The coronavirus pandemic made people more aware of IAQ, and now they want some assurances that the places where they spend time are committed to providing a healthy environment. A couple of services are emerging that help building owners demonstrate such a commitment.
One of these is the Inside Advantage certification from the Indoor Air Hygiene Institute (IAHI). The certification process begins with hygienists from the Institute conducting an on-site assessment of existing air quality throughout the facility. Following this initial assessment, customers receive a detailed report with recommendations to achieve the desired level of indoor air hygiene. Once these measures have been implemented, a hygienist returns to the facility to take subsequent readings and provide certification.
These inspections sometimes turn up some interesting issues, said Nils Gustavsson, the Institute’s president. He gave the example of a manufacturer that experienced sudden spikes in VOCs in its offices in the morning, just when workers entering the facility. The factory portion of the building shared a cafeteria with the offices, but the owner said the door into the cafeteria was supposed to stay shut. It turned out that wasn’t happening during the third shift.
This is an example of why it’s important to measure IAQ based on how people are actually using a building, Gustavsson said. The manufacturing operation was located in an area with relatively high pollution, so the owners put IAQ protection in place. The manufacturing process created IAQ issues in the factory, so extra equipment was installed there. But the owner hadn’t take into account the potential for cross-contamination.
“We promote the idea of active indoor air quality management,” Gustavsson said.
More Aware About the Air They Breathe
People are more aware about IAQ today than they were pre-pandemic, but they still lack a grasp on exactly what the term means, he said. IAHI aims to change that through educational efforts, such as webinars. The overall goal is to promote the many benefits of investing in IAQ that will continue after COVID comes under control.
These include fewer sick days and improved productivity. Gustavsson said studies show workers demonstrate improved cognitive function when their environment provides cleaner air. The same is true for students in schools. He said schools may want to look at ways of reducing the CO2 in a room while students take standardized tests.
“COVID is an issue, but it’s one issue,” Gustavsson said. “Indoor air quality is much bigger than that. We see that the attention to that is becoming much more prominent.”
All this extra attention does come with a negative side effect — misinformation. Gustavsson said the Institute is working to counter this issue. The IAHI does the best it can to check through all the claims from various products.
“That’s going to sort its way through,” he said. “There’s advice out there that we question and there’s advice that we stand by.”
The short-term goal for the Institute is to help building operators safely open their facilities and keep them open. Gustavsson said the need for such an effort became clear in the spring of 2020 when buildings across the country were ordered to close, including schools. He said it quickly became obvious that many districts lacked distance learning capabilities.
“Going home was not a great solution because they may not have Wi-Fi or they may not have the equipment,” he said.
The Institute team will also provide training and certification to on-site facility managers, providing them with the knowledge and tools necessary to manage hygienic levels of air quality continuously.