It usually doesn’t take very long for us to realise we’ve entered somewhere with poor air quality. We may feel tight chested, perhaps a little wheezy. If we stay there for any length of time our eyes might become irritated and we could feel lightheaded. If we’re repeatedly exposed to poor air we can fall ill, in some cases seriously so.
Air quality matters, not just in our towns and cities and where we live, but in all kinds of indoor spaces.
Why is air quality so important and what can be done to improve it?
Why is the quality of air in indoor spaces so important?
Most of us will spend a good deal of our lives indoors, with a large part of that time being spent at work. Therefore, the environment within our workplaces is all-important to our overall well-being. It’s estimated that 24,000 die in the UK each year as a result of poor air quality. The estimated costs of poor health as a result of air pollution to the NHS has been identified as £20 billion a year.
A number of acts determine air quality in the UK, including the Environment Act 1995, as well as the National Air Quality Strategies of 1997 and 2000. The Air Quality Strategy provides a policy framework for air quality management and assessment in the UK, setting standards and objectives for a range of key pollutants.
While most of the emphasis for government is the air quality in the broader atmosphere, the air quality within buildings will reflect the air quality in the environment where it’s located. If your building is located on a busy road junction the air quality is likely to be considerably poorer than if it’s sited next to green fields.
Poor air quality in a working environment leads to poor employee health, greater absences and lowered productivity.
What are the benefits of ensuring that it’s as good as it needs to be?
There are a range of factors that can contribute to office and workplace air quality. While pollution from outside will make a difference, it’s far from the only determinant of your building’s air quality. Even in busy built-up areas, the air quality inside the building can be two to five times worse than outside.
Indoor air pollution can have a hugely detrimental impact on the health of the people within it. In some cases, the impact can be so extreme it can even give rise to “sick building syndrome.” This refers to the varied symptoms that indoor air pollution can have on our health.
Some of the most common symptoms of poor indoor air quality include headaches, shortness of breath, dizziness, dry or itchy throat, eyes or skin, tiredness and difficulty concentrating.
Ultimately, it can lead to a compromised immune system and poorer health. High levels of CO2 in the air can be particularly problematic as they can lead to cognitive problems that can lower productivity by up to 11%.
By ensuring that your workplace air quality is as good as it can be, you can remove the health risks associated with poor air quality, ensuring your workforce is productive and happy.
How can air quality and ventilation be tested to ensure it’s at its full potential?
To ensure that HVAC and other systems are operating at their full potential it’s important to test the quality of the air inside the building. An air quality sensor enables you to analyse the quality of different gases that are present in the air.
The measure of CO2 within a room indicates the quality of the air inside the room. This is important because CO2 can displace the amount of oxygen present. Other air quality factors that need to be considered include carbon monoxide, particulates, bacteria and organic compounds. Good ventilation is essential in order to reduce the quantity of these particular contaminants.
If the levels of these contaminants are relatively high then it could indicate that your HVAC installation is not working as effectively as it could be. A HVAC system creates healthy building conditions through the exchange of stale air within the space, with higher quality air. It keeps interior air circulation while introducing exterior air. This process replenishes the amount of oxygen while removing carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, contaminants and moisture. This ventilation process prevents stagnation while removing unpleasant odours.
How retro-commissioning can help
If your HVAC system has been installed for any length of time then it’s likely to be less efficient at ensuring good air quality than it should be. Problems might have occurred during the design or construction period, as well as issues that have developed throughout the lifetime of the building as equipment has aged, or a building’s use has been modified.
Retro-commissioning is a detailed and systematic process through which the efficiency of an existing building’s equipment and systems is improved and brought up to current standards. Any problems that occurred during design or construction can be addressed.
So too can issues that have developed throughout the lifetime of a building as equipment has aged, or as a building’s use has changed or been modified. The main aim of this process is to enhance the overall efficiency of a building and the comfort of the people who use it. Air quality is a key factor in the increased well-being of people who use the building.
ECS is one of the UK’s leading retro-commissioning services. We work with clients across all sectors to create buildings that are efficient, safe and environmentally friendly.