With most people spending upwards of 90% of their time inside, improving indoor air quality is an important task for building designers and owners. But providing a clean, comfortable indoor environment isn’t just as issue of health and safety—it’s also a way to improve productivity.
Indoor Air Quality and Productivity
Researchers have long known that poor indoor air quality can cause health problems and general discomfort for occupants. The concentration of pollutants that result from a bad HVAC system can lead to headaches, allergies, asthma, and other respiratory conditions, while issues like poorly-designed temperature controls and low air flow will affect the comfort of building occupants. ,
These health and safety issues are obviously bad for individual workers, but they can also adversely affect overall office productivity. The absences, fatigue, and discomfort caused by poor indoor air quality reduce both the time building occupants spend at work and the quality of the work they produce. It’s been estimated that improving air quality increases productivity by 6 – 9% and that this increase can offer a return on investment in as little as 2 years.
Improving Indoor Air Quality
The most effective tool for building owners looking to improve indoor air quality is the HVAC system. A well-designed and well-maintained HVAC system will quickly and efficiently dilute and remove indoor air pollution, while a poorly run system can actually make indoor air pollution worse. Obviously the design and control of a building’s HVAC systems is complex, but there are a few key areas that owners interested in improving air quality should look out for:
- Filtration. The filters in a well-designed HVAC system will both trap pollution coming from indoor sources and also remove pollutants from outdoor air sources before they reach the building’s occupants.
- Ventilation. A well-run ventilation system will take into account the building’s occupancy, design, and use in order to turn air over at a rate that prevents the buildup of indoor pollution.
- Maintenance. A regular maintenance routine is essential to ensure that all HVAC systems are running as efficiently as possible. Issues like clogged filters and stagnant water in ducts will prevent the removal of indoor air pollutants and can also act as sources of new pollution.
Indoor air quality should be one of the driving forces in the design of an HVAC system. By removing pollutants and keeping occupants comfortable, building owners ensure not only the health and safety of workers, but also increased productivity in the office.
 Fisk, W.J. 2000. “Health and productivity gains from better indoor environments and their relationship with building energy efficiency.” Annual Review of Energy and the Environment 25(1): 537-566.
 Seppanen, O., W.J. Fisk, and Q.H. Lei. 2006. “Effect of Temperature on Task Performance in Office Environment.” Report LBNL-60946.
 Wyon, D.P. 2004. “The effects of indoor air quality on performance and productivity.” Indoor Air 14(7):92-101.