Quick Tips for Improving Indoor Air Quality
By Kim Arnott
Indoor air quality is directly related to the health, comfort and productivity of building occupants. With Canadians estimated to spend almost 90 percent of their time indoors, poor indoor air quality can have a negative impact on tenants, employees, and inevitably, property managers. While proper ventilation is essential to maintaining good air quality, controlling contaminant sources can be as, or more important, says Bob Magee, an air quality expert with the National Research Council of Canada.
"The approach of allowing indoor use of materials and furnishing with relatively high chemical emissions, and then relying on increased ventilation in an attempt to dilute resulting concentrations is very expensive and you're assuming your outdoor air is clean," says Magee. "It's more effective to try to limit the source of contaminants."
To promote healthy indoor air quality in their buildings, experts offer property managers these recommendations:
- Control moisture. High levels of humidity can lead to condensation and potential problems with mould and bacteria, as well as increased off-gassing of volatile chemicals. Ensure washrooms, showering facilities and other indoor sources of water are properly ventilated to keep moisture levels at an appropriate level. Undertake regular inspections of the HVAC system for standing water or water leaks.
- Consider the quality of the air entering your building. Ensure outdoor air intakes aren't located near pollutant sources such as loading docks, high vehicular traffic or garbage areas, smoking sites or indoor exhausts. "The assumption often is that outdoor air is clean air. That's not always the case," says Magee.
- Minimize contaminants brought in unnecessarily. Look at entranceway design including landscaping materials used near entranceways to ensure dirt and plant materials aren't being tracked into the building, and make sure there is an effective track-off mat system for cleaning shoes. Keeping carpets and floors clean, and selecting durable interior finishes that can be easily cleaned with minimal use of solvent-based products will reduce potential indoor air contaminants.
- Invest in low-emission building and finishing materials. Paints, carpets, furniture and engineered wood products can all have high chemical emissions, including formaldehyde, and lead to complaints of eye irritation, dry or sore throats, nosebleeds or headaches. An increasing number of tested and certified low-emission products are now available, so consider specifically requiring the use of only low-emission products throughout your building.
- Ensure unavoidable contaminant sources are properly handled. Locally capture and exhaust any contaminants generated by building activities such as painting, printing, and photocopying. Ensure products like cleaning agents, glues, solvents, pesticides and disinfectants are selected for minimum toxicity and odours, and are kept tightly sealed and properly stored.
- Educate tenants about the importance of allowing the ventilation system to do its job properly. Explain that vents blocked by furniture, or adjusted improperly will cut off air flow and prevent proper heating and cooling. When workspaces are redesigned by adding walls or partitions, ensure the ventilation system is modified accordingly.
- If undertaking renovation work, isolate the work area if possible and provide additional ventilation while staging the work to ensure that materials are not unnecessarily being contaminated. Allow materials like paint and carpet to off-gas under high ventilation before introducing contaminant-absorbing materials like upholstered furniture or office partitions to the renovated area.
- Establish a complaints log to track indoor air quality complaints and help establish patterns of problems.