Why Indoor Air Quality Matters the Most in Commercial Settings

Reading time: 3 minutes

We cannot see it but the air we breathe has wide reaching implications on our health, happiness and success. In fact, indoor air quality (IAQ) is consistently ranked as one of the top factors impacting public health, according to studies conducted by the Science Advisory Board of the EPA. 

Despite the fact that people spend roughly 90% of their time indoors, indoor air pollution levels can often be up to two to five times higher than outdoor air. Below, our ventilation experts explore the sources of poor air quality in commercial settings and the consequences of inadequate ventilation. 

Causes of Indoor Air Quality Issues

Commercial settings are particularly prone to poor indoor air quality because of the transient nature of occupants. Additionally, polluted outdoor air often infiltrates these spaces through the buildings’ windows, doors, roofs and even ventilation systems. 

But there is another culprit behind poor indoor air quality that often gets overlooked: Airtight construction.

Although tight construction can help reduce heating and cooling costs, airtight designs also reduce ventilation rates and prevent buildings from pulling in as much fresh outside air. As a result, indoor pollutants often become trapped within the space and can cause issues related to Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). The recent push in building codes towards energy-efficient design has made this issue more prevalent for HVAC professionals. 

In addition to airtightness, poor indoor air quality can also stem from the following:

  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released from cleaning products and materials

  • Chemical off-gassing from building materials such as paints, carpets, and composite wood and laminate adhesives

  • Radon infiltration from the uranium within the soil beneath the building’s foundation

  • Mold and moisture

Consequences of Poor IAQ

Poor indoor air quality is known to cause several adverse health effects including headaches, fatigue, and irritation in the nose, eyes, and throat. These symptoms are detrimental in any context but can be particularly detrimental in these particular settings:

Children drawing in a classroom with a teacher helping

School Settings

Children spend six hours per day - amounting to roughly 1,000 hours per year – in school buildings. Despite this, many schools’ ventilation rates fall below recommended levels and contribute to poor performance. 

For example, poor ventilation in schools is tied to higher levels of absenteeism. Respiratory illnesses such as allergies and asthma, present in 9 percent of children, are the leading cause of school absences. Proper ventilation is required to provide fresh air and eliminate the allergens that trigger these illnesses.

In addition to improving attendance, better IAQ increases productivity and improves performance on concentration and recall in children. These effects also extend to instructor performance, with studies finding improved teacher productivity in environments with higher IAQ.

Image of an open office space

Office Buildings

Given the average workweek requires 40 hours of service, poor ventilation can have a significant impact on the health of employees and success of the company.

A recent study from Harvard Business Review tested whether improved air quality influenced workers’ ability to process information, make strategic decisions, and respond to crises. Participants in the study earned higher test scores across cognitive function in spaces with higher ventilation rates, fewer VOCs, and lower levels of carbon dioxide. 

Overall, workers are more productive and show improved decision-making capabilities in settings with improved IAQ.

Hospital hall with doctors

Healthcare Facilities

Proper ventilation is particularly important in healthcare settings because healthcare workers and patients have a higher risk of exposure to contaminants, including those with potentially infectious particles. 

Health care facilities with poor ventilation systems may unknowingly increase the concentration of airborne contaminants such as fungi or mold, causing allergic responses in workers and occupants.

For engineers and facility managers responsible for selecting ventilation systems, understanding the impact of IAQ in different settings can help determine the solution that makes sense for the space.

Systemair’s ventilation consultants can help identify the ventilation solution that makes sense for your specific application. Contact our representatives to get started.

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