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IAQ in Commercial Buildings

Given that most of us typically spend up to 90% of our time inside buildings, indoor air quality (IAQ) is a serious consideration, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of the people who occupy it. Poor IAQ can have several negative health effects, including respiratory problems, headaches, fatigue, and allergies. It can also lead to decreased productivity and increased absenteeism.

Despite hybrid working becoming firmly entrenched across the country, IAQ remains an especially important issue within commercial buildings, given the significant time people still spend within them, whether working or visiting. IAQ can be affected by a variety of factors, including the building’s ventilation system, the materials used in its construction, and the activities that take place inside it.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance on air quality has advised member states to consider air pollution to be as big a threat to human health and well-being as climate change and adjusted almost all of its previous maximum target levels for airborne pollutants downwards. It linked long-term exposure to even relatively low concentrations of ambient and indoor air pollution to lung cancer, heart disease, and strokes – putting the health impact of pollution on a par with poor diet and smoking.

There are several things that can contribute to poor IAQ in commercial buildings. Some of the most common causes include:

Many building materials, such as carpets, furniture, and paints, can release harmful pollutants into the air. These pollutants can include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, and asbestos.

Pollutants from activities that take place inside a building can also contribute to poor IAQ. For example, cooking, smoking, and using cleaning products can all release pollutants into the air.

And if a building’s ventilation system is not working properly, it can’t remove pollutants from the air. This can lead to a buildup of pollutants and poor IAQ.

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, highlighting the role played by poor-quality indoor environments in the spread of viruses and other airborne contaminants, new standards were deemed necessary, elevating publicly available specifications in development by the British Standards Institute and BESA to a full British Standard BS40102-1.

The new standard gives recommendations for measuring, monitoring, and reporting indoor environmental quality (IEQ) in all types of non-domestic buildings. It includes an evaluation and rating system for air quality, lighting, thermal comfort, and acoustics.

Given that building retrofit work carried out to improve energy efficiency had, in many cases, led to poorer quality ventilation this new evaluation will give building managers a benchmark score to help them identify areas of below-par performance. This enables planned improvements which include IEQ measures in any retrofit and renovation work to improve the health and well-being of occupants.

To meet the new standard organisations will need to tackle conditions that have a direct impact on human health including humidity, and excessive levels of CO2, CO, NO2, volatile organic compounds (VOC), airborne particulates and mould.

Adveco has for many years operated a system of checks to ensure the comfort and safety of buildings, including initial system commissioning to ensure correct and safe installation of appliances, in particular its gas-fired water heating and flues. This is especially important in controlling and safely removing any CO2 and NOx emissions from proximity to building users. Regular annual service is a critical facet of such safety checks, yet can be a process that slips once products are no longer under their initial warranty period. This is both a false economy and of potential danger to building users. While new builds will embrace all-electric systems which effectively negate NOx and on-premise CO2  generation, pre-existing commercial sites need to be increasingly vigilant, especially when ageing gas-fired systems remain in use. Mould, a type of fungus which produces airborne spores, is also a contributor to poor IAQ so regular service also helps to identify or prevent cases of damaging corrosion (in soft water areas) and limescale build-up (in harder water areas) which can lead to leaks that then encourage growth of mould in plantroom areas.

Setting IEQ performance benchmarks will make it easier for facilities managers to target problem areas, but British Standards will require further tightening if they are to keep abreast of the WHO’s more stringent guidelines. 

If you operate buildings with ageing gas-fired hot water systems and have concerns about IAQ or wish to reduce carbon emissions as part of a sustainability strategy, speak to Adveco about Live Metering, system assessment and replacement options. Whether looking for high-efficiency, ultra-low emission gas appliances such as AD / ADplus water heaters and MD boilers, or a transition to electric boilers, heat pumps or solar thermal we can help with system assessment, replacement design, supply and ongoing service for more efficient, comfortable and safe working environments.