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May 7, 2018

Why the Indoor Environmental Quality of your Building Really Matters

indoor environmental quality

Have you ever considered the quality of the indoor environment of the buildings you occupy? Research suggests that the average American spends approximately 90% of their life indoors, which stresses the need for healthy spaces. Indoor Environmental Quality not only affects occupant health but also needs to be a core value in the design and construction of buildings we inhabit and is thus a focus in green building certification tools like LEED and Green Star.

What is Indoor Environmental Quality?

Indoor environmental quality (IEQ) can be simply defined as the conditions within a building, including indoor air quality (IAQ), the acoustic conditions, and occupant control over lighting and thermal comfort. In order to achieve high indoor environmental quality standards, these factors should be included in the design phase of a building and not as an add-on after occupancy.  

Some of the components of indoor environmental quality are:

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

Indoor air quality is a measure of a buildings interior air in relation to the occupants’ health and comfort. Increased research into the topic of indoor air quality has shown that there is a distinct relationship between air quality in the workplace and its impact on our health, cognitive ability, job satisfaction and productivity levels (Worldgbc.org, 2017). Factors that can influence the quality of indoor air in a building include dust, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), cigarette smoke, carbon monoxide as well as other chemical compounds from building materials and cleaning supplies.

So, how do you improve the indoor air quality of your building?

  • The use of natural ventilation provides great benefits to improving indoor air quality at a much lower energy cost, especially if a building is designed with this in mind.
  • Adopting methods such as cross-ventilation to increase fresh air flow through a room prove to be helpful in clearing out air of pollutants.
  • Buying more plants for your office or home is also highly effective in filtering out pollutants and toxins in the air whilst simultaneously uplifting the atmosphere in a room.
  • Another way to improve IAQ is through using low volatile organic compound (VOC) emitting materials. VOCs are organic compounds that easily enter the air in vapourised or gas form. They can be found in most products we use everyday and are thus something to be cautious of – especially when choosing things like paints, sealants and adhesives for your building.

Thermal comfort

Every person’s optimal thermal comfort is different, and it can sometimes prove challenging to reach an optimal thermal temperature for all people indoors, especially in a workplace environment. One way to solve this is to allow employees to dress casually to work so as to maintain their own optimal thermal comfort. Cotton clothing can help increase airflow to cool you down and using blankets in the winter can warm you up. This way everyone is satisfied and energy consumption is reduced due to less dependency on mechanical ventilation or conditioning systems.

Lighting quality

Have you ever noticed how a well-lit room can instantly uplift your mood and productivity levels? It’s been proven that increased exposure to daylight can improve your sleep quality at night, which in turn improves your productivity levels at work. In cases where there isn’t sufficient daylight to light up your work space, it’s important to consider the right lighting when working. For instance, making use of task lighting instead of lighting a whole room will greatly reduce energy consumption and help you focus on the task at hand by illuminating what you are specifically busy with. Using LED lighting will also greatly reduce your energy use.

The choice in materials in a room can also affect how light is experienced in that space. For instance, finishes that are less absorptive of light could reduce lighting energy consumption. At Ecolution Consulting, we chose to paint one of our walls a light shade of green, using low-VOC paint, to brighten up the open-office space.

Ecolution Consulting Office

Noise and acoustic quality

The acoustic quality of a building is easily affected by external noises such as traffic, people talking on the street, neighbours, and natural elements such as wind and rain, as well as internal sources such as printers, telephones and HVAC systems. These noises reflect on hard surfaces inside a room and, depending on the insulation of a room, can echo loudly and cause disruption. Some ways to improve the acoustic quality of a room is to insulate it with double-glazed windows, planting more greenery around the building to absorb noise, as well as filling a room with more indoor plants. A buffer is then created which results in a balance of internal hard and soft noises.

There are various different green building rating systems that recognise the importance of a building’s IEQ. Green Star, a green building rating system that recognises and rewards environmental leadership in the built environment, recognises IEQ based on the following:

For Existing Buildings:

  • Indoor air quality
  • Lighting comfort (artificial lighting)
  • Thermal comfort
  • Occupant comfort surveys (acoustic, thermal, lighting, indoor air quality and ventilation, building management from view of occupants)
  • Acoustic quality
  • Daylight and views

For New Buildings:

  • Ventilation
  • Carbon Dioxide monitoring and control
  • Daylight (modelled)
  • Daylight glare control
  • Electric light levels
  • External views
  • Thermal comfort (modelled)
  • Individual thermal comfort control
  • Hazardous materials (safe removal of asbestos, lead and PCBs during demolition works)
  • Internal noise levels
  • VOCs
  • Formaldehyde minimisation (found in composite wood products)
  • Mould prevention
  • Tenant exhaust riser (removal of fumes from photocopiers/printers)
  • Environmental tobacco smoke avoidance (designated smoking areas away from the building)
  • Providing outdoor space and spaces for contemplation
  • Universal access (provide for those with different needs or disabilities)

This shows that indoor environmental quality goes beyond simply how occupants experience the space, but that it needs to be integrated into the design of a building from the start. By balancing the components that make up a building’s indoor environmental air quality, you can achieve an optimal indoor environment that promotes a healthier, more productive working space.

If you are interested in ensuring that you have good indoor environmental quality in your building or are interested in certifying your building with a green building certification, get in touch with us on hello@ecolution.co.za

References

Cfpub.epa.gov. (2017). ROE Home | Report on the Environment (ROE) | US EPA. [online] Available at: https://cfpub.epa.gov/roe/chapter/air/indoorair.cfm [Accessed 30 Apr. 2018].

Greenpointbuilding.com. (2017). Indoor Air Quality & Indoor Environmental Quality. [online] Available at: https://greenpointbuilding.com/ieq-iaq/ [Accessed 30 Apr. 2018].

Indoor Environment Quality Building design for a sustainable future. (n.d.). [pdf] Whittlesea: City of Whittlesea, p.4. Available at: https://www.whittlesea.vic.gov.au/media/1809/sdapp-indoor-environment-quality-accessible-pdf.pdf [Accessed 30 Apr. 2018].

Worldgbc.org. (2017). Inside & out: Can improvements in indoor air quality also achieve carbon goals? | World Green Building Council. [online] Available at: http://www.worldgbc.org/news-media/inside-out-can-improvements-indoor-air-quality-also-achieve-carbon-goals [Accessed 30 Apr. 2018].

 

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