why is indoor air quality important

Why is Indoor Air Quality Important Now?

The water you drink is strictly regulated and disinfected for your safety, but the air you breathe is not held to the same high standard. You wouldn’t be comfortable drinking water from a stream without putting it through safety and filtration measures to guarantee your health.

We breathe an average of 11,000 liters of air every day, but we lack the same expectations of quality and safety for a resource we consume far more often than our daily 2-3 liters of water.

The pandemic proved this the hard way. Pathogens in the water are eliminated through safety procedures and processes developed over decades. However, pathogens in indoor air are still able to spread with relative ease. We spend 90% of our time indoors, which means that indoor air quality is directly related to our communal health.

As we spend more time indoors, we have to start cleaning our air in the same way that we clean our water.

The Early Years of Indoor Air Quality

When you look at the previous requirements for indoor air quality, one thing becomes clear: they aren’t working. The last time ventilation rates were standardized was in the 1970s. These standards were developed for moving ‌air through buildings and for physical comfort; they were not designed with the idea of preventing the spread of diseases. 

Those early standards were not effective for preventing disease, and we can see that just by looking at Covid’s significant and continuing impact on the US. In addition, we continue to have 40 million cases of influenza and 20 million cases of Norovirus each year. There’s also the fact that healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are the fourth leading cause of death in the US and the number one preventable cause of death in the entire country.

Cleaner air is a necessary step in preventing the transmission of airborne illness, and today’s air quality authorities are developing new standards for indoor air quality to address this need.

The Old Standards for Indoor Air Quality

In the 1970s, air quality gained significant attention in the United States due to growing concerns about air pollution in factories. To address this issue, the US Government established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate air pollutants. During this period, The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) introduced their “Standard 62” (now 62.1), which outlined minimum ventilation requirements for managing indoor air quality and provided design considerations for HVAC systems to meet these requirements.

Although ASHRAE 62.1 undergoes periodic updates, its core principles remain unchanged. It continues to support building managers in designing ventilation systems that achieve acceptable levels of indoor air quality while minimizing energy usage. Additionally, ASHRAE 90.1 sets standards for energy efficiency and intensity of major building systems, including HVAC and mechanical systems. Together, ASHRAE 62.1 and 90.1 serve as benchmarks for HVAC engineers to optimize ventilation systems with three objectives in mind:

  • Making sure safe and odor-free air in buildings
  • Maintaining comfortable temperatures throughout the year
  • Achieving these objectives in an energy-efficient manner

The New Standards of Indoor Air Quality

A room’s Air Changes per Hour (ACH) are crucial for reducing exposure to airborne respiratory infectious diseases. If you increase ventilation, you dilute or remove the air you share with the people in your indoor environment, reducing the presence of infectious particles, and lowering the risk of spreading illness. The new recommendations are based on the extensive body of evidence showing a reduction in infection rates with an increase in ventilation rates.

However, ventilation rates aren’t the only way to achieve an air change. A thorough disinfection process like microorganism-neutralizing UV light can provide an equivalent Air Change per Hour (eACH), which uses significantly less energy than the ventilation system to provide the same quality of clean air. In this case, UV light cleans the air while it remains in the room, rather than removing infected air and replacing it with clean air like a ventilation system.

Under the new standards, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends five eACH in all occupied spaces, and The Lancet recommends six or more eACH.

ASHRAE’s Standard 241 recommends different eACH for different spaces depending on occupancy and the room’s purpose, but each of their standards meets or exceeds the CDC and The Lancet recommendations in nearly every case. All of these recommendations are made with the express purpose of reducing the risk of disease transmission in indoor spaces.

In the past, classrooms have been built to the standard of 2.8 to 3.5 eACH, depending on the room type. The new standard calls for that figure to increase to 8.3 eACH, which is an incredibly large and necessary leap. That figure has an even larger increase in spaces where physical activity is present (such as gymnasiums), or where healthcare professionals are treating patients. The standard for hospital waiting rooms has increased from 12 eACH to 40 eACH to maximize patient safety and minimize the risk of infection.

Meet the New Standards with R-Zero

Now is the time to pay attention to indoor air quality standards, and ASHRAE, the CDC, and The Lancet are the forerunners in the movement to hold the air we breathe to the same standard as the water we drink.

R-Zero devices can dramatically increase the eACH in your space by deactivating infectious microorganisms with UV light. Contact us today to start a conversation about how we can provide full-room disinfection for your building in line with modern standards.

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