everything you need to know about indoor air quality

People see smog, receive air quality advisories from the weather report and smell car exhaust in crowded cities. They know that air pollution is bad, but they may not know about indoor air quality and how much of an impact it has on their lives. Facility managers that want to create a comfortable and healthy business environment for all staff members need to fully understand indoor air quality.

Why Is Indoor Air Quality Important?

Staff members may spend eight hours per day or more working in the building, and the typical adult spends 92 percent of their time indoors.. They’re breathing in the air the entire time. If they’re inhaling dangerous pollutants every day or not getting an optimal amount of oxygen, they may face health risks. The indoor and outdoor air quality differs due to air circulation.

A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found cognitive functions suffered when exposed to elevated CO2 levels and volatile organic compounds (VOC). VOC refers to material that is capable of creating gas or vapors at room temperature. People may get sick more often and call out of work if they encounter poor air quality regularly. Anyone who has asthma or other chronic respiratory illness may find their conditions getting worse over time due to the exposure. Businesses lose $576 billion every year due to sickness in their workforces. Better air quality can help them reduce that figure. Government regulation is ramping up, so many commercial buildings need to monitor their air quality to stay compliant.

What Causes Poor Indoor Air Quality?

A building’s indoor air quality is impacted by everything from the carpets to the ventilation system. Products containing volatile organic compounds, which is common in office furniture and computer equipment, is a major contributor to poor quality air.

The HVAC units or building automation system may not react quickly to rising CO2 levels, or it may not bring in enough outside air to keep oxygen levels appropriate for the environment.

Other factors are dependent on the type of business using the building. Manufacturing facilities may bring in toxic materials for part of the production process, while cosmetic companies could release a range of perfume into the air. Outdoor pollutants make their way inside via open windows, doors and other entry points.

How Is Indoor Air Quality Measured?

Sensors in the HVAC units or building automation system measure the components of the air, along with the inside and outside temperature, humidity and other aspects of the airflow. The oxygen and CO2 levels receive a lot of attention from facility managers, along with any signs of dangerous toxins. They also get information about less harmful particles that float in the air.

A PM2.5 sensor looks for particulate matter and is capable of sensing particles that are 2.5 microns. These particles are small enough to enter the lungs and cause irritation or other reactions. VOC sensors give facility managers insight into how much gas is getting into the air from these sources. A CO2 monitor helps keep building occupants safe and allows the ventilation system to bring in outdoor air to maintain good air quality. The indoor and outdoor temperatures and humidity are also closely monitored through sensors, as they have a widespread impact on how to address indoor pollutants.

How Can Facility Managers Manage Indoor Air Quality?

The HVAC and building automation systems in a building play a significant role in maintaining a healthy environment. The facility manager needs to make sure that the air gets cycled on a regular basis, the outdoor air quality doesn’t pose a danger to building occupants, the CO2 levels or other toxic compounds don’t get too high, and the building remains comfortable.

The building humidity is another factor that plays into overall air quality. If the system allows the building to get too humid, bacteria and mold have an easy breeding ground. The construction equipment could also malfunction if it’s not designed to work in a moist environment.

If the humidity is too low, staff may experience dry sinuses and throats. They could get flaky skin and breath in particulates that wouldn’t otherwise spread through the air. Determining the right temperature is another area that requires careful calibration, especially as heating and cooling requirements fluctuate based on room occupancy and the time of day.

The facility manager has a careful balancing act that they have to play on a regular basis. Innovative building automation systems and advanced Internet of Things sensors help this process. The IoT devices can gather data in places that other devices can’t reach. If an HVAC unit breaks or otherwise fails to do its job, the facility manager can get a real-time notification of the problem and compensate for the situation.

Labor Condition Regulations and Compliance

OSHA has regulations regarding indoor air quality, as this falls under its mission to ensure safe work environments for employees. Poor air quality can have short- and long-term effects on workers. The exact requirements that businesses must follow depend on the state they operate in, as OSHA has 28 state-specific sets of regulations. Failure to offer an acceptable indoor air quality can result in fines.

Better Indoor Air Quality Requires a Coordinated Effort

Facility managers have many tools and technology available to work on indoor air quality problems, but they’re not the only one that has to address this in an organization. If one department brings in VOC-heavy furniture while another is doing their best to improve the air quality, they’re fighting a losing battle.

An organization-wide awareness of what occurs due to poor air quality, and the ways everyone can help make improvements, is one way to get buy-in from the business. This situation gets complicated in multi-tenant buildings, but it’s still possible to meet and exceed air quality guidelines.

Good indoor air quality is essential to offering a safe and productive work environment. Advanced smart building technology and IoT help facility managers monitor and control CO2 levels, but a company-wide effort is truly required to keep everyone healthy.

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