Enhancing quality of life through healthier indoor environments

Matthew Maleki, CIAT’s indoor air quality champion, explores the significance of maintaining high IAQ and IEQ standards.

As the modern world grapples with the complexities of environmental health, the importance of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) has surged to the forefront of public health debates.

Indoor air quality is a crucial public health issue that transcends simple comfort, influencing both mental and physical health. While IEQ encompasses a wider spectrum including lighting, space, and ergonomics, IAQ focuses on the air quality within indoor spaces, specifically ventilation, contaminant control, and humidity.

These elements are fundamental to creating environments that support human health and productivity. For instance, poor IAQ can lead to immediate discomfort such as headaches and eye irritation, and long-term health risks such as respiratory diseases and cognitive decline.

Health risks and vulnerable populations

The health implications of inadequate IAQ are extensive, affecting a wide range of populations, particularly the very young, the elderly, and those with pre-existing health conditions. Chronic exposure to polluted indoor air can lead to serious conditions including cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, and can increase the likelihood of developing neurodegenerative disorders like dementia.1 The stakes are even higher in densely populated urban environments and low-income residential areas where overpopulation and poor building standards compound the risks.

We spend more than 90% of our time inside and a shocking 3.2 million people die prematurely due to indoor air pollution each year, according to the WHO. Small changes in the way we manage and maintain our indoor environments can make a significant impact on occupant wellbeing whilst reducing energy consumption.

Current standards and legislative challenges

Navigating IAQ requirements can be daunting for building owners, due to the blend of guidelines and voluntary standards instead of more stringent regulations. The lack of enforceable regulation leaves a gap between knowledge and actionable improvement.  However, the existing building regulations, such as Part F, do emphasise the dual benefits of efficiency and cleanliness, suggesting a promising shift towards integrated health and environmental standards.

The introduction of BS 40102-1:2023 last year was a positive step forward in helping building owners address poor indoor air quality. One of the most substantial advantages it brings to the table is the potential for cost savings. By adopting the guidelines outlined in the standard, including effectively monitoring and evaluating building data, building owners can optimise their systems to function more efficiently, ultimately saving on energy costs and contributing to a more sustainable future.

What is needed now is more direction for building owners in selecting the most appropriate ventilation solutions to address the specific needs of a building – as no two buildings are the same. For instance, implementing demand control ventilation (DCV) can typically reduce a building’s HVAC running costs by 20-70% depending on the type of application and occupancy.

In the realm of IAQ improvement, technology offers transformative solutions. Innovations such as CO2 sensors and particulate matter monitors can significantly enhance air quality when integrated with traditional HVAC systems. These technologies not only facilitate effective air management but also promote energy efficiency by optimising air change rates and reducing the need for excessive energy consumption. The adoption of such technologies demonstrates that substantial improvements in IAQ can be achieved without prohibitive costs, undermining the common misconception that better air quality is invariably expensive.

Best practice for optimising IAQ

For building owners and managers, implementing best practice in IAQ is crucial. not just for compliance with evolving standards but for the wellbeing of occupants. Key strategies include:

  1. Regular Maintenance: Ensuring that HVAC systems are regularly inspected and maintained can prevent the buildup of pollutants.
  2. Proper Ventilation: Using mechanical ventilation in today’s highly insulated spaces to control air quality and increase comfort levels.
  3. Use of Eco-friendly Materials: Selecting low-emission materials for paints, furniture, and flooring reduces the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  4. Educational Initiatives: Educating occupants about the importance of regular ventilation and the use of non-toxic products can empower individuals to contribute to better IAQ.

Achieving global harmonisation

The potential for global harmonisation of IAQ standards presents both challenges and opportunities, especially for multinational corporations that operate across different regulatory environments. Harmonisation could lead to more consistent practices, making it easier for companies to implement uniform health and safety standards across all operations. This could result in improved employee health, increased productivity, and reduced operational costs related to health conditions and absenteeism.

As we gain more insights into the profound impact of air quality on health and wellbeing, the need for comprehensive standards and innovative solutions becomes increasingly apparent. By embracing both technological advances and straightforward cost-effective strategies, building owners and managers can significantly improve the environments in which people live, work, and play.

The path to better indoor air quality is not solely a regulatory journey but a collective movement towards enhancing the quality of life through healthier indoor environments.

For further information about CIAT’s ventilation solutions see: https://www.ciat.com/en/uk/

IEQ and the new British Standard will be discussed at the InstallerSHOW on Tuesday 25th June at the NEC. For more information see the Programme here. For FREE tickets to the show here: installer-2024-splash.reg.buzz