulting firm in Ontario and Quebec.
Vision: To enhance our position as a premier niche environmental consulting company based on knowledge, innovation, technology, and be at the forefront of emerging EHS concerns and regulatory changes. We will achieve this by further developing our expertise, fostering growth of our team, synergistic relationships, excellence in performance, and strengthening client relationships.
Value Statement: We are committed to understanding client concerns and meeting our client’s needs by formulating practical, efficient, and cost-effective solutions.
Sick Building Syndrome (SBS): Describes a situation in which a direct correlation can be made between the time spent within a building and the negative effects on both the short-term health and general comfort levels of those within the building can be drawn[i].
Building Related Illness:A series of health related instances in which occupants of a specific building are more susceptible to illness than reasonably expected. This is often observed in large commercial or government buildings in which there are limited methods of natural air exchange within the building[ii].
Objectionable Odors: Any odor present within a building (or workspace) that when found by itself, or when combined with other gases, is foul or unpleasant.