When people hear the phrase “air quality,” they might be inclined to think about the great outdoors — maybe they picture clean, crisp mountain air or a warm ocean breeze. Or maybe they think about how smoke, smog, pollen, exhaust from automobiles and factories, and other outdoor nuisances affect their ability to breathe easily when they’re going about their day-to-day activities.
Thinking about those outdoor scenarios seems pretty logical, but the fact is most people spend the great majority of their time indoors. On average, 90 percent or more of our time is spent inside, according to some estimates. So, although that might suggest we’re safer from air pollution than we would be if we all spent more time outdoors, that’s not true either.
For the majority of people, most exposure to environmental chemicals happens indoors, and indoor air pollution levels can be from two to five times greater than outdoor air pollution. What are the largest contributors to indoor air pollution? Building materials and finishes.
Inside most buildings, the air we breathe contains a mix of chemicals and contaminants. Among them: volatile organic compounds (VOCs), inorganic and organic particulates and allergens, formaldehyde and aldehydes, inorganic and combustion gases, and mold and mildew. In many buildings, air is being recirculated through the heating and cooling system, which only compounds the potential risks.
Not surprisingly, research has shown a direct correlation between those contaminants and people’s overall health, eye and respiratory irritation, headaches, fatigue, nosebleeds, and even asthma.
Fortunately, there are numerous decisions facility managers can make to ensure optimal air quality for the people who use their buildings. Among the most important are choosing building materials, furnishings and equipment that are low-emitting.
In addition to government standards in many areas, there are independent associations that affirm certain products meet environmental and air-quality standards. One prominent organization is GREENGUARD, which certifies building products have low emissions of VOCs; its criteria are widely used as the basis for green and healthy building codes.
Facilities also can select products that are free of heavy metals, which can leach into the environment, as well as chlorine and asbestos. When it comes to flooring in particular, a key spec — especially for heavily used recreation and athletic facilities — can be choosing products that are bacteria and fungus resistant.
In facilities that emphasize wellness, ensuring the environment itself, from floor to ceiling, is conducive to good health is especially critical. Work with your suppliers to choose products that minimize pollutants and ensure good air quality.