Humans can survive for 30 days without eating, 3 days without drinking, yet only 3 minutes without breathing. Of course our need for air is also constant, we rely on it at all times indoors and outdoors although can often be less clean than we would hope. Unpleasant odors make us aware of bad air, but many irritants and unhealthy gases are not easily detectable by smell while still affecting our health. Smells are the most obvious signal, as they are consciously perceived by the brain and nervous system, allowing us to make judgements about our environment.
Learn more about where poor indoor air quality comes from, why it's important to address within the built environment, and how to design for good indoor air quality and comfort.
Gases let off by compounds in a wide variety of modern products (paints, carpeting, flooring, furniture finishes, cosmetics, sprays, etc) have been shown to have a wide variety of detrimental effects on health - from interrupted attention and cognition to significant long-term health effects that include respiratory disorders and cancers. Sometimes, however, chemical and biological pollutants and other odor-free elements, even the stuffiness of a room, affect our health and comfort and cause headaches, fatigue, allergies, and other detrimental reactions.
While we’ve become well aware of the importance of outdoor air quality via news about smog-filled cities, we take for granted the air quality of indoor environments (particularly in buildings that make use of air conditioning). Unfortunately, very often indoor air is not clean either and can be doing us harm without our knowledge. Designers, however, are uniquely positioned to guarantee the quality of these working environments and eliminate that threat. Here’s what you need to know:
Indoor Air Quality, or IAQ, encompasses a variety of factors, including temperature, humidity, and concentration of pollutants. Generally, however, IAQ refers to the comfort, health, and well-being of building occupants. Accordingly, while pollutants and particles can be objectively measured, there is also a subjective component to IAQ. Factors such as age, gender, and even nationality and culture can affect the way an individual perceives air quality. The method of human perception of air quality is primarily through odors, as other types of sensory irritation require significantly more pollution to produce noticeable effects while still impacting health. However, even when not consciously recognized, poor air quality can have adverse effects on building occupants in the short- and long-term.
Why does it matter?
A building’s function, as well as its typical occupancy, can determine both the acceptable standards for indoor air quality and its possible consequences. For example, hospitals and schools both contain vulnerable populations and therefore the effects of poor air quality can be even more detrimental. Unacceptable air quality in a hospital can lead to patient infections and the spread of illnesses and affect the healthcare workers as well, decreasing their productivity and ability to provide effective care. Natural ventilation and daylight have also been shown to decrease recovery times and improve patients’ mental health [1, 2].