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Sarah Lozanova headshot

The High Cost of Poor Indoor Air

By Sarah Lozanova

Is your indoor air quality lowering productivity and hurting your bottom line? Studies indicate that it might.

Increasingly, it is becoming evident that indoor air quality impacts the building occupants’ concentration, energy level, and even mood. The National Institutes of Health found the impact of poor indoor air quality on office work performance can be as high as 9 percent in resulting loss of productivity. A series of studies by the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory determined that the presence of carpeting and less ventilation reduced typing speed, typing accuracy, and proofreading accuracy by 4 percent for each variable. For companies with high payroll expenses, the loss of productivity can add up fast.

In schools,which are often cramped and overcrowded, poor indoor air quality impacts learning, student performance, behavior, and overall health. There is even a connection between a lack of ventilation and the amount of bacteria and viruses in indoor air, which can cause absenteeism owing toillness.

Creating an effective ventilation strategy is paramount in boosting indoor air quality. According to the American Lung Association, “Effective ventilation may also help keep bacteria, viruses and other pollutants out of the indoor air. Research shows that airflow and ventilation can affect how diseases spread indoors. The more stagnant the air is, the more likely diseases are to spread.”

It is crucial for organizations to ensure high indoor air quality for optimum productivity and well-being. The following tips are a good start.

Use balanced whole-building ventilation systems

Buildings need controlled and purposeful introduction of outdoor air into the conditioned space to ensure adequate indoor air quality. Balanced ventilation systems both supply and remove air, without pressurizing or depressurizing spaces.

Many schools across the United States have Zehnder heat recovery ventilation systems or energy recovery ventilation systems, which promote both indoor air quality and energy efficiency. These systems supply a constant streamof clean, filtered air throughout buildings, diluting or removing indoor contaminants. Finer filters can even be used to remove some common allergens and asthma triggers, such as pollen, mold, and dust.

With the Zehnder energy recovery ventilator, the air in the building is exchanged with fresh, filtered air. The ventilator preheats incoming winter air or precools incoming summer air by transferring heat and coolness from the exhaust air before it leaves the building, keeping energy costs down.

Limit excessive moisture

Dampness encourages the growth of mold and bacteria, which both compromise human health. Maintaining indoor moisture levels within an ideal range can mitigate this health risk.

Test indoor air quality

When in doubt, indoor air quality testing offers the answer. A variety of tests are available to determine indoor pollutants.

UL Environment keeps an extensive database of indoor contaminants and offers services to determine air quality. “There is a technique that we use to measure indoor air quality,” says Scott Steady, product manager for indoor air quality at UL Environment. “Air can be collected over the media and sent to our lab for analysis, and we can tell what level of [volatile organic compounds], formaldehyde and other pollutants exist.”

Image credit: Flickr/Sebastien Wiertz (upper image)

Image credit: Flickr/WoodleyWonderWorks (lower image)

Sarah Lozanova headshot

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.

Read more stories by Sarah Lozanova