Indoor air quality (IAQ) is officially known as the air quality within and immediately surrounding buildings and other structures. This can include everything from houses and apartment buildings to schools and commercial buildings. Many factors can affect indoor air quality including chemicals and other particulate contaminants, microbes such as mold, ventilation, temperature, and humidity.
If the quality of indoor air is poor, it can have both short-term and lasting effects on the health of the people that occupy the space, even causing sick building syndrome in some cases. Poor air quality and low ventilation can also reduce productivity in the workplace, inhibit learning in schools, and cause the spread of various airborne illnesses, including covid-19.
Offices that have been sitting stagnant for over a year due to covid-19 will soon be bustling once again with the activity of employees. Even if those who have been working remotely come into the office only part-time (hybrid model), this indoor intermingling brings a potential risk of transmitting the virus. Since covid-19 can spread in the form of airborne particles, poorly ventilated indoor spaces pose the greatest risk for transmission, as droplets and particles can continue to accumulate over time.
Though covid-19 remains one of the foremost reasons businesses are focusing more on updating their HVAC systems (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems) and adding air purifiers, a recent study suggests that air quality is correlated to mental health as well, specifically, major depressive disorder (MDD). For a variety of reasons, people that spend time breathing in lower quality air have a higher chance of facing mental illnesses such as MDD.
Aside from the obvious negatives associated with poor physical and mental health, this can also lead to lower productivity and focus which translates to a loss for the business itself. Since IAQ has the ability to affect so much in addition to the covid-19 concerns, it’s time for businesses to step up to the challenge and improve their air quality.
Ventilation is a major component of IAQ and is the most important aspect when it comes to preventing the spread of viruses. Official suggestions state that people should aim for 4 to 6 air changes per hour (ACH) in smaller spaces such as classrooms, meeting rooms, and in the home.
There are several engineering controls that can be used to ensure proper ventilation, including having windows open, using HVAC high-quality, heavy-duty air filters with a rating of MERV 13 or higher, and using portable air purifiers with HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters. Every space is unique and it is important to evaluate that space to determine the best combination of methods to achieve the best indoor air quality.
Portable air purifiers with HEPA filtration are not only useful in cleaning the air of virus particles but are also capable of reducing the concentration of other contaminants such as mold spores and smoke particles. It is important to select a portable air purifier that delivers high air changes per hour.
In commercial buildings and other professional settings, ensuring high IAQ is the responsibility of the employer or the business owner, but employees should request information regarding upgrades to the building’s engineering controls. It is important to note that not all areas of a building require attention, a conference room or area with heavy traffic need sufficient ventilation whereas a closet probably doesn’t need increased ventilation. Portable air purifiers give the flexibility to address ventilation in certain areas or spaces.
Updating HVAC systems can also help with proper ventilation with powerful ductwork and proper airflow throughout the indoor space. Additionally, heating and air conditioning are vital components of IAQ, as they help control the temperature and the humidity levels, both of which are important factors in the comfortability of the building’s occupants and the prevention of mold. HVAC systems do have limitations, most were designed to regulate temperature and do not provide the high air flow needed to ensure proper ventilation. Always make sure the HVAC system is being used properly, this includes using the right filters and properly cleaning and maintaining all aspects of the system.
With closed windows, no air purifiers, and inefficient HVAC systems, not only does the air inside buildings get stuffy, but it accumulates potentially harmful particles that sit there waiting to be breathed in. Prioritizing good IAQ as we return to the office will help prevent the spread of covid-19, reduce other contaminants, and keep people more physically and mentally healthy.
Some improvements to make include ensuring high ventilation not only through open windows, but with updated HVAC systems with heavy-duty air filters, and adding portable HEPA air purifiers for spaces with people. Everyone will be able to breathe easier knowing less particulate matter in the air.