Poor indoor air quality can lead to a number of health complaints from building users, including respiratory problems, fatigue and exacerbated allergies. But what actually causes poor indoor air quality? And how can you design and furnish you office in a way that improves air quality - and in turn, the health and wellness of building users?
What Causes Poor Indoor Air Quality?
There are several factors that contribute to poor indoor air quality:
- Microbial contaminants, such as mold and mildew, allergens, and bacteria.
- Chemical contaminants, such as volatile organic compounds, second-hand smoke, and cleaning chemicals.
Poor indoor air quality can trigger allergies and contribute to respiratory problems. It's also a leading contributor to sick building syndrome - the term given to health problems that have no apparent cause, but can be attributed to time spent in a particular building.
4 Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality
With indoor air quality having such an impact on the health and wellbeing of building users, improving air quality should be a top priority for wellness-conscious designers, architects and facility managers.
Fortunately, there are some simple changes you can make to your building design and maintenance that offer the opportunity to dramatically reduce contaminants, and improve indoor air quality for building occupants.
1) Reduce Volatile Organic Compounds
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be found in common building products, including paints, cleaning products, and even certain types of flooring adhesives. VOCs contribute to eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, and can even cause damage to organs and the central nervous system.
While many products are certified VOC-free, some still remain. Therefore it's important - especially during an office refurbishment - to specifically look for manufacturers that have certified VOC-free products, such as flooring products that have been awarded the Carpet and Rug Institute's Green Label Plus.
2) Deal with the Root Cause of Mold and Mildew
Mold and mildew can grow unseen within your building - under flooring, inside drywall, or even in your ventilation system. This can be disastrous for indoor air quality, with mold spores being circulated by the HVAC.
According to the Carpet and Rug Institute, “anything can mold as long as there is moisture or a food source”. Any surface in a building contains enough nutrients to provide a food source for mold spores - but that's not normally a problem, until you add moisture into the equation. Put simply, moisture is the real culprit.
While there are many solutions available to tackle mold and mildew, the most effective solution is surprisingly simple: select a moisture vapor-wicking carpet.
The best carpets in this category use open cell cushion backing; the structure of this backing allows moisture vapor to travel harmlessly through the carpet tile and evaporate away at the tile seams, as nature intended. This removes the main source of moisture from the subfloor, meaning that it's not creating the damp environment in which mold thrives.
3) Look After your Ventilation System
A well-maintained HVAC system is essential for maintaining good indoor air quality.
Without proper maintenance, the filters in your HVAC can get clogged up, and the system will circulate or filter the air at a sub-optimal level, meaning allergens and other breathable particulates aren't filtered out as quickly as they should be. Therefore it's necessary to implement and stick to a regular maintenance program for your HVAC.
4) Choose Carpet Over Hard Surface Flooring
Carpet has a reputation for contributing to poor indoor air quality and exacerbating allergies and other respiratory irritations. However, studies show that the breathing zone over a hard floor can contain almost 9 times more breathable particulates than the air over a carpeted floor.
So contrary to popular belief, carpet is the best flooring option for improving indoor air quality, as the carpet fibers trap allergens and other breathable particulates, keeping them at floor level and out of the breathing zone until they're removed with regular vacuuming.