Better Indoor Air Quality Means Happier (and Healthier) Occupants

portant things to think about when considering air quality in our work, home, school, and other spaces are ventilation and cleaning products.

Americans generally spend 90% of their time indoors, so getting ventilation (the amount of outside air supplied to a building) right is important to keeping everyone healthy and comfortable while at work, school, and home. ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers) has standards that require minimum ventilation rates and acceptable air quality for building interiors. Buildings that go above and beyond those standards can show improved occupant health and comfort.

One tricky thing about ventilation is that the rates to make a building feel comfortable can vary depending on the building’s location (and how polluted outside air is compared to indoors), function (what occupants are doing in the building), and age (older buildings may have other equipment and building envelope concerns). Generally though, studies show that increased ventilation can positively impact things like productivity, academic performance, and health. For example, improved indoor air quality can lead to higher cognitive function, which is great for productivity at work and in school.

Cleaning products can also impact indoor air. We usually think about volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the context of furniture or materials that off-gas chemicals. However, cleaning products can also contain VOCs and therefore can contribute to poor indoor air quality. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a program called Safer Choice that certifies low-VOC cleaning supplies, indicating that these products meet the standards and are healthier options for consumers. Vinegar and baking soda (combined with things like water and citrus) are also great natural cleaners that can be used for a variety of purposes and won’t leave unhealthy odors or chemicals in the air (they are also often easy to find around our homes!).

Building certifications are starting to focus on indoor air quality and incorporate occupant wellness as a prominent part of their frameworks. This shows a shift in the green building industry from focusing on just physical design attributes (such as energy and water efficiency, waste, and materials) to operational and occupant strategies as well. For example, the WELL Building certification includes four prerequisites and 18 points available for addressing air. Project teams must show that there are strategies in place to reduce indoor air pollutants throughout the life of a building. This emphasis on indoor air highlights its importance in contributing to a healthy and comfortable environment for people to live, work, and learn.

Check out Laurel’s other blog posts!