There are numerous approaches to improving indoor air quality in an office, from letting natural light in, assessing building ventilation system design and maintenance, adding specialized filtration equipment, and monitoring moisture control.
Indoor air quality” describes the state of the air inside an enclosed space, such as inside a building, particularly concerning the health and comfort of occupants.
It is the result of the constantly changing complex interactions among building systems, the environment around the building, activities and items in the building, and occupants that affect the types and levels of contaminants in indoor environments.
In the fast-paced world of increasing lifestyles, individuals spend approximately 90% of their days indoors, whether in offices, commercial spaces, or at home.
Consequently, indoor air quality has become a significant factor impacting the health and well-being of individuals.
Ignorance of and inaction regarding measures to improve indoor air quality in office spaces can result in various health concerns, such as allergies, lethargy, and respiratory disorders.
The World Health Organization’s estimate highlights the urgent need to enhance indoor air quality in offices and that 3.8 million deaths worldwide are attributed to indoor air pollution.
To guarantee a healthy work environment, a company must proactively take measures to improve its indoor air quality.
According to recent studies, indoor pollution levels can vary from two to five times higher than outdoor levels. The air quality can be deteriorated by pollutants such as airborne particles, in-house dust, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from fragrances used in conventional cleaners, and combustion byproducts. This may result in headaches, nausea, irritated breathing passages, asthma, and decreased productivity.
While some risks are simply unavoidable, there are some risks that we can avoid if we have the opportunity to make informed choices.
This article highlights the need for indoor air quality, its impact on health and productivity, types of air pollutants in the office, and effective ways to improve indoor air quality in office spaces.
The Importance of Indoor Air Quality
Indoor air quality significantly affects individuals’ health, well-being, and comfort. Unfortunately, many indoor environments have pollutant levels higher than those found outdoors, leading to short and long-term illnesses, decreased productivity, increased sick days, and, in severe cases, fatalities.
While individuals are conscious of outdoor pollution, there is a lack of awareness regarding improving indoor air quality.
Due to its potential to affect building occupants’ comfort, productivity, and general well-being, indoor air quality is a significant concern for renters, employees, building managers, and businesses.
According to studies, as much as 90% of an American’s time is spent inside. Research from many organizations, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States, indicates that interior air quality can occasionally surpass outdoor air quality, and pollutants can raise the risk of sickness in our interior environment.
The EPA, states, and independent scientific panels regularly identified indoor air pollution as a serious environmental health concern in several investigations.
Poor indoor air quality can occasionally be found in well-run buildings, even if most do not have serious issues, more productivity and fewer missed work days can be attained when we improve indoor air quality in office and work environments.
According to an EPA report submitted to Congress in 1989, as a result of lost productivity and increased medical expenses, the EPA calculates that indoor air quality could cost the country tens of billions of dollars annually.
Common Types of Air Pollutants in Offices
Identifying and understanding common air pollutants is crucial in devising effective strategies to improve office indoor air quality. These air pollutants include:
- Biological contaminants, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi (like molds), dust mites (allergens), animal dander, and pollen in excessive levels.
These may result from subpar housekeeping, spills, inadequate humidity controls, or being brought into the space by occupants or filtration systems.
Many health issues associated with biological contaminants include asthma attacks and allergies.
- Chemical pollutants like carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, chemical spills, cigarette smoke, or emissions from office equipment can combust and cause severe health issues.
- Particles such as dust, dirt, and residues from office activities like drywall, printing, copying, smoking, and equipment operation suspended in the air
These are the primary pollutants in office spaces and can originate from various sources, including pest control services, housekeeping, building renovations, and occupants’ activities.
Recognizing the risks associated with different pollutants is essential for creating targeted mitigation plans. This brings us to ways to improve Indoor air quality in office spaces.
13 Unique Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality in Office
Improving indoor air quality is a shared responsibility involving workers, office managers, building facility managers, and maintenance crews. The following strategies can significantly enhance air quality in office spaces:
1. Assess Building Ventilation System Design and Maintenance
To improve indoor air quality in office spaces and environments, collaborate with building management to regularly assess and maintain HVAC and ventilation systems. Ensuring proper airflow and preventing the entry of pollutants like carbon monoxide is crucial for optimal indoor air quality.
2. Monitor Moisture Control
Control moisture levels to prevent biological pollutants from growing. Employ humidifiers or dehumidifiers as needed, and regularly monitor water-producing appliances to maintain an ideal humidity level.
3. Add Specialized Filtration Equipment
Incorporate specialized air purifiers equipped with HEPA filters to remove particulates, viruses, and mold. Consider upgrading HVAC system filtration for improved air quality.
4. Consider Space Planning and Improved Workspace Design
Evaluate workspace design to prevent blockages in ventilation systems and optimize air circulation. Implement easy-to-maintain air-filtering plants strategically and establish policies to limit occupants’ contribution to indoor air pollutants.
5. Set Occupant Policies
Establish cleanliness policies to minimize pollutants introduced by occupants. Prohibit the use of strong fragrances, encourage proper food storage, and implement smoking policies to create a healthier indoor environment.
During my tenure at a workplace where air filters were often neglected, we encountered issues with dust accumulation and increased respiratory discomfort.
Taking personal initiative, I recommended a regular schedule for air filter replacement. Once implemented, there was a noticeable reduction in airborne particles, resulting in improved breathing conditions for everyone.
This experience emphasized the importance of routine maintenance in sustaining optimal indoor air quality.
6. Introduce Indoor Plants
Certain plants, such as the spider plant, Dracaena, Garden mum, etc., act as natural air purifiers, absorbing toxins like benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and xylene from the air, thereby helping to improve indoor air quality in office environments.
It is also essential that you are aware that mold often grows around plants that are watered often, so routinely check for and clean any subsequent mold growth
7. Check Building Materials and Furnishings
When carrying out office buildings or renovations, choose materials with fewer chemical emissions to minimize indoor air pollution.
8. Restrict Smoking in the Office Area
Carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and other compounds are present in cigarette smoke and fine particulates. Research has indicated that nonsmokers may develop asthma, lung cancer, and inner ear infections as a result of being around second-hand tobacco smoke.
Furthermore, the increased use of electronic cigarettes indoors may contribute to new sources of indoor air contaminants, including nicotine and flavor and fragrance additives.
Implement strict smoking policies to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals from cigarette smoke.
9. Clean and Sanitize HVAC Air Ducts Regularly
Your HVAC Air Ducts circulate cold and hot air throughout your office. Over time, dust, debris, mold, bacteria, and even dead insects and rodents accumulate inside Air Ducts. Regularly clean HVAC air ducts to prevent the circulation of contaminants, contributing to a healthier indoor environment.
10. Let Natural Air in
To improve indoor air quality in offices, open doors and windows regularly to allow natural ventilation, reducing indoor pollutants. The open-air, natural sunlight, and temperature keep the air fresh and rotating.
If there are windows in your office, open them to let some fresh air in. When the weather permits, opening your windows and doors promotes stale and new air circulation.
Do this once a week or fortnightly as time and convenience permits. Natural ventilation can also improve indoor air quality by reducing indoor pollutants. It includes opening windows and doors and shading, such as closing the blinds.
Reflecting on my experience in an office with limited access to open windows, I realized the importance of letting natural air in. During a renovation, the usual ventilation system was temporarily disabled, causing a stale and stuffy atmosphere.
Opening windows whenever possible, even for short periods, significantly refreshed the air and mitigated the discomfort experienced by many colleagues.
11. Use Air Purifiers
To improve indoor air quality in office spaces, employ air purifiers with HEPA filters to filter contaminants effectively. Air purifiers capture particulate matter but do not remove gas and other chemicals. Therefore, activated carbon filters are needed to remove gas and chemicals.
12. Frequently Replace Air Filters
Regular replacement or cleaning of air filters in heating systems and air purifiers should be done to prevent the reissue of pollutants.
13. Get Your Air Quality Checked
Professionals in the field can measure several aspects of workplace air quality, including humidity, airflow, smells, leaks, and more. They also have the appropriate equipment. After a complete evaluation, you will know what should be done to improve indoor air quality in office spaces.
Factors Contributing to Poor Indoor Air Quality
Numerous factors can contribute to poor indoor air quality, resulting in the so-called “sick building syndrome.”(a series of acute health and comfort effects that had no identifiable medical cause and were linked to time spent inside a building). These factors include:
Moisture in the Office
Improperly or inadequately designed, maintained, or installed building envelope or structure (such as water leaks through the roof, windows, walls, penetrations, and flashings, as well as air leaks, which can lead to condensation, drafts, rodent or pest infestations, and sanitation issues).
High humidity levels leading to increased odors, stuffiness, and potential for mold growth.
Ventilation system of the building or office
Improperly or inadequately designed, maintained, or installed heating and ventilation systems also contribute to poor indoor air in an office. This can also apply to situations where these systems have not been appropriately modified to reflect building changes caused by renovations
Uses or activities that do not match the original design of the building or ventilation system (for example, there are more occupants than planned for in the ventilation system design) can also influence the quality of indoor air in an office.
The characteristics of the building or office, such as age, design, renovations, dimensions, etc.can contribute to poor indoor air quality as well as limiting the measures to improve indoor air quality in office settings.
Also, the type of building materials used in construction (such as asbestos-containing materials, lead, composite wood)
The types of office equipment and furnishings present (such as emissions from photocopiers, off-gassing from furnishings, composite wood products containing formaldehyde)
Number of Occupants in the building
Increased number of building occupants and time spent indoors; also, occupant activities that impact air quality or circulation (such as placement of furnishings, renovations, blocking grilles or vents, cleaning spills, housekeeping, smoking, vaping) or items brought into the building (such as food, scented products) can affect the quality of air in an office
How Do We Detect Possible Indoor Air Quality Issues?
Identifying the causes of indoor air pollution, particularly in commercial settings, can be challenging. Facilities managers frequently become aware of it only when individuals exhibit symptoms brought on by poor indoor air quality.
While businesses employ different strategies to identify potential problems with indoor air quality, several steps are typically involved:
- Checking the ventilation system’s functionality and ensuring enough outside air is drawn in and dispersed throughout the space.
- Disqualifying ergonomics, loudness, thermal comfort, inadequate illumination, and other potential symptom causes.
- Testing for air contaminants, such as asbestos, mold, carbon monoxide, poisonous gasses, and other substances. Testing kits are available to accomplish this. The lab receives the samples and analyzes them.
Working to improve indoor air quality in offices is imperative for occupants’ health, well-being, and productivity. Businesses can establish a more comfortable and healthy work environment by implementing the suggested strategies and additional tips.
Recognizing the importance of indoor air quality is the first step toward fostering a workplace that prioritizes the well-being of its employees.