NYR: Healthy Year, Healthy Building (Part 2) – Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
To pursue our resolution of a healthy year and healthy buildings, we should evaluate their Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). IAQ is important in creating safe and healthy environments for our buildings’ occupants.
What is IAQ?
Indoor air quality (IAQ), as defined by the EPA, “refers to the quality of the air inside buildings as represented by concentrations of pollutants and thermal conditions (temperature and relative humidity) that affect the health, comfort, and performance of occupants.”
Why do we want good IAQ?
The most tangible motivator for having good indoor air quality is to provide a healthy, safe, and comfortable environment for the people who work, live, or visit our buildings. While this may be enough motivation, there is also a business case for IAQ.
IAQ can directly affect the bottom line of a business. Although it can be difficult to quantify, there are many studies that prove better IAQ correlates directly to increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, and can decrease health care costs. Inversely, poor IAQ leads to lower productivity, increased absenteeism due to sickness, and possible law suits if health issues are tied to air quality issues.
While these results are more apparent for a building owner who is also the occupant, property managers can see the benefits of good IAQ as well. With an improved bottom line, tenants are more financially sound, increasing both their desire and ability to remain in your building.
There is further evidence that IAQ can affect your building’s occupied percentage. According to one study, 75% of full-time employees ranked indoor air quality at work as very important. With such a stress on this topic by our occupants, it could affect potential or existing tenants’ decisions to sign or renew a lease.
Balancing IAQ and Energy Efficiency
While energy efficiency has become a major focus of our society, an over focus on energy efficiency can sometimes cause a decrease in good IAQ. But there is no need to sacrifice one for the other. Creating a healthy building is about focusing on the building as a whole, so consideration must be given to both IAQ and energy efficiency. It is not enough for us to cut down energy use and pollutants to improve our environment if we are creating poor environments within our buildings where we spend 90 percent of our time.
Sometimes energy efficiency and good IAQ seem to be in conflict. For instance, one idea to reduce energy use is to limit the amount of outdoor air introduced into the HVAC system. With less outdoor air to condition, less energy is needed. However, the environment that is created can be detrimental and uncomfortable to the occupants in the building with stale air, increased indoor pollutants, and exposure to other occupants’ germs. In this example, the energy savings gained are potentially lost through a decrease in productivity and an increase in occupant discomfort and health issues that the poor IAQ may cause. Using proper air flow for the building’s occupants, the systems, and climate, while not over saturating the system with outdoor air, provides a balance of good indoor air quality and energy efficiency.
Correct equipment size, equipment upgrades, and improving the building’s shell are all factors that can help balance energy efficiency and IAQ. Before deciding on any change to operation or an upgrade, it is a good idea to consider how it will affect both the energy efficiency and indoor air quality of your building.
Assessing IAQ through Occupant Feedback
Since IAQ is all about keeping our buildings’ occupants healthy, comfortable, and happy, the first place to start an IAQ assessment is through feedback from our occupants. This might just be looking at past complaints or satisfaction ratings or it might be an actual survey to assess their current feelings about the building. It is also important to look at people’s nonverbal cues and responses. An individual may express satisfaction with the temperature but in reality the only reason he or she is comfortable is because of the space heater under the desk. That space heater is an indication that the thermal climate of the building may need some adjustment.
The information you collect through occupant feedback can help direct the focus of our investigation and our overall goals as we proceed to the next step of our assessment: our HVACR system. This evaluation should look at both indoor air quality factors as well as energy efficiency.
Join us next week as we identify some essential steps for evaluating our HVACR systems.