Building operation and design standards are important – they ensure a minimum level of operational efficiency, comfort, and safety. However, achieving standards on paper doesn’t always guarantee that the space is actually performing as intended. Plus, many common guidelines, like ASHRAE standards, don’t approach building health holistically, leaving out many key factors. Here, we’ve summarized 3 reasons why it’s important to go above and beyond minimum building standards.
1. Design on paper doesn’t always guarantee execution in real life
A well-designed building will consider occupant health and comfort from the beginning. When it comes to indoor environmental quality (IEQ), considering proper placement of air supplies and exhausts ensures actual and efficient air exchange, while keeping occupants comfortable. But not all buildings are built with air system performance in mind. A building can technically achieve proper ventilation rate, but not have good air quality when the intake and outlet placement and use of space is not optimized. In this case, building owners may assume that the space is healthy when it’s in fact the opposite.
Older buildings are especially at risk for this. Aside from being built in accordance to older, less stringent guidelines, building systems deteriorate with time. A well-designed space that may have achieved ASHRAE standards ten years ago is likely underperforming today – and potentially putting occupants at risk of discomfort and health issues. That’s why it’s important to take the time to verify the actual quality of indoor spaces
2. Standards aren’t always holistic
Detailed considerations of IEQ are relatively new to the building industry. Standards can reflect this by focusing mostly on comfort rather than health. That’s not to say that comfort isn’t important: uncomfortable temperatures reduce productivity, and exacerbate existing symptoms of sick building syndrome. But recent building health studies recommend higher ventilation rates than the minimum advised by ASHRAE. The COVID-19 pandemic and the spotlight it’s shone on occupant health highlights that the building industry needs to adjust its concept of “good enough.” Additionally, adjustments to how the space is used, like the placement of workstations and the scheduling of meetings, can seriously improve occupant health with little financial cost – but this pathway for improvement is rarely mentioned in guidelines. So current standards don’t always encompass the whole picture, and often what they recommend is the bare minimum.
3. Lack of guidance on indoor contaminants
Carbon dioxide (CO2), particulate matter (PM), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) occur in indoor spaces, but they are also harmful to humans in the long term. High CO2 concentrations can lead to headaches, fatigue, and decreased cognitive function. PM worsens allergies and asthma, and can lead to future respiratory issues. VOCs irritate the skin, eyes, and lungs, and cause headaches and irritation; some, like formaldehyde or benzene, potentially cause cancer. All of these contaminants are typically found indoors, produced by occupants or furnishings like carpets, paints, cleaning supplies, and flooring. Even moderate concentrations can decrease the health, productivity, and profits of individuals and groups alike.
Despite these contaminants’ prevalence, standards like ASHRAE offer very little guidance on thresholds, management, or preventative action. There’s little advice on high vs low emission materials, and the ASHRAE minimum ventilation rates don’t always ensure that these contaminants are effectively removed. That means health risks and profit loss can fly under the radar
How to go above and beyond?
In the end, design and building performance standards serve as an important baseline. However, they are the minimum, and leave out important details. Instead, it’s up to building owners, operators, and industry experts to take initiative and ensure that their indoor space isn’t just “good enough,” but great. The good news is, if you want to investigate a building’s actual performance and ensure your space is ahead of the rest, ioAirFlow can help. Visit us here to learn more about our wireless sensors, data analytics, and our mission to bring better buildings to everyone
Written by Maria Marsh Carriles - ioAirFlow Technical Researcher