The importance of indoor air quality in commercial buildings

Indoor air quality is the quality of air inside buildings determined by humidity, temperature, and concentration of pollutants. It is measured by the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), particulate matter, and various other volatile organic compounds.

Why is indoor air quality important?

Most people spend 90% of their time indoors so a building’s indoor air quality can be more predictive of a person’s health than the air outdoors. Also, the quality of the air indoors is more likely to be lower than outdoor air when the buildings are not well-ventilated. Moreover, the weather proofing of buildings tends to reduce the circulation of outdoor air which in turn exposes people to harmful consequences.

Poor air quality can lead to sick building syndrome which is a situation where the well-being of people in the buildings is threatened. The people inside the buildings experience acute affects such as headaches, fatigue, irritation in the eyes, throat, nose, and lungs.

Indoor air quality is also associated with certain diseases such as asthma. It helps spread communicable diseases such as flu, influenza, and tuberculosis.  In addition to this, exposure to indoor air contaminants such as benzene, radon, and asbestos can lead to cancer in the long run.

The performance of the people in commercial buildings is also negatively affected by poor indoor air quality. It leads to high absenteeism, low morale of workers and an average decrease of 8% in worker productivity. According to research from Ontario Wealth Management Corporation, it has been estimated that poor air quality costs the United States around 17-26 billion dollars per year.

Benefits of keeping indoor air quality high in commercial buildings

Keeping the quality of air high in commercial buildings can make workplaces comfortable and reduce the risk as well as costs of illness or health deterioration. A quantitative study undertaken by Bill Fisk and his colleagues at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory depicts that by keeping indoor air quality high in commercial buildings, there can be millions of dollars’ worth of annual healthcare savings which will ultimately not only benefit people working in commercial buildings but also those employees who cover their employees’ health care costs. The study highlights that by improving indoor air quality, there can be an estimated $6 billion to $14 billion annual healthcare savings due to a reduction in respiratory diseases, an estimated $1 to $4 billion annual healthcare savings due to a reduction in allergies and asthma attacks, and an estimated $10 to $30 billion annual savings due to reduction in healthcare costs pertaining to sick building syndromes.

High indoor air quality also improves the performance of workers. A study conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that improving the quality of air inside commercial buildings can improve the cognitive ability of building occupants which in turn allows them to make better decisions. In addition to this, a study conducted by West Bend Mutual Insurance Company depicted that by ensuring the high quality of indoor air a company can increase employee’s productivity by 8-10% on average and in turn benefit from productivity gains of $176 per square meter annually. This is reflective of the fact that people working in good quality indoor air will be healthier and energetic.