Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) and Its Importance for Facility Managers

Indoor environmental quality (IEQ) is the quality of the overall environment of any building, taken to include the air, lighting, physical health and well-being of the occupants of that building. IEQ is connected to environmental factors that have the potential to affect an individual’s health. It is strongly correlated to “Sick Building Syndrome” (SBS). Persons experiencing health-associated symptoms when inside a building have both SBS and (poor) IEQ. These symptoms could be as a result of poor ventilation, outdoor pollutants, cigarette smoke, mold, asbestos, insects, microbes (bacteria and fungus), perfumes and related odors, or even elements/gases released from water damage. Usually, these symptoms are relieved when they exit that building.

Indoor environmental mitigation is required, much in the method of a facility condition assessment, to assess the space, identifying the source of the pollutant responsible, and stopping that source. Depending on the nature of the pollutant, medical attention might have to be sought for workers in the building who have been exposed.

Common Sources of Poor IEQ

Anything in an indoor environment contributing to poor health, poor well-being, and generally unfavorable conditions can be termed as poor IEQ. It might include, but not restricted to air quality, lighting, thermic conditions, even ergonomics. An attempt to improve IEQ can increase productivity and reduce liability. Some familiar sources of poor indoor environmental quality include:

  • Pollutants run in from shoes of occupants
  • Mold-from moisture within the building
  • Combustion from energy efficiency equipment, HVAC, or fireplaces/ovens
  • Cleaning agents
  • Laboratory/Factory/Hospital pollutants
  • Combustion from vehicles parked outside the facility/building
  • Gases such as methane, radon- given off from the soil underneath the building reacting with air
  • Occupants themselves-introducing bacteria, fungus, viruses; breathing out carbon dioxide which itself could be a pollutant
  • Paints, coatings, adhesives
  • Furniture, office equipment or other finishes-these could give out aromatic vapors which could cause health problems

By identifying the pollutant/contaminant at the source, utilizing air purifiers, and perhaps improving the filtration of the HVAC (if available), Facility managers can mitigate poor IEQ. Of course, they need to consider the building life cycle for this mitigation to be effective.

IEQ vs IAQ

IAQ refers to Indoor Air Quality, and should not be confused with IEQ. IAQ is the current state of the air that individuals are exposed to, and are currently breathing in. It is important for building design and occupant health, but somewhat different from IEQ. Both are measures the competent facility manager must be aware of and re-assess regularly.

IEQ deals with management of the contaminating source than IAQ. IAQ, while being influenced by a host of factors, these factors all involve air and the breathing process. IEQ, involves many of the factors similar to IAQ, but also extends to hearing, seeing, feeling, along with the physical and psychological aspects of being indoors.

To be clear, there is of course a considerable overlap between the two concepts. Feeling moisture in the air, sunlight exposure, strange smells, etc. could contribute to poor IEQ. IAQ could also be affected by moisture, if, say, as a result of too much moisture in the air, prompts bacterial or fungal growth. Strange smells could also be as a result of a particular contaminant (e.g Organic volatile compound) and contribute to poor IAQ.

The Implication for Facility Managers

Facility managers have traditionally been tasked with the duty of improving indoor quality for the well-being of the occupants inside the building they manage. It is pertinent that they consider the whole spectrum of comfort for life indoors, given the sheer range of sources for poor air quality. Improving IEQ will bring several benefits-improved occupant health, increased employee productivity as there are fewer symptoms brought about by SBS and poor IAQ. It will also potentially enhance the whole range of occupant experiences.

When the range of experience of the building’s occupants are improved, FMs will have no problems managing operational efficiencies, occupant comfort, and wellbeing. By carrying out a thorough assessment of the environment, they will find it easier to improve the source of air quality, minimize illnesses, avoid poor productivity instead of hastily finding quick-fixes and improvisations all the time.

IEQ has an impact on ROI. When proper maintenance is performed, machinery, infrastructure and structural upgrades are cheaper and more cost-effective. Meanwhile, upgrades will improve the company’s operational efficiency.

Bottom line of the building can be improved by improving occupant/employee health and implementing productivity-boosting strategies. Employees will feel a lot better about where they work, when building-related health problems are minimized or eliminated altogether.

Employees will be found to more content when strategies that align with building mandates are implemented. Then the building or company can conserve energy, materials, etc. and contribute to a fulfilling indoor experience.

Steps to Address Poor IEQ

A lot is touted in the industry about the ability to “go green”. While this is desirable, it does not necessarily mean that IEQ is being accounted for effectively. Some practical steps for addressing IEQ include:

  • Do an IEQ assessment. This can be performed with a professional-a certified indoor environmental quality assessor, or an industrial hygienist. Such a professional will be able to identify common contaminants and harmful sources. The facility manager can ow address the basis of the issue.
  • Environmental control-ability. The control over the temperature, lighting and ventilation should be handled only by authorized occupants, for easy adjustment when needed.
  • Operable windows should be installed so occupants have more control over IAQ.
  • The office space design, furnishings, acoustics, should all be considered.
  • Equipment that might be prone to chemical emission (printers, faxes, copiers, scanners) should be isolated and the personnel handling them limited.
  • HVAC assessment. Check if HVAC filtration can be done and if the filter is appropriate for that setting.
  • Air purifiers. These can decrease the contaminant level in space, remove aromatic compounds, airborne debris, and offer more air exchanges per hour.
  • Total focus on all aspects. It has been said that 90% of our time is spent inside buildings. Facility managers can increase satisfaction of occupants when they focus on all aspects of IEQ rather than on just temperature or air quality alone.

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