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Understanding Indoor Air Quality: Causes, Effects, and Solutions


With the rapid increase in population, the construction of buildings has become more prevalent. While some individuals carefully consider various aspects of buildings such as air quality, light, water, access, ventilation, and budget, others prioritize completing projects quickly. In this blog, we will delve into the topic of indoor air quality, exploring its causes, effects, and potential solutions. Since people spend approximately 80-90% of their time indoors, indoor air quality is crucial. The air we breathe contains numerous pollutants from both human activities and natural sources, which can pose health risks. Good air quality implies having low levels of these harmful pollutants.

Pollutants can be categorized based on their physical form (gas, solid, or liquid), chemical or biological composition, or the effects they have on humans (toxic, carcinogenic, etc.). For instance, airborne particles can be classified into fine particles (with a diameter of 2.5 µm or less), coarse particles (above 2.5 µm), and ultrafine particles (below 0.1 µm). Fine particles typically consist of a mixture of components like soot, acids, sulfates, nitrates, trace metals, and other toxins.

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For example, an extensive study conducted in various office buildings across Australia has shed light on the harmful effects of inadequate ventilation and high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on employee well-being and productivity. The research has revealed a troubling correlation between these indoor air quality issues and increased sick leave among the workforce, as well as a decline in overall productivity. Employees working in environments with insufficient ventilation and elevated VOC levels are more prone to respiratory discomfort, headaches, and general discomfort, ultimately impacting their job performance and satisfaction.

Similarly, Sydney building consultants specializing in remedial building projects have identified poor indoor air quality as a common issue. They have found that buildings with inadequate ventilation systems, especially in areas like health services buildings and commercial buildings, can accumulate pollutants, affecting the well-being of occupants. To address these concerns, hydraulics engineers and consultants in Australia have emphasized the importance of considering combined building services and incorporating effective hydraulic services, electrical consultation, and fire services in building design and construction.

Common Causes of Inadequate Indoor Air

  1. Poor Ventilation: One contributing factor to indoor air quality issues is the trend of sealing buildings tightly to improve energy efficiency. While this reduces energy waste, it also reduces air exchange rates, leading to higher concentrations of indoor air pollutants. Sydney building consultants recommend incorporating proper ventilation systems to ensure adequate airflow and the removal of pollutants.

  2. Building Materials and Furnishings: Building materials such as plywood, furniture, and pressed-wood products often contain chemicals that emit gases and odors over time. As these materials age, they release substances like formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the indoor air. To mitigate this, consulting engineers and design consultants suggest using low-VOC materials and regularly maintaining building components.

  3. Mold and Dampness: Excessive dampness or moisture can accumulate in building structures or finishing materials through leaks, inadequate ventilation, or faulty construction. Moisture from the ground can also penetrate into the building. This creates favorable conditions for mold growth, which emits various compounds and particles into the air, contributing to indoor air pollution. Engineering companies in Sydney and other cities emphasize addressing moisture issues and promptly remedying any mold or dampness problems.

  4. Outdoor Pollutants: Outdoor pollution, such as vehicle emissions, industrial emissions, and pollen, can infiltrate buildings through windows, doors, and cracks, affecting indoor air quality. Engineering companies and consultants suggest incorporating appropriate filtration systems and sealing building envelopes to reduce the entry of outdoor pollutants.

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Effects of Inadequate Indoor Air Quality

  1. Respiratory Problems: Inadequate indoor air quality can trigger or worsen respiratory issues such as asthma, allergies, and respiratory infections. This is a significant concern for health services buildings, where patients may already have compromised respiratory systems.

  2. Allergic Reactions: Exposure to allergens like dust mites, pollen, pet dander, or mold spores can cause allergic reactions, leading to discomfort and respiratory distress. Proper air filtration, regular cleaning, and maintaining appropriate humidity levels can help alleviate these issues.

  3. Sick Building Syndrome (SBS): Prolonged exposure to indoor pollutants can result in SBS, characterized by symptoms like headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat. Identifying and mitigating the sources of pollutants is crucial to prevent SBS.

  4. Reduced Productivity and Cognitive Function: Studies have indicated that poor indoor air quality can impair cognitive function, concentration, and productivity levels, impacting work and learning environments. This emphasizes the need for high-quality indoor air in commercial buildings, schools, and offices.

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Solutions for Inadequate Indoor Air Quality

  1. Adequate Ventilation: Ensuring proper airflow and ventilation systems that bring in fresh air from outside and remove indoor pollutants. Seeking advice from hydraulic engineers and building services consultants is crucial in designing and implementing effective ventilation systems.

  2. Source Control: Using low-VOC building materials, furniture, and cleaning products, and avoiding activities that release pollutants. Consulting engineering companies can provide guidance on choosing suitable materials and practices to minimize indoor air pollution.

  3. Regular Maintenance: Addressing leaks, moisture issues, and promptly remedying any mold or dampness problems. Remedial engineers and building maintenance services can assist in identifying and rectifying such issues.

  4. Air Filtration and Purification: Utilizing high-efficiency air filters and air purifiers to remove airborne particles and improve indoor air quality. Consulting engineers and specialists in building services can recommend and install appropriate filtration systems.

  5. Education and Awareness: Promoting awareness among occupants about the importance of indoor air quality and encouraging healthy habits. Building consultants and health services can collaborate to provide information and resources to occupants.

  6. Installing Indoor Air Quality Sensors: Monitoring carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, temperature, and humidity with indoor air quality sensors to identify potential sources of poor air quality, enabling corrective actions by building managers and engineering consultants. For instance, high CO2 levels may indicate inadequate ventilation, which can be improved by increasing air circulation or opening windows.

By incorporating these solutions, individuals, building managers, and engineering firms can take significant steps toward improving indoor air quality and creating healthier indoor environments for everyone.

At SUSTENA we aim to incorporate new technologies and design practices that enhance the end user's life quality and makes the building ready for any future developments.

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