About Indoor Air Quality
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About Indoor Air Quality

Just what is Indoor Air Quality or IAQ? And what is good Indoor Air Quality? These are questions that are being asked with increasing frequency as we become more concerned with improving our quality of life.

Basically, Indoor Air Quality is the conditions of the air that we humans are exposed to when in enclosed or confined areas. Enclosed indoor areas can be as small as an office cubicle or a closet in our home and they can be as large as an assembly hall, auditorium, building atrium or any other similar structure.

Simply put, good Indoor Air Quality is when all of the conditions of the air in the enclosed or indoor space are within the ranges that are comfortable to humans and are not considered harmful to our health.

3 Elements of Indoor Air Quality

There are three basic elements or components that make up the conditions of Indoor Air Quality. They are temperature, humidity and contaminant level. Each of these elements has ranges, expressed in their own units, where human comfort and harmless contaminant levels exist. It is when the air that we are breathing is within these acceptable ranges that good Indoor Air Quality is present. When the air that we are exposed to is outside of these ranges then the conditions may be unhealthful and we must take action. Those actions differ based on the element. In the case of temperature we heat or cool the surrounding air to bring it within comfort levels. For humidity control we humidify to add moisture or we dehumidify to remove moisture from the air. For airborne contaminants we reduce the contaminant levels by source removal where possible and by dilution, filtration and or exhausting of the contaminants from the indoor space.

Any program intended to improve Indoor Air Quality should address all three of the Indoor Air Quality elements. The desire to address the element of indoor temperature has existed as early as man began to build fires in caves. More recently recognition of the benefits of controlling indoor humidity levels has occurred. The process of addressing these two elements of temperature and humidity in the indoor environment is a standard procedure within the building engineering and architectural community and as such substantial information on these subjects can be found at a variety of sources. Similarly, there are many companies that can provide services to address problems in these areas of temperature and humidity.

The focus on the contaminant element of Indoor Air Quality is relatively recent. This is particularly true in the home and office (non-industrial) workplace. During the energy crisis of the 70ís, as homeowners began to seal up their homes to reduce energy loss, they started to experience symptoms that were ultimately identified as being caused by exposure to contaminants in the air of their home. Recognition of these contaminants was an acknowledgement of the role contaminants play in Indoor Air Quality. More recently, due in part to advances in diagnostics and the subsequent identification of the role contaminants play in our health and comfort, a renewed interest and concern about contaminant levels in indoor environments has occurred. This has fueled the growth of an entire industry specializing in products and services designed to address the contaminant element of Indoor Air Quality issues.

5 Steps to Improving Indoor Air Quality by Improving Contaminant Levels

There are five basic steps to improving Indoor Air Quality by reducing contaminant levels. They are:

  1. Identification of the contaminant that is an irritant or harmful to the occupants
  2. Quantification of the contaminant level
  3. Mitigation or neutralization of the contaminant
  4. Remediation
  5. Maintenance
  • Identification is the process of identifying the contaminant that is an irritant or harmful to the occupants of the indoor space. What is it that is causing the problem? Examples: dust, pollen, carbon dioxide, etc.
  • Quantification is the process of determining what quantities of the contaminant exist in the indoor environment. How much of the contaminant is in the air? Examples: 100,000 particles @ 1 micron and larger per cubic foot, 54 parts per million, etc.

    Mitigation is the process of neutralizing the contaminant. Get rid of the contaminant. Examples: source removal, air filtration, etc.

    Remediation is the process of removing the contaminant that has accumulated prior to mitigation. Now that the contaminant has been neutralized, get rid of all that has built up prior to neutralization. Examples: duct cleaning, source removal, etc.

    Maintenance is the process of maintaining the method of mitigation. Maintain the systems keeping the contaminant level within an acceptable range. Examples: changing air filters, adjusting air dampers, etc.

     

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