Improving Indoor Air Quality Through Comprehensive Planning and Sustainable Design

Heather Van Essen

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Poor indoor air quality affects your overall well-being. It doesn’t matter where you are; it matters what you’re breathing. Whether it’s your home or commercial office space, the air quality in the environments where you spend most of your time are important considerations for your health. 

Implications of Poor Indoor Air Quality

Poor indoor air quality can impact everyone differently. Some are more sensitive to the effects than others. 

Here are just a few immediate symptoms poor indoor air quality can trigger:  

  • Puffy eyes
  • Headaches
  • Low concentration levels
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests that indoor air may be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air. Let’s take a deeper look.

What Contributes to Polluted Indoor Air Quality?

Indoor air quality doesn’t often get the attention it deserves. Afterall, what you breathe in feeds the important systems of your body and you want to feel confident with every breath.  

So what are the toxic pollutants that disrupt your fresh air? These are dangerous; deadly even, and therefore highlighted more frequently:

  • Radon
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Lead
  • Asbestos
  • Mold

 But there are more considerations and factors that can propel the effects:

  • Volatile organic compounds 
  • Combustible appliances (i.e., heaters, gas stoves)
  • Relative humidity
  • Temperature

The variation and combination of these air pollutants can impact our  daily health. Let’s dig in to explore how your living environment can play a role. 

Mold: The Hidden Air Pollution Hazard

Mold, mold spores and mold odor are sneaky contributors that can go undetected. According to the EPA, there is no practical way to eliminate mold indoors; however, you can control mold growth by controlling moisture. Reducing moisture in the air to about 30% – 50% will, in fact, help prevent mold growth. Here are some mold remediation tips to follow:

  • Prevent condensation. Reducing condensation in both cold and warm months can thwart mold’s ability to grow. Start with adding insulation or running a dehumidifier to keep moisture off basement floors, windows and plumbing pipes.    
  • Consider carpet placement. Carpet has its place; living places that warrant added comfort are welcomed rooms for this floor covering. But  any room that may host a perpetual moisture problem (kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms or office drinking fountains and sinks) should be allowed to breathe and are smart places to avoid carpet.  
  • Fix-it: If you have an identifiable water leak, fix it. Long-term drips can harbor moisture and wick up into drywall or floor coverings – mold’s favorite breeding ground. 
  • Act quick. Make sure you are cleaning-up (and drying!) any damp or wet furnishings within 1-2 days of a moisture presence. Call in the experts if your water damage or perpetual leak is more than you can effectively dry up in a few days. 

Volatile Organic Compounds and Indoor Air Quality

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) refers to thousands of organic (carbon-containing) chemicals that are present mostly as gases at room temperature. They are emitted through a variety of chemicals, many of which are highly used ingredients in standard household products. If you want to improve your indoor air quality, consider what you spray into the air, on surfaces, and around your office, but since VOCs are also a byproduct of combustion, smoking, cooking with kerosene and gas stoves can all produce VOCs.  

Be mindful of these standard household items where VOCs may be present:

  • Paints and paint strippers
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Pesticides
  • Air fresheners
  • Hobby supplies (think glues and colored markers)

So how can you help reduce exposure to some of these common household chemicals? Here are two simple tips:

  1. Follow directions: Be mindful of the directions manufacturers of these products put in place. Don’t mix products, keep out of reach of children, and don’t exceed usage guidelines – simply to name a few more common directives.
  2. Fresh air: Open your windows and enjoy that air! This not only increases your ventilation but provides air that is less polluted than what you might find within the confounds of your walls.

The Indoor Thermostat War

We’ve all likely experienced this at some point in our life. Your spouse prefers it cooler while you’d rather heat it up a notch. Or the thermostat is in the boss’  office, limiting your ability to land on your ideal temperature. These scenarios of the thermostat war can get a bit “heated” and can  reduce your air quality. 

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) describes thermal comfort as ‘that condition of mind which expresses satisfaction with the thermal environment.’ 

Although it may seem innocent to bump that thermostat up a bit, it actually affects your building or home beyond the ambient temperature.  

Regulating consistent temperature balances humidity, air velocity, radiant temperature, and human metabolic rates – all contributing factors to optimal indoor air quality. When this unbalance occurs, you might be looking at our first key contributor above – mold – as one potential negative outcome.

How an Architecture Firm Can Help Improve Indoor Air Quality

As architects and designers, we consider indoor air quality for both residential and commercial building projects. As a part of our comprehensive planning and sustainable design efforts, we work closely with mechanical engineers exploring the space size and occupants by zones to create efficient and comfortable buildings that optimize your air quality. 

We’ve talked about many contributing factors – such as thermostat control. This offers a nice example of where our team at Imprint Architects would ensure we are introducing thermostats with a narrow occupant control range to ensure stable heating and cooling performance. But there are also much bigger components to consider. 

Building Materials Can Impact Indoor Air Quality

Beyond the systems controlling the air, we consider building material selections to reduce chemicals released into the air. We’ve discussed VOCs found in common household products, but VOCs are also found in fabrics, furniture, carpet, and other interior finishes – all things that contribute to the way we experience indoor air quality. 

Have you found yourself inhaling that new car smell or brand-new carpet? Those smells, even if they evoke a certain feeling of nostalgia, are off-gassing chemicals from the manufacturing process. These include harmful chemicals, such as:

  • Formaldehyde
  • Benzene
  • Ammonia 
  • Toluene

It is an architect’s and designer’s duty to extend beyond the demands of aesthetics of a space and consider sustainable materials and local resources that recognize the ecological importance of natural resources as well as the health of all who experience the build. When you work with a design-build team, like Imprint Architects, you can be assured you are breathing in quality work and improving your indoor air quality. 

Custom Design Planning and Resources

Ready to evaluate your  surroundings and ensure optimal indoor air quality? Reach out to our team at Imprint Architects if you would like help assessing, planning for, and designing to a healthy work or living environment.  We focus on creating custom commercial and residential designs to keep your home and business operating in a productive, flexible, and safe manner.

Work hard, stay healthy, and Leave Your Mark.  

Take a tour of our work. 

About the author
Heather Van Essen
Heather Van Essen

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Heather Van Essen is an Interior Designer at Imprint Architects. In this role, Heather recognizes that creating an experience for the user is important for human interaction within a space, and she works to help guide architectural designs with this in mind. At home, Heather leads a family of five (including 3 pets!) so spending time together in between the chaos of daily responsibilities is where her heart lies.