#IAQ Articles

What is acceptable air quality?

The guide modules we offer are based on the goal of providing acceptable air quality in buildings. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) defines acceptable air quality as: “air in which there are no known contaminants at harmful concentrations as determined by cognizant authorities and with which a substantial majority (80% or more) of the people exposed do not express dissatisfaction.” However, air quality is a complicated topic and it is recognized that other definitions for acceptable indoor air quality may be desired or required.

A healthy indoor environment is one that contributes to productivity, comfort, and a sense of health and well-being. It is free from unacceptable levels of odours, dust and contaminants. Air circulation meets air change requirements without creating drafts. Temperature and humidity are appropriate for the activities in the building. Sanitation is maintained and water-related problems are quickly recognized and corrected. Failure to maintain acceptable indoor air quality can have consequences such as:

  • 8-2Increased health problems (e.g., coughing, eye irritation, headache, allergic reactions) and, in rare cases, more serious health problems (e.g., Legionnaire’s disease, carbon monoxide poiso- ning);
  • Absenteeism and loss of productivity;
  • Strained relations between landlords and tenants, and employers and employees;
  • Negative publicity that could threaten leasing opportunities or bring liability problems; and
  • Accelerated deterioration of furnishings and equipment.

Provision of good air quality requires conscientious effort by both building staff and occupants. The commitment to address IAQ problems starts with the building owner or facility manager – the person who has an overview of the organization, sets policy, and assigns staff responsibilities.

Although energy conservation is an important goal, it should not be achieved by actions that compromise air quality, such as reducing the amount of outdoor ventilation air without taking action to maintain the quality of the recirculated air. The modules of this guide indicate that acceptable air quality begins with good design and is continually supported by general maintenance, HVAC maintenance and ope- ration, attention to detail during repairs and renovations, and communication with, and education of, building occupants.

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