Creating a Healthier Indoor Environment

Erica Brabon

Written by SWA Senior Consultant, Erica Brabon

When close to 90% of our lives are spent inside, you would expect extensive measures would be taken to ensure our buildings provide healthy environments in which to live and work. Unfortunately, more often than not, tested air quality inside buildings is much worse than outside.

Here are some common causes of these indoor pollutants:

  • Pesticide use during regular pest control treatments
  • Pollutants (asthma triggers) from cleaning products, smoking, pets, pests, fuel use, etc;
  • Inadequate ventilation;
  • Mold and moisture build up from water leaks and inadequate ventilation; and,
  • Carbon monoxide from appliances, heaters or other equipment.

This problem is made worse by the way in which the pollutants utilize air movement pathways throughout the building. Anywhere air can move, moisture can move and pollutants can move. This presents an intersection of energy efficiency and healthy buildings; air sealing these leakage pathways in the buildings stops pollutants from traveling and saves heating energy.

Let’s revisit the common pollutants and strategies for intervention and mitigation. You’ll notice a common theme of “find the source, stop the source, seal the holes.”

  • Pesticides
    • All buildings should convert their pest control methods to Integrated Pest Management (IPM). It is cost neutral, more effective and greatly reduces potential health hazards from pesticides. It involves monitoring of pests to determine the source and pathways, removing the source and air sealing pathways, targeted gel bait for pests and continued monitoring of pest populations. A better approach than the standard pest control method of throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping we hit the pests.
  • Indoor pollutant control
    • Determine what your pollutant source is; for example standard cleaning products causing asthma attacks and headache complaints. Work with your existing vendor to identify green cleaning products and train your staff in proper use.
  • Poor indoor air quality from inadequate ventilation
    • Poor indoor air quality can result from a variety of pollutant sources. Once the pollutant source and pathway are identified, it must be stopped and sealed. These problems are exacerbated by leaky buildings; whole building air sealing stops the pollutant travel, saves energy and in turn saves energy.
  • Mold and moisture build up from water leaks and inadequate ventilation
    • Mold and moisture problems can be detrimental to certain populations such as infants, senior citizens and the immunocompromised. It’s very important to determine how moisture has entered the building or the mold will never go away. If there is a water leak behind a wall creating mold, washing and painting the mold will never stop it. In spaces with poor ventilation such a bathrooms with no ventilation or non-functional ventilation mold problems progress quickly. In all cases where ventilation is required, this is the reason why. Build of pollutants is dangerous to occupants and to building durability. Ensure that fresh air requirements are being met throughout the building.
  • Carbon monoxide
    • In any case where combustion is taking place inside of a building there must be a carbon monoxide detector. If ventilation is inadequate, build up of carbon monoxide could happen quickly and reach fatal levels. All combustion appliances including boilers and stoves should be tested regularly to ensure carbon monoxide is not being released into the surrounding environment.

In each case, the source of the hazard must be determined as well as the pathway. Taking a “Band-Aid” approach to health hazards never fully fixes the problem. Keeping our eyes open in our buildings for these opportunities not only benefits the occupants but it’s you yourself than can benefit as well.

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