Healthier buildings for healthier people

Our wellbeing is being compromised if building air quality is poor. In this article, we highlight some of the key factors affecting indoor air quality, and what you can do to improve it.

Annual Report Images, indoors

The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated the importance of wellbeing for all of us, with interior spaces playing a hugh role in this. We highlight some of the key factors causing sick buildings and what you can do to change it.  

Close the door on pollution? Don’t think so… 

We might think that by closing our doors and windows we leave all the bad effects of pollution out of our house, but the reality is very different. Indoor air quality can often be worse than outdoors (EPA, 2021) which is especially worrying as according to Klepeis et al. (2001), we spend more than 90% of our time indoors. Putting a focus on good indoor air quality is essential for our health and wellbeing.  

Know your enemy, know yourself 

As Sun Tzu wrote in the book “Art of war”, “if you know your enemy and you know yourself you shall win a hundred battles without loss”. We need to understand the root causes in order to solve the problem. 

There are three main culprits. Firstly, emissions from the combustion of fuels for cooking and heating can be a very strong cause of indoor pollution that is able to cause significant adverse effects. Secondly, poor air purification can encourage the growth of fungi and bacteria which can lead to poor indoor air quality. Finally, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which are emitted as gases from the surface of building materials, paints, varnishes, cleaning products and furniture have a range of detrimental health effects.  

Still not convinced? 

The health effects of poor indoor air quality can vary from low levels of concentration and fatigue to premature death. It can have an effect on our cognitive functioning and lead to reduced productivity. The impact of VOCs can lead to air and throat irritation, nausea and headaches (WHO, n.d.).  

Studies have shown that cognitive scores can be 101% higher in buildings that have invested in good indoor air quality and enhanced ventilation (Allen J., et al., 2016). The investment will not only lead to healthier and happier people but can have a direct economic impact. Highly engaged employees can lead to an improved business performance by up to 30% and 3 out of 4 building owners report that healthy buildings can be more easily leased.  

People walking on a staircase in an indoor garden environment at the top floor of a high rise building

Indoor garden for better indoor climate

Solutions for a better indoor environment 

Improving air purification and selecting materials that are naturally mould and mildew resistant can lead to significant improvements in indoor air quality. A focus on good building fabric that provides effective insulation and good air filtration can also help.  

VOC emissions from construction products are regulated in many parts of the world such as California and Europe. However, there are more products that go one step further, imposing stricter limits to indoor air emissions, and encouraging an even better indoor air environment. These are reflected in the labels supplied in support of a sustainability certification of a building such as LEEDBREEAM, WELL, HQE and DGNB and are an important indicator towards the sustainability assessment of the building.   

Rockfon products hold the best in class indoor climate labels so you can be sure for the level of indoor air quality, when selecting a Rockfon product.

Our products, depending on the market and type, can have the following labels: 

  1. French VOC A+ 
  2. Cradle to Cradle Silver/Bronze 
  3. Finnish M1 
  4. Blue Angel 
  5. Danish Indoor climate Label 
  6. Singapore Green Building Product Certificate 

Making sure that you select products that hold such labels is essential in order to achieve a good environment for the building occupants and a real investment for the future.

References: 

Allen, J., MacNaughton P, et al. (2016) Associations of Cognitive Function Scores with Carbon Dioxide, Ventilation, and Volatile Organic Compound Exposures in Office Workers: A Controlled Exposure Study of Green and Conventional Office Environments. Environmental Health Perspectives [Online] Available at: https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.1510037 [Accessed July 2021] 

Hay Group, "Employee Engagement", available via: https://www.kornferry.com/uk/solutions/organizational-strategy/employee-engagement  

KLEPEIS, N., NELSON, W., OTT, W. et al. The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): a resource for assessing exposure to environmental pollutants. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 11, 231–252 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.jea.7500165 

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 2021, “Indoor Air Quality” [online], available via https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/inside-story-guide-indoor-air-quality, accessed July 2021 

World Health Organisation. (n.d). Air pollution [online] Available at: https://www.who.int/airpollution/en/ , Accessed  July 2021