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Indoor Air Quality
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Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles into the air are the primary cause of indoor air quality problems. Inadequate ventilation can increase indoor pollutant levels by not bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources and by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the space. High temperature and humidity levels can also increase concentrations of some pollutants. Some of the health risks include radon, mold and moisture, and environmental asthma triggers. Building materials, furniture and cleaning products or solvents are among the likely sources.

US EPA Indoor Air Quality Subject Matter –
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Indoor Environmental Quality

Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) encompasses the conditions inside a building—air quality, lighting, thermal conditions, ergonomics—and their effects on occupants or residents. Strategies for addressing IEQ include those that protect human health, improve quality of life, and reduce stress and potential injuries. Better indoor environmental quality can enhance the lives of building occupants, increase the resale value of the building, and reduce liability for building owners.

Why is this important for buildings?

Since the personnel costs of salaries and benefits typically surpass operating costs of an office building, strategies that improve employees’ health and productivity over the long run can have a large return on investment. IEQ goals often focus on providing stimulating and comfortable environments for occupants and minimizing the risk of building-related health problems.

To make their buildings places where people feel good and perform well, project teams must balance selection of strategies that promote efficiency and conservation with those that address the needs of the occupants and promote well-being. Ideally, the chosen strategies do both: the solutions that conserve energy, water and materials also contribute to a great indoor experience.

The LEED sustainable buildings rating system offers a number of credits dealing with indoor environmental quality. Those credits are listed below:

  • Minimum indoor air quality performance
  • Thermal comfort
  • Environmental Tobacco Smoke Control
  • Green cleaning policy
  • Occupant comfort survey
  • Green cleaning - custodial effectiveness
  • Green cleaning - products and materials
  • Green cleaning - equipment

What are common sources of indoor air contaminants?

  • People smoking tobacco inside the building or near building entrances or air uptakes
  • Building materials such as paints, coatings, adhesives, sealants, and furniture that may emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), substances that vaporize at room temperature and can cause health problems
  • Combustion processes in HVAC equipment, fireplaces and stoves, and vehicles in garages or near entrances
  • Mold resulting from moisture in building materials
  • Cleaning materials
  • Radon or methane off-gassing from the soil underneath the building
  • Pollutants from specific processes used in laboratories, hospitals, and factories
  • Pollutants tracked in on occupants’ shoes
  • Occupants’ respiration, which increases carbon dioxide levels and may introduce germs

The best way to prevent indoor pollutants is to eliminate or control them at the sources. The next line of defense is proper ventilation to remove any pollutants that do enter. Both approaches need to be considered at all phases of the building life cycle.

What are effective strategies improving occupants’ comfort and control?

  • Use daylighting.
  • Install operable windows.
  • Give occupants temperature and ventilation control.
  • Give occupants lighting control.
  • Conduct occupant surveys.
  • Provide ergonomic furniture.
  • Include appropriate acoustic design.