Workspace design is more than what meets the eye. The spatial quality of a workplace extends beyond physical aesthetics and layout. Beyond aesthetics, there’s an invisible symphony of non-tangible elements such as ambient temperature, lighting, acoustics, and air quality, that play a crucial role in crafting the perfect spatial experience. These elements, often overlooked, significantly influence employee well-being, productivity, and creativity. Thus, understanding and optimizing these non-tangible aspects is essential for creating work environments that inspire, nurture, and engage employees.
Perhaps, the most understated yet vital element among these is the air we breathe. According to the research, indoor air can be 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air. Moreover, poor IAQ is often linked to various health issues, including respiratory problems, headaches, fatigue, and allergies. It can also exacerbate conditions like asthma and lead to more sick days.
Have you heard of the Sick Building Syndrome?
This term refers to situations where building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes this as a significant issue arising out of poor indoor air quality.
Furthermore, the WELL Building Standards and LEED both emphasize indoor air quality as a vital component of building design and management. As a result, businesses are increasingly recognizing the significance of creating cleaner and healthier work environments to enhance the overall workplace experience.
Related Read: Designing Buildings that CARE
Cause of Poor Indoor Air Quality in Workplaces
Now that we’ve understood the importance of good indoor air quality, let us deep dive into what causes workplace indoor air quality to decline:
Dust and Particulate Matter
Dust from various sources, such as fabric fibers, and outdoor pollutants, can accumulate over time. If not properly managed, it can reduce air quality and potentially trigger allergies or respiratory problems. Regular cleaning and the use of air purifiers can help mitigate this issue.
High Humidity Levels
Excessively high humidity can create a conducive environment for mold and dust mites, which thrive in damp conditions. Mold spores and dust mite droppings are common indoor allergens. Proper ventilation and dehumidification are essential in maintaining optimal humidity levels.
Lack of Air Filtration
Inadequate or poorly maintained air filtration systems can allow various airborne particles, including allergens, pollutants, and even pathogens, to remain suspended in the air. Regular filter replacement and maintenance are vital for effective filtration.
Inadequate Outdoor Air Intake
Without a sufficient supply of fresh outdoor air, indoor air can become stagnant and pollutants can accumulate. This is especially problematic in tightly sealed or poorly ventilated spaces. Adjusting HVAC systems to increase outdoor air intake can help.
Crowded Shared Workspaces
High-density shared workspaces, while efficient, can lead to increased air pollution due to the higher number of occupants. Body heat, respiration, and the generation of dust and contaminants are amplified in crowded areas. Proper ventilation and air quality management are crucial in such environments.
Lack of Natural Ventilation
Buildings without operable windows or natural ventilation options may heavily rely on mechanical ventilation systems. Without the ability to introduce fresh outdoor air, such spaces can struggle to refresh indoor air and remove pollutants effectively.
Improper Use of Office Equipment
Office equipment like photocopiers and printers can emit toner particles and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These emissions can contribute to indoor air pollution. Proper placement and ventilation of such equipment are essential, as are regular maintenance and use of eco-friendly alternatives.
Neglected Cleaning Protocols
Regular cleaning of carpets, upholstery, and HVAC components is crucial to prevent the build-up of allergens and pollutants. Failure to adhere to cleaning protocols can result in the release of contaminants into the air, impacting air quality.
HVAC Duct Contamination
Contaminants, such as dust, mold, and bacteria, can accumulate within HVAC ducts. When the system is operational, these contaminants are distributed throughout the workplace, potentially causing respiratory problems. Regular duct cleaning and maintenance are necessary.
Mitigating Poor Indoor Air Quality
So, what are the passive design techniques that can help maintain good indoor quality, reducing the dependence and cost spent on operation, maintenance, and cleaning?
Let’s have a look:
Choose low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) and formaldehyde-free materials for furniture, flooring, and finishes to reduce the emission of harmful indoor air pollutants.
When selecting office furniture or flooring, opt for products with certifications like GREENGUARD or FloorScore, which ensure low VOC emissions.
Embrace biophilic design by incorporating air-purifying plants compliant with WELL standards. Create a designated biophilic area with WELL-compliant air-purifying plants that enhance aesthetics while actively contributing to improved indoor air quality.
Operable Windows and Airflow Design
Plan your workspace layout to maximize the access to operable windows and ensure they are strategically placed for natural ventilation and to facilitate natural airflow.
Arrange desks and workstations in proximity to windows and use open office layouts to ensure that natural light and airflow can penetrate deeper into the workspace.
Zoning and Air Quality Monitoring
Implement a zoning strategy, creating designated areas for activities that may produce pollutants, and employ air quality monitoring systems.
Designate smoking areas or printing stations with high pollutant emissions away from main workspaces.
Use air quality monitors to track indoor air quality in real time and trigger ventilation adjustments when needed.
Integrated WELL-Based Air Quality Solutions
Combine natural daylighting with high-efficiency air filtration, using filters with a high Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) to minimize airborne contaminants. Integrate Heat Recovery Ventilation (HRV) systems with filters adhering to WELL standards for energy-efficient and high-quality air exchange.
Incorporate operable windows and a mechanical ventilation system equipped with MERV 13 (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) filters to ensure that outdoor air is well-filtered before entering the building, removing airborne pollutants and allergens.
In a Nutshell
It’s clear that the air we breathe wields immense power, affecting not just our well-being but also our productivity. Recognizing the prevalence of poor indoor air quality, we’ve delved into its varied causes, shedding light on the importance of healthy workspaces. From low-VOC materials to biophilic design, advanced ventilation, and WELL Building Standards; we have the notes to strike the right chord.
Transform the IQA of your workplace and breathe new life into your business. Contact Zyeta’s design experts and WELL APs today!
Let us embark on a journey together towards a healthier, more productive, and inspiring work environment.
As both an Architect and Architectural Journalist, he thrives on building unique content, with words and thoughts--as his brick and mortar. A natural-born explorer, he puts no limits on things he's passionate about diving into, be it cuisines, cultures or books. An avid fiction reader and a chronic over-thinker, he still finds enough time to be happy-go-lucky and easy to approach.