A Guide to Indoor Air Quality Standards For Office Buildings

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Just as the outdoor air carries a variety of environmental pollutants, indoor spaces like commercial buildings also contain pollutants that are harmful to human health. Contaminants that can harm indoor air quality include allergens, cleaning chemicals, dust from remodeling, nitrogen dioxide, carbon dioxide buildup, and more. Without adequate remediation and ventilation, these harmful indoor air pollutants can lead to respiratory issues, headaches, or other cold-like symptoms. Prolonged exposure to certain indoor air pollution can even contribute to the development of some cancers in certain people.

Evening view from the Vista House, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon. As the outdoor air is naturally ventilated, pollutant levels are often much lower in open environments than inside structures. Since the EPA estimates that most Americans spend 90% of their time indoors, improving air quality should be a top priority for any employer. To keep workers safe, facility managers or building owners should conduct consistent air monitoring and take steps to ensure proper ventilation of the environment. In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about indoor air quality standards for office buildings, including the recommended exposure limits of certain pollutants, ventilation standards, testing indoor air quality, and how to IAQ compliance in your building. Read on to learn more. 

What Are Indoor Air Quality Standards? 

Under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), all employers are required by law to provide a work environment free of hazards that could cause “death or serious physical harm” to employees. In short, OSHA’s guidance regarding IAQ discusses the importance of recording any injuries or illnesses reported by workers and appropriate methods for ventilating potentially hazardous work areas.   

Aside from OSHA, organizations like the American National Standards Institute and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers also provide air quality control standards for commercial buildings. These standards- combined with state-specific guidelines- are ultimately responsible for setting the IAQ compliance goals for buildings in the United States. 

Key Parameters in IAQ Standards 

Several influences contribute to the results of an indoor air quality test. In general, these contributing factors include the amount of ventilation in the building, the levels of pollutants in the air, and the temperature/humidity of the indoor environment. Consistently monitoring these environmental factors is essential to maintaining clean air and a healthy environment for all employees. Here are the fundamentals you should know. 

Ventilation Standards for Fresh Air Circulation 

An exhaustive list of OSHA’s recommendations for ventilation can be found in Subpart G of Title 29 in the Code of Federal Regulations. In addition, the CDC provides numerous recommendations for improving air circulation in buildings to help improve indoor air quality. These standards include upgrading AC filters to MERV 13, ensuring indoor air is changed out no less than 5 times per hour, and ensuring all ventilation systems are operational in bathrooms and kitchens. Ventilation can also be further improved by simply opening windows or installing more overhead fans in the building. 

Limits on Airborne Pollutants 

The EPA, LEED, and World Health Organization all offer very similar thresholds for various forms of indoor air pollution. With that said several states have adopted their own VOC standards, including California, Michigan, and Virginia. Here is a brief breakdown of the generally accepted pollutant limits for today’s indoor air quality standards. 

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): The permissible exposure level (PEL) for various VOCs varies depending on the type of compound in question. Formaldehyde, for example, should remain less than 27 parts per billion (ppb) throughout the building. Benzene, another common VOC found in commercial office buildings, should never exceed 1 ppm over an 8-hour timeframe.  

RADON: This toxic gas occurs naturally in the earth’s soil, but it can also be found in natural gas. Radon is an odorless gas that can easily leech out of the soil through fissures in buildings. OSHA’s permissible exposure level for Radon is currently 100 picocuries per liter across an average 40-hour work week. 

Particulate Matter (PM): This form of indoor air pollution consists of microscopic particles that can cause irritation to airways, congestion, and diminished lung function. Early in 2023, the EPA updated its guidance regarding the permissible exposure levels of particulate matter and currently advises keeping PM levels between 9 and 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air.  

Mold: This airborne pollutant is very common in commercial buildings and is often caused by water leaks or inadequate weatherization. While there are no set standards for mold levels in an indoor environment, OSHA does provide extensive resources on identifying, preventing, testing, and remediating mold.  

Carbon Monoxide: This harmful gas is often associated with stoves, fireplaces, vehicle exhaust, and gas-powered generators. In a typical office space, Carbon Monoxide levels should remain under 50 parts per million (PPM) averaged over an 8-hour work shift. 

Temperature and Humidity Guidelines 

Climate control is another essential aspect of maintaining comfortable and healthy indoor air quality. In regard to this, OSHA recommends that buildings maintain a consistent temperature within the range of 68 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit depending on seasonal conditions. In addition, relative humidity should remain between 20% and 60% at all times. However, the EPA suggests that for optimal comfort, humidity levels should stay within the 30% to 50% range. It’s worth noting that excessively dry air can aggravate preexisting health conditions like asthma or even contribute to symptoms such as sore throat, respiratory irritation, and dry skin. Meanwhile, high humidity levels can contribute to mold growth and also create ideal conditions for viruses to thrive. 

How To Stay Compliant With Air Quality Standards 

To ensure compliance with IAQ standards, it’s important to ensure your office building provides reliable climate control and ventilation. In addition, following the best construction practices for green buildings during expansions or renovations can help to reduce the number of pollutants in the indoor air. Steps should also be taken to reliably track the quality of the air in your office building from day to day. To do this, it’s advisable to install indoor air quality monitors throughout the premises that can detect a wide range of pollutants including carbon dioxide, VOCs, and particulate matter. 

Promote Health and Wellness With an IAQ Monitoring Solution 

A healthy building is a healthy workforce. At Attune, we provide comprehensive indoor air quality monitoring solutions your office building needs to keep workers productive and healthy. Our IAQ smart building monitoring equipment easily interfaces with your existing infrastructure and equipment, while same-day installation ensures you’ll have immediate access to the data you need to make more informed IAQ decisions. Instead of having a professional perform a periodic air quality test on the premises, our complete IAQ monitoring platform allows you to track pollutant levels across the building in real-time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you’re ready to learn more about how Attune can help your office building meet IAQ standards, schedule a demo with us today. 

 

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