Spending forty-plus hours in an office each week virtually guarantees exposure to any and all types of air pollution the building has to offer. Poor air quality in commercial buildings is more than just weird smells or stagnant air. It’s an environmental health concern that can impact the wellbeing, comfort, and productivity of workers.
Even clean, well-run buildings can expose occupants to indoor air pollution from time to time. The keys to maintaining good IAQ in your office building are:
Read on for a breakdown of how to use these techniques to improve indoor air quality in your commercial office building.
Your building’s HVAC system plays a crucial role in maintaining your indoor air quality. Airflow from the HVAC can help move indoor pollutants through the building, keeping them from building up in any one area. Exhaust fans connected to your air ducts also help with IAQ by creating a path for polluted air to exit your building.
Make sure to perform regular maintenance on your HVAC system to keep it in good working order. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends annual ductwork inspections; semiannual cleaning, lubrication, and adjustment; and quarterly filter cleaning or replacement. Any time you perform routine maintenance, check that the HVAC vents aren’t blocked by any office furniture, decor, signage, or equipment.
When choosing an HVAC filter, the goal is to figure out the highest Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating your system can handle. (A higher MERV rating means the filter traps more and smaller airborne particles.) The more efficient the filter, the harder your HVAC system has to work to push air through it. So, you may need to consult an HVAC professional to determine which strength filter is the best for your building.
Sometimes, detecting poor indoor air quality is as simple as smelling cleaning chemicals or paint fumes when you walk into a room. Other times, it’s not as easy to tell when particulate matter or chemical gases are polluting your office space. Having an air quality monitoring system in your building remedies this by measuring and displaying real-time data about the pollution and humidity levels in your commercial building.
For example, Atmocube indoor environmental monitor offers air quality testing for commercial buildings. It measures a range of pollutants, including particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and formaldehyde. It can also keep you up-to-date on the relative humidity and temperature inside your building.
Having air quality data at your fingertips takes the guesswork out of maintaining good IAQ in your office building. A quick glance at the monitor lets you or your building manager know when it’s time to increase ventilation, power up the air purifier, or turn off the humidifier. Plus, if your air quality monitor gives you room-by-room data, you can rotate portable air cleaners, fans, and humidifiers to where they’re needed most.
Between off-gassing from furniture and electronics, cleaning chemicals, and pesticides, it’s practically impossible to keep your office building free of airborne pollutants. When airflow from your HVAC system isn’t enough to maintain good indoor air quality, a portable air purifier may help close the gap.
Portable air purifiers, also called portable air cleaners, work by circulating the air in a room and trapping pollutants as they pass through the unit’s filter. You’ll want to place the air purifier where it’s needed most—usually the most crowded workspace. (To find the optimal spot for an air purifier, use a commercial air quality monitor to pinpoint the rooms with the worst air quality in your office building.)
Each air purifier is certified for a specific room size, so it’ll help to double-check the dimensions of different rooms in your building before you start shopping around.
Also, take note of the type of filter in your air purifier. Mechanical filters, such as HEPA filters, are made to trap particulate matter (PM). Carbon filters are only effective against gaseous pollutants, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Today, many air purifiers target different types of indoor air pollution with a combination of mechanical and carbon filters.
Many biological pollutants, including mold and pests, thrive in warm, humid environments. When the relative humidity in a building is too high, it can lead to the growth and spread of these pollution-causing organisms, damage building materials and furniture, and impact the health and comfort of workers.
On the other hand, dry air isn’t great for people or buildings either. If the relative humidity in your office building is too low, workers may be more likely to develop dehydration and respiratory issues, including asthma attacks, nosebleeds, bronchitis, and sinusitis.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the relative humidity sweet spot for indoor air is between 30 and 50%.
Some air quality monitors, such as Atmocube from ATMO, can help you track the relative humidity in your building. When the building is too humid, you can dry the air by opening windows, running the air conditioner, or using a dehumidifier. If the air gets too dry, you can raise the relative humidity by using a humidifier or vaporizer.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When it comes to preventing indoor air pollution, the first step is pinpointing the main offenders in your office building. These can include pesticides, cleaning chemicals, solvents, adhesives, and paints.
Next, decrease emissions from pollution-causing products by storing them in sealed containers in a supply closet or detached shed. If possible, only use high-VOC products after most employees are gone for the day. Then, open windows and increase ventilation to help the building air out before people return to work.
During any renovations, work with the construction crew to ensure that you’re using low-VOC paints, adhesives, flooring, and wood products. Any new furniture should be allowed to air out in an unoccupied room before it’s brought into the office.
To keep outdoor pollution from entering the building, keep doors and windows closed when outdoor air quality is poor. (You can check outdoor air quality in your area on Airnow.gov or with a portable air quality monitor.) Additionally, you can protect nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke by establishing a smoking policy that encourages workers to smoke outdoors, away from all doors and windows.
It may take a little up-front effort, but setting indoor air quality standards for your office building can go a long way in creating a healthy, comfortable work environment. (Not to mention the power of clean air to increase employee morale and boost productivity.) By following these tips to monitor and improve the air quality in your office building, you’ll be five steps closer to the best air quality your building’s ever seen.