Improving Indoor Air Quality in Office Buildings


Air testing in office buildings is vital to verify indoor air quality and troubleshoot ventilation problems.

In fact, air quality is also regulated in public schools, classrooms, and shopping centers by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

OSHA is responsible for developing and enforcing workplace safety and health regulation law. NIOSH was established to help ensure safe and healthy conditions for workers by providing research, information, education, and training in the field of occupational safety and health.

In general, OSHA regulations are based on public health and safety information and studies developed by NIOSH.

There are 3 levels of OSHA compliance at the state level in the US from most to least regulated.

  • OSHA-approved State Plans that cover private, state, and local government workplaces
  • OSHA-approved State Plan that covers state and local government workers only.
  • OSHA coverage at the federal level for private workers but not state or local workplaces

You can see your state’s level of OSHA coverage here.

Note that school buildings or classrooms may be more heavily regulated than office buildings. Managing IAQ in schools involves school boards, local public funds, and child safety issues. In addition, students in classrooms are closer together. Most schools have approximately four times as many occupants as an office building in the same amount of floor space. As schools add classrooms, they may have different heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment in different rooms, portable classrooms, or buildings.

Indoor air pollutants and substances

Indoor pollutants generally fall into one of three groups: biological and chemical pollutants, particulate matter, and poor air.

  • Biological and chemical pollutants like mold, bacteria and dust mites, water-based lead as well as volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde, solvents, and cleaning agents.
  • Particulate matter like dust, dander, pollen, asbestos, lead dust, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides or any fine particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller. In general, any inhalable particulate matter 10 microns or smaller can have a long-term impact on health.
  • Lack of fresh air. Poor air can be the result of high levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, or radon in the air.

The Environmental Protection Agency has a great reference guide that describes each of these in more detail.

Indoor air-related illnesses

Poor indoor air quality in office spaces has also been linked to short-term conditions like increased colds or respiratory infections from airborne bacteria. Allergies may be triggered by mold, pet dander, or exposure to VOCs. Tuberculosis, measles, staphylococcus infections, legionella, and influenza are known to be transmitted by air.

In addition to short-term exposure to airborne contaminants, long-term exposure to lead (either through paint dust or water), asbestos, and second-hand tobacco smoke can pose a variety of serious health effects including lung disease, asthma, bronchitis, decreased lung function or other respiratory problems.

Exposure to lead can be especially problematic. It can cause serious damage to the brain, kidneys, nervous system, and red blood cells. Children are particularly vulnerable. Lead exposure in children can result in delays in physical development, lower IQ levels, shorter attention spans, and an increase in behavioral problems.

Indoor air quality and CO2 research continue to be prevalent as their results have led to a positive correlation between increased student sickness and absenteeism. In addition, studies have shown that high levels of carbon dioxide in enclosed areas reduce the amount of oxygen to the brain, resulting in drowsiness and poor student performance.

Sick Building Syndrome

Sick building Syndrome is used to describe buildings where people seem to always be sick for no apparent reason. Symptoms are positively correlated with the time spent indoors. Occupants tend to get sick the longer they are in a building, whereas their symptoms improve or disappear when they leave.

Poor indoor air quality in schools, universities, or office buildings may often mask itself as a cold or the flu. Runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, headache, fatigue, fever, chills, or nausea can all be signs of problems with IAQ.

Indoor air quality monitor

In order to test the quality of air in your office building, a professional air quality monitor should be used, such as the Aranet4 HOME Indoor Air Quality Monitor. to measure and detect carbon dioxide, temperature, relative humidity, and barometric pressure.

In addition, occupants and workers can continually view CO2 measurements directly from the e-ink display which provides a corresponding color indicator and configurable sound alarms. (With the e-ink display, the battery life of the Aranet4 extends up to 2 years.)

Best of all, with wireless connectivity, you can connect your smartphone with the Aranet4 device via Bluetooth by using your iOS or Android app to configure the device, view historical data, set alarms, and sensor reading frequency.

Additional air quality tests can also be done to measure the following:

  • Mold & bacteria
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Allergens
  • Asbestos
  • Radon
  • Carbon monoxide

There are also additional best practice tips to improve the indoor air in your office such as:

  1. Remove blocking of air vents or grilles
  2. Comply with office and building smoke policies
  3. Water and maintain office plants properly
  4. Implement air quality monitoring 
  5. Dispose of garbage promptly and properly

For some office buildings, it may be more cost-effective to conduct indoor air testing with maintenance staff. The EPA provides an on-line guide for HVAC personnel to develop an IAQ profile or to investigate an IAQ complaint.

Short term IAQ solutions

In most cases, indoor air quality can be improved by simply opening a window or a door. When this is not possible, the next best solution is to replace air filtration and to clean and dust everything. Make sure no wall hangings or furniture obstruct fresh air vents. If you still have concerns about IAQ, ask your building’s HVAC staff to conduct air testing in your area.

Here are some other low-cost or short term solutions from the EPA:

  • Do not block air vents or grilles.
  • Comply with the office and building smoking policy.
  • Water and maintain office plants properly.
  • Dispose of garbage promptly and properly.
  • Store food properly.
  • Avoid bringing products into the building that could release harmful or bothersome odors or contaminants.

Notify your building or facility manager immediately if you suspect an indoor air quality problem. 

Free air testing resources

For more information on implementing CO2Meter sensor technologies in your research, speak to an expert today:

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