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Ventilation Solutions for a Healthy Indoor Environment

Key Points
  • Poor indoor air quality can lead to costly health issues and reduce productivity.
  • A well-designed, properly maintained ventilation system can help improve indoor environments.
  • Optimizing indoor air quality requires monitoring and a commitment to continuous improvement.

MaintenanceIndoor air pollution is nothing to sneeze at. Health issues resulting from poor indoor air quality cost billions of dollars each year and reduce productivity. By focusing on ventilation system maintenance and design strategies that improve indoor air quality, you'll save money and create a healthier, more productive indoor environment.

Indoor air quality, health and productivity

Indoor air pollution is caused by the build-up of contaminants coming primarily from inside the building. Common sources of indoor air pollution include biological organisms, building materials and furnishings, cleaning agents, copy machines and pesticides.

These pollutants can contribute to building-related illnesses that have clearly identifiable causes, such as Legionnaires' disease. Ventilation systems that are poorly maintained can contribute to Sick Building Syndrome, which produces physical symptoms without clearly identifiable causes. Common symptoms include eye, nose and throat irritation.

These disorders lead to increased employee sick days and reduced work efficiency. The World Health Organization estimates that 30 percent of new or remodeled buildings have unusually high rates of health complaints. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health identifies poor ventilation as an important contributing factor in many sick building cases.

Ventilation system problems and solutions

When the ventilation system isn't working right, indoor air quality can deteriorate. Increasing the amount of outdoor air is a common fix, but a number of system design and operational issues can affect the indoor environment.

  • Variable airflow. Designs specifying HVAC system operation at reduced or interrupted flow in response to space conditioning needs may impair contaminant removal. Define minimum ventilation rates by air cleanliness and distribution, as well as temperature and humidity.
  • Vent placement. Air supply vents located near sources of pollution—such as exhaust vents, heavy traffic areas and trash dumpsters—provide a pathway for contaminants. Carefully evaluate the location of all air supply vents.
  • Air distribution. Ensure that registers are not blocked by furniture or equipment and that partitions or other barriers are positioned so they do not restrict airflow. Locate air supply and return air vents at a reasonable distance to ensure balanced air distribution.
  • Scheduling. Ventilation system scheduling is critical to maintaining good indoor air quality. Schedule ventilation operation based on occupancy levels or operating hours. Demand-controlled ventilation using CO2 or VOC sensors can optimize indoor air quality and save energy. Consider monitoring outdoor air quality as required by green building codes.

Pay close attention to these issues. It will help you quickly spot potential sources of indoor air pollution and take steps to eliminate them.

Keep it fresh

    Optimizing indoor air quality requires ongoing monitoring and a commitment to continuous improvement. Record keeping is also important. See Building Air Quality from the Centers for Disease Control for more information on identifying, solving and preventing indoor air quality problems. 

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