Office Indoor Air Quality
The pandemic has caused more remote work than ever before. However, now that we begin our shift back to the office the air quality has become more of a focus than ever before. We all will likely be sharing more breathing space with other people, and how we think about air within our breathing spaces has fundamentally shifted over the past few years. Employees have expressed their biggest concerns with returning to the office and air quality. They now demand more visibility into the health of the building they are returning to.
Anyone who works in a building should know the further steps that need to be taken to ensure they are breathing clean, healthy indoor air. Everyone should also be aware of some primary indoor conditions with all of the air quality sensors now available.
What's In Your Air?
The first step in addressing air quality issues is to use air quality monitors equipped with different sensors to measure your indoor environment. Some components of the air are invisible and need special equipment to measure, while others can be measured with cheap gadgets.
Stand-alone and built-in air quality monitors such as the Wynd Halo & Wynd Max, as well as Trusens Z-3500, and Molekule Air not only inform what is in the air but also communicate with the air purifier to adjust the purification settings that best fit the needs of the occupied dwelling. Consumer sensors can measure overall air quality trends and are reliable for alerts when the air quality has shifted significantly worse or better. Managers of large facilities with many different floors and enclosed spaces usually use many sensors organized with an app or other centralized tool.
Ventilation and Purification
During the early stages of the pandemic, precautions to reduce the amount of Covid-19 virus particles already in the air took many forms, but at this point has settled down to two key methods-ventilation and portable air purification. There are two types of ventilation, and they are often combined in the same space: mechanical ventilation which uses HVAC or similarly powered devices to move air through vents, and natural ventilation like open windows that allow air to move in and out.
Ventilation can be effective for many indoor air quality problems because the outside air is usually free of the pollutants that build up indoors, and it is readily available. Getting a similar amount of clean airflow with portable purifiers can require more electricity and space.
The big drawback is that ventilation interferes with environmental controls in the building. Money spent on electricity for air conditioning, heating, or humidity will literally go out the window. Another disadvantage is that contaminants must flow through the breathing area of other occupants before they are gone.
Allergy and Asthma Triggers
Allergy and asthma triggers overlap in many ways but are slightly different. An allergy is a reaction to a foreign substance, usually, one that is biological like pollen, pet dander, dust mites, or mold spores. While most allergy triggers are also asthma triggers, airborne asthma triggers also include respiratory irritants that don’t necessarily cause an allergic reaction like tobacco smoke, bleach, or ammonia.
Airborne allergy and asthma trigger sampling and testing is expensive and will just tell you what is in the air, not if you are allergic or to what degree. It is easier to see an allergist to find out what you are allergic to and take precautions to avoid it. Pollen is best handled by preventing outdoor air from coming in. Dust or pet dander is best handled by vacuuming and dusting. Mold can grow in hidden places and if discovered may require professional remediation.
Ventilation should be used with caution to reduce allergy and asthma triggers, only when it’s clear that there is an indoor source that is airborne. Mold spores and pollen often come from outdoors, so any incoming air needs to be filtered or risks making air quality worse.
Air purifiers can be effective in reducing allergy and asthma triggers. Air purifiers have the potential to reduce the level of allergen particles in the air, regardless of their source, before they are inhaled. Unlike windows or HVAC vents, they can be easily placed throughout a room to add a layer of protection.
Cleaning Your Air
There are a few different ways we can use the new focus on indoor air quality to our advantage. Ventilation is an acceptable primary solution, but many buildings don’t have enough. One expert estimates that individual productivity could be increased by an average of $6,500 a year if ventilation were doubled, and notes that “does not include other potential health benefits, such as reduced sick building syndrome and absenteeism” But it’s not as simple as just opening everyone’s window, in some conditions air purifiers could work better while in others controlling the source is the best option.
Ventilation is vital to remove unavoidable carbon dioxide from occupied spaces.
Ventilation to reduce other pollutants should be balanced with climate control to save on utility costs.
Portable air purifiers, when placed strategically, can reduce particles, allergy/ asthma triggers, pathogens, and VOCs without impacting climate control.
Everyone responsible for or inside the building should have access to a historical report of PM10, PM2.5, TVOC, CO2, relative humidity, and temperature for occupied areas.
Finding out which specific VOCs, allergy/ asthma triggers, or pathogens are present in your indoor air is rarely worth the expense.