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A 2021 Guide to the Indoor Air Quality Standards that Matter

What are indoor air quality standards? 

Indoor air quality (IAQ) standards are mostly implicit, based off guidelines created by the CDC, ASHRAE and OSHA for maintaining clean air in buildings. While there is no definitive list of standards kept on record, various journals kept by these publications provide clear recommendations for improving indoor air quality. In this blog, we’ll cover the most important standards to meet during 2021 and beyond.  

Why is it important to meet IAQ standards? 

Proper indoor air quality is important for a variety of reasons related to occupant wellbeing and building efficiency, with three of the most compelling being:  

  • Airborne disease transmission: An influx of research over the last several months has linked poor indoor air conditions to increased COVID-19 transmission. To reduce risk, ASHRAE and the CDC have recommended several ventilation and filtration strategies aimed at providing healthy indoor air quality.  
  • Building efficiency: Clean air has measurable financial and operational benefits. With HVAC systems accounting for an average 39% percent of total energy consumption, optimizations using air quality data can significantly improve your bottom line 
  • Occupant wellbeing: We know stuffy conference rooms cause us to dose off or yawn excessively – but what is the cost of this seemingly minor inconvenience? Research suggests that clean air is vital – improving cognitive function by up to 100%, reducing sick days, and savings thousands missed on productivity.  

The 2 most important IAQ standards to meet in 2021:  

1) Keep carbon dioxide (CO2) levels at or below 800 ppm to ensure proper ventilation. 

ASHRAE instructs operators to meet at least minimum outdoor airflow rates and flush spaces completely during unoccupied times when necessary. Carbon dioxide levels serve as a great indicator for occupancy and fresh air levels. By meeting recommended carbon dioxide thresholds, you can ensure that spaces are meeting necessary fresh air levels.  

Graph shows the indoor air quality standards for carbon dioxide.

2) Make sure particulate levels are below 10 ug/m3 to ensure proper filter performance. 

Central filtration should be upgraded to MERV-13 or highest compatible filter class during COVID-19. When upgrading is not possible, ASHRAE suggests using a combination of filters and air cleaners to achieve air flow comparable to MERV-13 filters. Using particulate matter (PM2.5) levels to track improvements can provide evidence of desired fresh air levels. Additionally, preliminary evidence connects long-term exposure to PM2.5 at 10 ug/mor more to increased mortality in COVID-19.  

Graph shows the indoor air quality standards for carbon dioxide. 

 

Maintaining a healthy Air Quality Index (AQI) 

The Air Quality Index (AQI) was developed by the EPA to make it easy to understand the overall air quality of a space. AQI is determined by indoor pollution concentrations and ranges from 0 to 500, or “Good” to “Hazardous.” The worst (typically highest) pollutant concentration measured will determine the level of the AQI. Tracking and maintaining a “Good” AQI is a great first step to ensuring clean air in your building. 

Indoor air pollutant thresholds to monitor and manage 

Indoor air pollution causes adverse effects on human health ranging from irritation of the ears, nose and throat; to increased risk of asthma attacks and respiratory disease. Tracking these particles, chemicals, and gasses is an important first step in managing their concentrations. Here is a list of indoor air quality standards and their recommended thresholds based on the EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI).  

Particulate Matter (PM2.5): 0 – 12 ug/m3

PM2.5 are often referred to as fine dust and are tiny particles suspended in the air with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or lessPM2.5 particles are generated from internal activities or outdoor air conditions and can be inhaled deep into the lungs. Using the correct air filters for your system set up can ensure thresholds are maintained. 

Particulate Matter (PM10): 0 – 54 ug/ m3

PM10 are often referred to as coarse dust particles that possess a diameter of 10 micrometers. PM10 are also found in the air and can be inhaled deep into the lungs. These particles, like PM2.5 can be generated from internal activities or outdoor air conditions. Using the correct air filters for your system set up can ensure thresholds are maintained. 

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): 0 – 15 ppm

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemical compounds that can evaporate under normal indoor conditions of temperature and pressure. Sources of these compounds include solvents, liquid fuels, furniture, carpets and other fabrics. A high base levels of VOCs can indicate a general lack of cleanliness in a space as well as improper ventilation. You can reduce VOC levels with proper source control (I.e, ensuring chemicals are stored properly) or implementing air purifiers and clean air systems. 

Carbon Dioxide (CO2): 400 – 650 ppm

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a colorless, odorless gas that occurs naturally in Earth’s atmosphere in trace amounts. Highly populated rooms, with many people breathing the same air in and out can lead to increased CO2 levels. These increased levels have a large impact on productivity and comfort, causing fatigue and lack and focus in workers and staff. To reduce the concentrations of CO2 in indoor spaces, increasing ventilation will help dilute the air and increase fresh air levels for occupant wellbeing. 

Formaldehyde: 0 – 0.2 ppm 

Formaldehyde is one of the most well-known VOCs that impact human health today and is classified as a probable carcinogen by the European Union and the United States. This chemical is commonly generated from poorly regulated building materials and upholstery, though other sources such as cigarettes, some pesticides, and preservatives are also present. By properly sealing chemicals and managing VOC-generating building activities can reduce these concentrations.  

Other pollutant thresholds to track for added precaution. 

  • Carbon Monoxide (CO): 25 ppm limit for an 8-hour workday 
  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2): 100 ppb 1-hour standard 
  • Radon: No safe exposure levels 
  • Methylene chloride: 250 ppm odor threshold 
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs): Less than 10 ppm  

How to Assess, Improve and Maintain IAQ Standards

What gets measured, gets managed. Without a proper indoor air quality measurement plan you will have no way of knowing what areas in your facility need attention.  

Continuous indoor air quality monitoring is the best way to receive real-time data on the levels of indoor air pollution in your building. By using a multi-pollutant air quality sensor, you can track parameters such as particulate matter, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, humidity, and more. qlair addresses indoor air quality standards with accurate air quality sensors, powerful analytics and research-backed strategies. 

With a web dashboard and mobile app, you can view pollutant levels at any time as they pertain to the various areas in your building. Based on the data present, you will have a clear snapshot of what pollutants levels are problematic – providing you with a good first step toward making improvements. Once adjustments have been made, track progress overtime using IAQ data and maintain clean air by addressing issues as they arise.  

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