We spend about 80 percent of our time indoors and breathe over 200,000 tons of air in a lifetime. It benefits everyone to remove impurities to ensure the air is as unpolluted as possible. Likewise, we need to focus our efforts to ensure that what we put in buildings is the least damaging in regards to particulate generation and off gassing.

Mapping the problem

Monitoring and measuring the indoor environment are essential to improving air quality.

Most workspace complaints are due to poor ventilation that create comfort issues. Many occupants report odors or become concerned about mold from stained ceiling tiles or a water-related incident, such as a flood or storm damage. These complaints may manifest in the form of allergic symptoms that are resolved when the occupants relocate, and are then considered an associated mold, bacteria or VOC (volatile organic compound) exposure issue. Asbestos issues are typically related to general presence awareness and findings of dust and/or particulates that were not previously deposited on surfaces.

OSHA reported that in approximately 500 indoor air quality investigations in the last decade, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that the primary sources of indoor air quality problems are:

  • Inadequate ventilation (52 percent)

  • Contamination from inside building (16 percent)

  • Contamination from outside building (10 percent)

  • Microbial contamination (5 percent)

  • Contamination from building fabric (4 percent)

  • Unknown sources (13 percent)

It is recommended to convert HVAC controls to a building automation system (BAS). Building automation is the automatic centralized control of a building's heating, ventilation and air conditioning; lighting; and other systems through a building management system or BMS. The BMS can monitor temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide, as well as control the amount of outdoor ventilation.

Monitoring and measuring

Experts also recommend the use of Demand Controlled Ventilation (DCV). DCV is the automatic adjustment of ventilation equipment according to occupancy and CO2 levels. DCV is a control method that modulates the volume exchange of fresh or outside air into an enclosed space by mechanical air conditioning equipment. With DCV, the vents to let in outdoor air are closed when the workspace is empty, and the outdoor air ventilation is opened as the workspace fills and the occupants exhale carbon dioxide.

Monitoring and measuring the indoor environment are essential to improving air quality. There are a wide variety of low cost air-sensing devices on the market. Depending on what the occupants have concern for, it may be something as simple as an electronic temperature probe. Most of the newer devices can even report directly through an application and/or a web service.

Although there are a wide variety of low-cost air-sensing devices on the market, when monitored, the BAS and DCV will provide the most cost-effective approach to monitoring, maintaining and improving indoor air quality in the workspace.

There are many additional issues that cannot be addressed without data on activities that occur within the workspace. We must take into consideration building pressures, air flow and exhaust ventilation. Experts stress monitoring all of these areas along with the temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide and the amount of outdoor ventilation. The majority of these components can be monitored through a BAS.