Why is indoor air quality in offices important?

Sherwin Williams Harmony

We have put a lot of focus on air quality for our executive office suites build-out.  Early on in our design process we decided to use either a low or no-VOC paint.  Yes, it’s good for the environment (reduces smog and ozone pollution) but even more important it is good for your health.

“VOCs” are Volatile Organic Compounds and are loaded in traditional paint.  VOCs are chemicals like benzene, toluene, vinyl chloride, formaldehyde, ethyl and mercury.  These chemicals are what you would call “new paint smell”.  Breathing in these chemicals can have short- and long-term adverse health effects.  In a residential application, it is these smells which cause you to leave your house for a few days after you paint.  These smells continue to off-gas for a long time after you can no longer detect them.

According to the EPA, “Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors, where concentrations of pollutants are often much higher than outdoors. Risk assessment and risk management studies have found that indoor environmental pollution is among the greatest risks to human health”.  The EPA’s study further disclosed that “Conventional paints contain VOCs that vaporize, dispersing into the air we breathe.  Exposure to VOCs can result in irritation of the eyes, nose, and skin; respiratory problems; headaches; nausea; and dizziness.”  Workers are more productive in non-toxic environments, less prone to illness, and employees feel that their employer cares about their personal health.

The EPA produced a publication titled “Ventilation and Air Quality in Offices”.  It stated “A committee of the World Health Organization estimates that as many as 30 percent of new or remodeled buildings may have unusually high rates of sick building complaints. While this is often temporary, some buildings have long-term problems which linger, even after corrective action. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that poor ventilation is an important contributing factor in many sick building cases.”

When evaluating the decision to use low or no-VOC paint, we had two criteria.  Firstly, was cost.  The cost of low or no-VOC paint is about fifty cents more per gallon than a high quality latex paint.  That is really insignificant and makes one wonder “why do paint manufacturers make paint that contain VOCs?”.  If everyone knew how harmful traditional paints are, I don’t think anyone would want to use them anymore.  I paid about $24 per gallon for the Sherwin Williams Harmony paint.  The other area of importance to us is performance and maintenance.  We checked to make sure the paint is scrub resistant, washable, and does not yellow over time.

The paint that we selected is Sherwin Williams Harmony.  The paint meets the GS-11 standard and qualifies for LEED certified projects.  While the painters where applying the primer and paint I was amazed when I walked into one of the offices and could barely detect any paint smell.  Not only is this good for the future tenants that will occupy the space, it is also good for the existing tenants that are currently working in the building.  For any future projects, home or office, I will definitely use a no-VOC paint.

15 replies
  1. josephmo
    josephmo says:

    Peter,

    Given that HVAC systems engage recirculation of air for as long as they can get away with it (to conserve energy), I see how important it is to use paints, furniture, etc. with minimal potentially hazardous emissions. It may not be possible though to control the type of furniture and office supplies (printer dust, etc.) that tenants bring in. Has anyone been looking into HVAC systems that effectively filter outside pollution (let’s say you’re on a busy intersection) to provide an options of airing the building out whenever possible?

    Reply
  2. josephmo
    josephmo says:

    Peter,

    Given that HVAC systems engage recirculation of air for as long as they can get away with it (to conserve energy), I see how important it is to use paints, furniture, etc. with minimal potentially hazardous emissions. It may not be possible though to control the type of furniture and office supplies (printer dust, etc.) that tenants bring in. Has anyone been looking into HVAC systems that effectively filter outside pollution (let’s say you’re on a busy intersection) to provide an options of airing the building out whenever possible?

    Reply
  3. Peter Chee
    Peter Chee says:

    Hi Joesph.

    I can only speak to our HVAC system. Our roof top units bring in a fresh supply of air. On those roof top units we have double filters which are on a maintenance schedule. We also have just recently cleaned out the plenum for the entire building. The other thing that we did was add filter media on each of our VAV boxes to remove particles from the air stream. You can keep indoor air quality good if your building has a good maintenance schedule. The other thing that we’re going to start up is “green cleaning” but that’s a whole different topic.

    Peter

    Reply
  4. Peter Chee
    Peter Chee says:

    Hi Joesph.

    I can only speak to our HVAC system. Our roof top units bring in a fresh supply of air. On those roof top units we have double filters which are on a maintenance schedule. We also have just recently cleaned out the plenum for the entire building. The other thing that we did was add filter media on each of our VAV boxes to remove particles from the air stream. You can keep indoor air quality good if your building has a good maintenance schedule. The other thing that we’re going to start up is “green cleaning” but that’s a whole different topic.

    Peter

    Reply
  5. Mary
    Mary says:

    With the advent of advanced monitoring technology, it is now far more practical and affordable to optimize building performance, plus verify compliance guidelines and standards for indoor air quality.
    Three important goals for any building professional are: 1) preserving the building’s asset value, 2) optimizing energy use, and 3) providing a consistently healthy and comfortable occupied space.
    We have a system that rovides a complete monitoring, analysis, and reporting solution allowing for the accomplishment of these goals.
    Testing building performance through this monitor and assessing the cleanliness of the ventilation systems are two approaches to improvment of office space.

    Reply
  6. Mary
    Mary says:

    With the advent of advanced monitoring technology, it is now far more practical and affordable to optimize building performance, plus verify compliance guidelines and standards for indoor air quality.
    Three important goals for any building professional are: 1) preserving the building’s asset value, 2) optimizing energy use, and 3) providing a consistently healthy and comfortable occupied space.
    We have a system that rovides a complete monitoring, analysis, and reporting solution allowing for the accomplishment of these goals.
    Testing building performance through this monitor and assessing the cleanliness of the ventilation systems are two approaches to improvment of office space.

    Reply
  7. Matt
    Matt says:

    Having first hand experience in such matters, having a means of continual control embedded within the HVAC system, that is used in conjunction with other efforts, is a sure fire way to improve the indoor environment. The catch is that there aren’t many methods that are cost-effective. For instance, filters when disposed of, create mass amounts of waste. High density filters also strain HVAC systems, and are extremely expensive. This is the catch that my customers experience: they need the control, but they don’t know of an effective and affordable way to go about it. We offer solutions that address this catch at the core. We are used in the medical community for cancer treatment centers, homeless shelters, and emergency rooms. Our technology was also showcased at the World’s Best Technology Show in 2006. I hope this serves as a useful resources for everyone, moving forward.

    Reply
  8. Matt
    Matt says:

    Having first hand experience in such matters, having a means of continual control embedded within the HVAC system, that is used in conjunction with other efforts, is a sure fire way to improve the indoor environment. The catch is that there aren’t many methods that are cost-effective. For instance, filters when disposed of, create mass amounts of waste. High density filters also strain HVAC systems, and are extremely expensive. This is the catch that my customers experience: they need the control, but they don’t know of an effective and affordable way to go about it. We offer solutions that address this catch at the core. We are used in the medical community for cancer treatment centers, homeless shelters, and emergency rooms. Our technology was also showcased at the World’s Best Technology Show in 2006. I hope this serves as a useful resources for everyone, moving forward.

    Reply

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