Tips for Assessing and Improving the Indoor Air Quality of Offices

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Purpose: To inform facility managers about the importance of indoor air quality (IAQ) and provide useful, simple tips to improve IAQ.

Highlights:

  • What causes poor IAQ?
  • How can you reduce indoor air pollution?
  • Simple, inexpensive solutions to improve IAQ.

We do not have a true awareness for the importance of indoor air quality (IAQ), but the time couldn’t be better to focus on it.  A recent survey shows that as much as 70% of British office workers believe that air quality has a negative effect on their health and productivity, and the United States EPA ranks indoor air quality amongst the top five environmental risks to public health.

Causes and effects of poor IAQ

And truly, when we take a look at the list of indoor pollutants, it’s easy to see the severity and the relevance of this problem. Some of the most common sources are

●        Electronics and other plastic products

●        Glues and adhesives

●        Paints and strippers

●        Upholstered furniture

●        Pressed-wood products

●        Dust or mold in the HVAC system

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The list of issues, caused by these contaminators is no shorter and it covers the likes of

●        Burning mucous membranes

●        Fatigue or lethargy

●        Runny nose

●        Headache

●        Nausea

●        Forgetfulness

How to fight the indoor office pollution

As we can see, the danger of indoor pollution is very clear and present. Let’s take a look, then, at a couple of ways we can improve the air quality and help our employees to work at the top of their abilities in a healthy environment.



 

Assess the air quality

In order to efficiently fight pollution in your office, you first need to know the level of quality you are dealing with. The more thorough you are, the better, but here are the top four essential readings you must do:

●        Temperature and humidity – Acceptable levels of indoor humidity are between 30% and 60%.

●        Carbon Dioxide – A typical indoor carbon dioxide level is approximately 800ppm. Everything above 1000 should be considered dangerous.

●        Air motion – A valuable reading that can tell you how well the air spreads throughout the office. It’s performed by putting the heated probe element into the airstream and measuring the temperature throughout the premise.

●        Carbon monoxide – An average 8-hour exposure should not exceed 9ppm. However, all readings above 5ppm may point to the presence of combustion pollutants.

Maintain a healthy level of humidity

Below-average humidity levels will cause discomforts like stuffy noses and dry skin. On the other hand, going above 60% will encourage the growth of dust mites, mold, fungi and other allergens. If you want to keep humidity under control, you will need to install a dehumidifier or an air conditioner. The latter one comes with a benefit of filtering pollutants out of the air. Also, by cleaning up the spills as soon as they occur, you will drastically reduce the risk of mold growth.

Schedule regular maintenance of HVAC systems

Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems are the “lungs” of every building. Any kind of malfunction they may experience can drastically impede the indoor air quality. Just make sure you are complying to local legislation. For instance, according to Electrical Safety Act from 2002 all air conditioning repairs in Sydney and other Australian cities must be conducted by licensed professionals, with penalties for disobeying going up to 3,000,000 AUD.

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Keep the premises clean

Dust and allergens tend to stick to hard surfaces even after thorough vacuuming. That is why you’ll need to schedule regular professional cleaning services that will also include mopping, and sanitation. Also, it would be a good idea to supply each work station with a couple of microfiber cloths and impose strict workplace hygiene policy on your employees. It’s for their own good.



 

Store the pollutants in a safe manner

All the cleansers, solvents, chemicals and other dangerous materials should be stored in a separate room with its own ventilation exhaust. If that’s not possible, at least do your best to keep them away from the major flows that spread air throughout the offices. As for the PCs, printers and other devices that can’t be moved out, the best thing you can do is to keep them off when they are not used, regularly vent the room, and opt for the brands that produce lower emissions.

Refresh the air in a natural way

The damage dealt by air fresheners and similar aerosol sprays far outweighs their positives. The only thing they do is emit dozens of dangerous chemicals in the air. The same goes for cleansers, purifiers, and laundry products. Whenever possible, replace them with mild cleansers without any artificial fragrance. Also, be sure to open up the windows every few hours to release the toxins and pollutants outside and replenish supplies of fresh air in the most natural way.

Introduce plants to the office

Houseplants have a tremendous impact on the indoor air quality, and not only for their ability to suppress carbon dioxide. Several studies indicate that an average houseplant can also clean the air of benzene, trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, and toluene which can be found in inks, oils, paints, plastic, adhesives and varnishes. They also have a very positive impact on happiness and productivity, so don’t miss the chance to introduce them to your premises.

These were a couple of tips that should help you assess and improve the IAQ in your offices. The problem is real. Now is the time for action. Health of your employees is not something you should gamble with.



 

Guest post by Mike Johnston

About the author: Mike Johnston is a home improvement blogger, DIY enthusiast and sustainability buff from Sydney. He is a regular writer at Smooth Decorator and contributor on several interior design, real estate and eco blogs, always on the lookout for new ideas and the latest trends in these fields.

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