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Discover the most effective ways to improve indoor air quality in offices, as well as the main causes and impacts of poor air quality in workplaces.

Last Thursday (15th) was Clean Air Day, the UK's largest air pollution campaign, which helps to increase awareness of why we need to significantly reduce air pollution.

For facility managers and building owners, this also offers a timely reminder to look at the quality of the air inside their properties, as well as outside.

As we settle into the ‘new normal’ for office working, many companies are seeing a weekly increase in the number of staff coming back into the office, although there does remain uncertainty on which days will be most occupied and which will remain mostly empty.

One thing that is going to help attract people back though is knowing that the air inside their office is clean and fresh, especially as we head towards another hot summer.

The likely increase in temperatures over the coming weeks and months will make working from home hot and sticky.

This could well see colleagues rushing back en masse to the cool sanctity of the airconditioned office, and this is exactly where there is a need to look at the ventilation systems you have in place.

Did you know that inside air can be as much as five times more polluted than the air outside?

Hern Yau 3 Hern Yau Ventilation expert at Mitsubishi Electric

Why is good indoor air quality important in a workplace?

So, what are the top ways to improve the IAQ in your office?

If IAQ is a new acronym to you, it stands for Indoor Air Quality and it relates to not only the amount of polluted air you extract and replace with outside air, but also whether that new incoming air is filtered to remove outdoor pollutants.

Most people are aware of air quality but see it as relating to traffic and outdoor pollution, but did you know that the air inside a building can sometimes be as much as five times more polluted than the air outside?

This is because as users of the indoor space we generate pollutants ourselves. We constantly consume oxygen from the space and replace it with carbon dioxide.

We boil kettles to make hot drinks which creates steam and humidity. We use photocopiers and printers which often produce Ozone.

Also there are things called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which are minute particles found in building materials, furniture and cleaning products.

It is also because modern buildings are more air tight which can lead to the build up of polluted indoor air being trapped inside. How we manage these pollutants are critical to good IAQ.

Poor air quality can also affect the performance of occupants making them drowsy and causing headaches and even nausea. Physical effects cusing reduced performance are also linked to long-term health issues, so getting the quality of the indoor air right is really important.

There are different solutions available but the one I would advocate is called Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR). Not only does this filter the fresh air coming into your building, it can also capture and recover otherwise wasted heat energy from the outgoing air.

Our own system is called Lossnay and it can recover up to 90% of the heat from the outgoing air meaning you need far less energy to heat up the incoming air, making it very energy efficient.

In the summer, Lossnay can also offer free cooling by helping introduce cool night-time air into a building and helping reduce the cooling load before the day starts.

5 ways to improve indoor air quality in offices

Overall, we can spend over 90% of our time indoors and with modern buildings being more airtight, we need a more effective way of delivering fresh air and ventilation.

And this is where there are 5 straightforward steps that any facilities manager or building owner can take to find ways of improving the situation:

  1. Understand the air quality in and around your building
    – Remember that it will vary at different times of the day. There are also a growing range of affordable air quality measurement technologies available now and quality assurance schemes, such as the RESET Air Standard, that can help you to identify products that will provide reliable information.

  2. Conduct a building review – identify improvements
    – What do you have already and is it right for the job?
    – What can you do now, and what do you need to budget for?
    – Do you need to add new equipment?

  3. Plan and prioritise improvements
    – What maintenance regimes do you have in place and how can they be improved to focus on IAQ?
    – What on-going monitoring can you introduce to help to automate things?

  4. Invest for the future – select the right technology
    – Where can you get advice and what questions should you ask ventilation experts?

  5. Maintaining good IAQ – Buildings As Safe Havens
    – How often should you review things?

Free help and advice

There are two independent guides from BESA (Building Engineering Services Association) which are free to download and which can help point you in the right direction.

As a manufacturer of ventilation equipment we have worked with BESA – who represent the companies that install HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) equipment to develop a beginner’s guide to indoor air quality and a practical guide to developing Buildings As Safe Havens (the BASH guide)

The beginner’s guide looks at the background to the issue and provides a useful understanding of the science involved.

The BASH Guide includes all the questions you should ask a supplier and comes with a helpful Risk Assessment guide and a foreword from Professor Cath Noakes, OBE FREng FIMechE, who co-chaired a sub-group of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) during the pandemic, who says that ventilation is the most overlooked building safety issue.

Download them today and start your journey to improving the IAQ in your building.

Hern Yau is a ventilation expert at Mitsubishi Electric