First, What Is 'Sick Building Syndrome?'
"Sick building syndrome" occurs when the reported symptoms or maladies of a building's occupants can be correlated with their presence in that building. Contributing factors can be decaying building materials, high concentrations of chemicals or machinery, presence of asbestos or radon, old carpet, dirty air ducts, or a poorly designed or inefficient HVAC system.
Signs and Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome
Common signs and symptoms in people include:
- Lethargy, fatigue, reduced cognitive abilities
- Headache, dizziness
- Eye and nose irritation
- Nasal congestion
- Heightened sensitivity to odors
Common signs and symptoms in the building include:
- High indoor humidity
- Stagnant airflow
- Mold growth
- Intense odors of any sort
- Temperature extremes within the building (hot and cold spots)
The more you notice symptoms like these in your office building and among its occupants, the worse your building's likely sickness. As a result, employees and customers in your building will have negative experiences (i.e., lower productivity, subdued enthusiasm, fewer sales and higher absenteeism).
What if You Do Nothing About the Indoor Air Quality of Your Building?
Well, you'll at least be able to put off some cleaning, maintenance and ventilation improvement costs, but the ocupants of your building will continue to suffer the consequences.
Long-term effects of poor indoor air quality:
- Reduced cognitive development and performance
- Increased risk of several cancer types
- Adverse cardiovascular effects, such as heart disease
- Adverse respiratory effects, such as lung disease and worsening asthma
- Increased allergic reactions, including asthma attacks, among building occupants
How Can You Turn Your Sick Building into a Green Building?
You can start with these steps:
- Analyze the design and operation of your building's HVAC system and ventilation.
- Inspect the cleanliness of HVAC equipment and ductwork.
- Inspect your building for mold.
- Inspect your building for asbestos and radon, if you haven't already. These are the two most common carcinogenic indoor air contaminants.
When reviewing your HVAC system, consider the advantages that can be provided by a predictive, proactive HVAC system that uses of the Internet of Things and cloud computing for air quality monitoring and operation. Such a system will allow your building's system to use live weather feeds to obtain outdoor enthalpy (air energy) data rather than rely on the inaccurate readings produced by a traditional rooftop unit module. Furthermore, wireless sensors throughout your building will monitor CO2, NO2 and CO levels along with indoor enthalpy.
Fully understanding building enthalpy and particulate levels will enable the system to provide superior indoor air quality and free cooling when conditions are appropriate. Humidity of the outside air can also be measured to ensure the indoor environment doesn’t become uncomfortable or cause mold to grow.
Deploying these strategies not only keeps employees comfortable and productive. Data show these strategies can save anywhere between 30% and 50% in HVAC energy usage over your current system.