The term “Sick Building Syndrome” is not readily known. Just by the name alone, you can imagine it has something to do with being in an unhealthy indoor environment. Sick Building Syndrome, or SBS, is a medical condition where people in a building suffer from symptoms of illness or feel unwell for no apparent reason. Spending a lot of time in the unhealthy environment result in symptoms such as tight chest, wheezing, sore throat, eye, and nose irritation and in some sever cases, dizziness, and nausea. But what makes a building ‘sick’? The causes of SBS are usually linked to flaws in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
Factors That Contribute to Sick Building Syndrome
Ventilation, the amount of fresh air that is brought indoors, is extremely important. Shockingly, a NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) research study concluded that over fifty percent (52%) of SBS cases could be traced back to inadequate ventilation. When HVAC systems were first installed in buildings, building ventilation standards called for around 15 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of outside air for each building occupant. The oil crisis of the early 1970s further reduced the ventilation standards to only 5 cfm to save energy. And it did just that. However, building occupants health began to decline and people started getting sick in droves. Thankfully, 20+ years later, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) developed a ventilation standard that balanced adequate ventilation and energy efficiency to prevent sickness. Now the requirement is back to a minimum of 15 cfm of outdoor air per person and 20 cfm per person in office spaces.
When CO2 levels are high (> 800 to 1000 parts per million) room air begins to feel ‘stuffy’. However, SBS symptoms can occur at a much lower concentration and anything above 1000 ppm can cause people to become quite sick. Thankfully, this level is very uncommon due to the proper ventilation system requirements in place as described above.
Chemical Contaminants from Indoor Sources
The amount of chemicals that make up the structure of our indoor spaces is quite overwhelming. Carpet, upholstery, paint, adhesives, copy machines, cleaning agents, etc. are all a part of our everyday lives, bringing an abundance of unhealthy chemicals into the air we breathe. These toxins include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), e.g. formaldehyde, which cause chronic and acute health effects at high levels.
The outdoor air that enters a building is also a factor in indoor air pollution. Although adequate ventilation is a requirement, the type of air that comes inside is just as important. Think about all the exhaust fumes toll road workers are exposed to. Or the drive-through operator at a fast food restaurant who has the window open while idling cars wait for their order. Outdoor contaminants can also get into a building if the air intake vents are poorly located and polluted air and not fresh air is sucked into the building.
Mold, bacteria, viruses and pollen are all examples of natural toxins that can grow if your HVAC system is not properly maintained. Mold will grow in any standing pools of water near an HVAC unit, especially as outdoor temperatures increase. Water damage inside the building’s carpet, ceiling tiles or insulation can also be a cause of mold growth if not properly taken care of. Plants and weeds growing around the HVAC unit also cause issues as air flow into the building is restricted, pulling more pollen and allergens into the indoor air.
How Can We Prevent Sick Building Syndrome?
The most beneficial thing that can be done to reduce the effects of poor indoor air quality is to improve air filtration. Air filtration provides us with a means to attain the desired level of indoor air quality. Air filters were originally intended to simply shield the components of your expensive HVAC system, protecting it from harmful dust build-up and extending its life. As the manufacturing process of air filters evolved, filtration media became more refined and specialized. This allowed air filtration to go beyond system protection into cleaning contaminants, allergens, and other bothersome particles from our air using high-efficiency pleated air filters. Since then there has been a significant improvement in indoor comfort and cleaner air in our homes and businesses.
US Home Filter Offers AC Filters for Every HVAC System
No matter which type of HVAC system your home has, every unit needs a quality air filter that fits properly to maximize your indoor air quality and keep your unit running efficiently. US Home Filter can provide you with the best and most efficient HVAC filter available! Changing the filter in your furnace is as important as changing the oil in your car and US Home Filter offers filters to fit all heating and air conditioning units. From standard to custom air filters, to whole-house filters, grille filters and humidifier filters, we have all of your filter needs covered!
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