Invisible threat: Combatting indoor air pollution in buildings

In the ever-evolving landscape of building construction, there’s a growing awareness over indoor air quality. And for good reason. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has discovered that air inside buildings can be two to five times more contaminated than the air outside [1]. This is particularly alarming when you consider on average individuals spend around 90 percent of their time indoors [2].

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in building products have become a significant focus for building professionals who are increasingly tasked with creating environments that are not only aesthetically pleasing and energy efficient, but also safer and healthier for occupants. The challenge lies in selecting products that minimize VOC content without compromising on quality or performance.

VOCs and building products

More than 10,000 chemicals are classified as containing or emitting VOCs. VOC levels vary from building to building. Newer construction and newer materials can have higher concentrations. Plus, as buildings are designed to be more energy-efficient, they become better sealed against the outside environment, limiting the natural exchange of air. This increased airtightness can lead to the accumulation of pollutants inside the building.

Sick Building Syndrome

The health impacts of poor indoor air quality are widespread with fifty percent of illnesses either caused or aggravated by polluted indoor air [3]. Those most susceptible to these risks include children, the elderly and individuals with pre-existing health conditions such as asthma and allergies. There is even a phenomenon known as “sick building syndrome,” where people develop acute health issues that seem to be associated with the buildings they occupy. Acknowledging these hazards is vital, and it is imperative to take proactive measures to ensure the air within our indoor environments is as clean as possible.

Strategies to control indoor air pollution

Building professionals can play a critical role in enhancing indoor air quality by making some strategic decisions:

  • Choose materials that are low in VOCs. Products with certifications like GREENGUARD, asthma & allergy friendly® and Verified Healthier Air™ serve as dependable markers for products that promote healthier indoor environments.
  • Maintain adequate ventilation both during and after construction to keep indoor VOC levels low. New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least five air changes per hour in occupied spaces.
  • Handle and store unused materials properly to contain emissions.

The choice of building materials can have a profound and lasting impact on the health of those who will live or work in these buildings for years to come. By making informed choices and taking proactive measures, we can create healthier, more sustainable living and working environments. It’s important to focus on the health of our indoor spaces just as much as we focus on its energy efficiency and design. After all, the true legacy of a well-constructed space lies not just in its appearance or performance, but in its ability to protect and enhance the health and well-being of its occupants.

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