How to improve indoor air quality in office buildings

One of the many challenges facing businesses today is maintaining high productivity levels.  Whilst it’s often easier to measure productivity in production/manufacturing environments, the effectiveness of office workers is frequently ignored.

Studies in Scandinavia and North America found that poor ventilation in buildings has a major impact on the health and productivity of the occupants.  This has been highlighted recently in the UK with research into school buildings and offices. Indoor air quality (IAQ) has the attention of the UK government, industry bodies, journalists, and is becoming more than a talking point among staff.  Well-being is high on a company’s agenda and IAQ is one of the contributory factors that can have a significant impact.

Poor indoor air quality in office buildings: causes

Issues with poor levels of indoor air quality are not just limited to older buildings.  Part of the drive towards energy efficiency means new buildings are constructed to be as airtight as possible.  The phrase “build tight, ventilate right” has been around since the early 1990s and whilst it can be argued that a building can never be too airtight, the “ventilate right” element was often overlooked with limited ventilation resulting in uncomfortable and unhealthy places to work.

Ventilation is essential in a building.  In simple terms, ventilation removes stale air and replaces it with “fresh” air.  Air becomes stale from a build-up of many contaminants including moisture, volatile organic compounds (VOCs – chemicals emitted as gases from paint, furniture, carpets and building materials), bacteria and carbon dioxide generated from people breathing.  Ventilation can also be used to regulate the temperature of the building as well.

Fungal spores are a reliable trigger for allergic symptoms, so ensuring good circulation of purified air also helps to control the spread of disease, mould and wet rot, which thrive in humid conditions and stale air.

Ventilation options

There are essentially 2 main types of ventilation solutions, either natural ventilation or mechanical.  Mixed mode ventilation is also being discussed more as a combination of both natural and mechanical variants.

Natural ventilation uses the pressure and temperature difference between indoor and outdoor air to create the ventilation in a building.  As no fans are used, no energy is consumed. The simplest type of natural ventilation is an open window.

Whilst natural ventilation doesn’t use energy in its operation, it does have a number of limitations.  There’s limited, or no control of the rate of ventilation. If the office is in an urban environment, opening a window will allow highly toxic PM2.5 particles (produced by vehicle exhausts) to enter your workspace.  Noise will be transmitted through windows and disrupt the employees, and energy used in getting the office to a comfortable temperature is wasted by bringing in unconditioned air from outside.

Although mechanical ventilation uses electricity to power the fans, there are some significant advantages over natural systems.  Outdoor air quite often isn’t that fresh, especially in cities and built up areas. Mechanical ventilation filters the air before it enters the building, removing much of the contamination.  The rate of ventilation can be controlled so energy isn’t being wasted on ventilating a building when it’s not required. One of the main benefits with mechanical ventilation is how much energy can be saved.  A range of energy recovery devices can be used to recover energy from the air being extracted from the building and used to temper the air coming into the building. This can save over 70% on heating costs over a year.

Under ventilating means you still have the issues already highlighted, and poor levels of quality of the indoor air.  Over ventilating means too much new air is being brought into the building.

How to improve indoor air quality in office buildings: air handling units

To determine how to improve the indoor air quality in office buildings, it is important to know the size and shape of the building and the number of people using it.

An air handling unit (AHU) suitable for an office building could be installed in a plant room, on the roof or within an external compound.  All options can be discussed to ensure the right solution is chosen for your building.

Another consideration is if your building has a large communal entrance/reception, this is often an area that gets overlooked.  With frequently opening doors, it’s easy for outdoor air to enter the building. Installing air curtains at entrances will provide protection from outdoor air entering the workspace, thereby reducing the load on the AHU.

Ultimately every office space is different and has its own unique set of requirements.

Consider having an air handling unit designed and made specifically for your workspace in order to achieve the best possible quality of the indoor air.

Advice on how to improve indoor air quality in office buildings

Envirotec specialise in designing and manufacturing custom-made ventilation solutions to suit your office building and its requirements.

Our team of expert engineers can answer your questions and help select the correct solution for your office, whether that’s a new air handling unit, refurbishment of existing systems or an air curtain for your entrance.

Get in touch and we’ll help you find the ideal solution to improve the indoor air quality in your office building.