Enhancing wellbeing and efficiency


25 April 2024

Matthew Maleki, CIAT’s indoor air quality champion, explores the significance of the new IEQ Standard and what it means for the workplace. 

We think of our workplaces and homes as our ‘safe spaces,’ but most people have little idea of the significant impact indoor air pollutants can have on our mental and physical health. In the UK, worklessness through sickness absence and health-related productivity losses costs the economy over £100bn every year.

As more and more people return to the office after working from home during the pandemic, making our workplaces safe and healthy spaces becomes increasingly important.

Specifically tailored for non-domestic buildings, the new British Standard for IEQ offers comprehensive recommendations for measuring, monitoring, and reporting the health and wellbeing performance of indoor spaces. 

Embracing this standard and making small changes in the way we manage and maintain our indoor environments can make a significant impact on occupant wellbeing and productivity, whilst reducing energy consumption and system running costs. For instance, implementing demand control ventilation (DCV) can typically reduce a building’s HVAC running costs by 20-70% depending on the type of application and occupancy.

What is the new standard?

The British Standards Institute’s BS 40102 is a new standard that covers the evaluation of a building’s health and wellbeing and indoor environmental quality (IEQ), including a new best practice approach to indoor air quality, thermal comfort, and overheating in buildings.

The standard provides an evaluation and rating system which aims to enhance IEQ to create healthier buildings and boost the wellbeing of building occupants. The IEQ performance score is based on air quality, light quality, thermal comfort and soundscape quality. A building’s HVAC system plays a fundamental role in indoor environmental quality and should therefore be focussed upon.

The new exposure limits are based on DEFRA Daily Air Quality Index, WHO Air Quality Guidelines 2021, Approved Document F, BREEAM and WELL Guidelines and British Standard BS EN 16798-1.

Why do we need the new standard?

The effects of poor quality air indoors have long been overshadowed by outdoor pollution – although we spend more than 90 percent of our time inside and 3.2 million people die prematurely due to indoor air pollution each year, according to WHO.

Carbon monoxide from cooking and heating, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from personal care products, particulate matter, tobacco smoke, paint, solvents, mould and bacteria can all affect the quality of air indoors. In fact, more VOCs are emitted from personal care products than there are emitted from all the petrol and diesel vehicles on the road at any one time.

It’s not just cognitive function that is impaired by indoor air pollution, it also has a major effect on our physical health. A large number of hospital admissions in the UK could be related back, whether directly or indirectly, to air quality issues.
Respiratory issues, dry skin, headaches, and ear, nose and throat issues are just some of the short-term problems caused by poor indoor air quality – but long-term it’s even more significant.

England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty, after being at the forefront of speaking about the importance of ventilation in combating the spread of COVID-19, is now calling for increased focus on tackling indoor air quality. He said monitoring indoor air quality in public spaces should be standard practice and called for urgent investment to establish records of pollutants that accumulate indoors.

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With the drive towards greater energy efficiency, buildings are now being designed to be insulated and as airtight as possible to reduce draughts and avoid heat loss. The result of this is an increase in the retention of moisture in the building with a lack of air circulation and a need to maintain healthy air quality. 

The most recent updates to Part F Building Regulations address the need for improving ventilation and offer guidance on the optimum levels of ventilation required to maintain a healthy indoor environment.

What are the benefits of the new standard?

One of the most substantial advantages that BS 40102-1:2023 brings to the table is the potential for cost savings. The local or personalised control and automation of systems not only enhance wellbeing but can also boost energy efficiency, leading to a reduction in operational expenditure. By adopting the standards outlined in BS 40102-1:2023, building owners can optimise their systems to function more efficiently, ultimately saving on energy costs and contributing to a more sustainable future.

Operational efficiency aside, the standard also addresses the pivotal issue of occupant wellbeing. Improved indoor environmental quality (IEQ) has a direct correlation with increased cognitive function, productivity, and a reduction in fatigue, tiredness, and stress. The holistic approach advocated by BS 40102-1:2023 ensures that all aspects of IEQ, including air quality, light quality, thermal comfort, and soundscape quality, are evaluated collectively rather than in isolation. This comprehensive evaluation system provides a benchmark IEQ performance score, enabling organisations to identify areas of subpar performance and implement targeted improvements.

For building owners and managers, customer retention and loyalty are crucial metrics. BS 40102-1:2023 acknowledges this by emphasising the creation of an environment where occupants feel comfortable and valued. The positive impact of improved IEQ on customer satisfaction cannot be overstated. A workspace that prioritises the health and wellbeing of its occupants fosters a sense of loyalty and contentment, ensuring that customers view the building as a location of choice. This not only benefits the building's reputation but also attracts new staff and customers, further solidifying its status in the competitive market.

How do workplaces tackle IEQ monitoring?

The process of measuring, monitoring, and reporting IEQ outlined in BS 40102-1:2023 involves a multi-layered evaluation system. To begin, a scope assessment should be conducted to determine the extent and parameters of the IEQ review. This includes recording company/organisational information, building structure and building services details, maintenance regimes, and potential external pollutant sources. By understanding the primary function of each space, the typical number of occupants, and the time of day assessments are conducted, building owners can gain a comprehensive overview of their IEQ performance and with the data seek solutions to maintain a healthy indoor environment.

The measurement-based assessment involves recording values for various IEQ factors, including air quality (PM, carbon monoxide, ozone, carbon dioxide), and thermal comfort. Thermal comfort, a critical component of IEQ, revolves around air temperature, relative humidity, and, in the case of buildings with fan-powered ventilation or air-conditioning, air velocity. The inclusion of such parameters ensures a thorough evaluation that goes beyond superficial assessments, providing a nuanced understanding of the indoor environment. Gathering this valuable data will allow the relevant application of ventilation solutions based on the specific needs of the building.

Occupant-based surveys play a pivotal role in ascertaining the IEQ experienced by the users of the building. This user-centric approach acknowledges the subjective nature of wellbeing and ensures that the standards set by BS 40102-1:2023 are not merely theoretical but reflect the real experiences of the building's occupants. This data, combined with the measurement-based assessment, contributes to a more holistic and accurate evaluation of the indoor environment.

Indoor air quality is not always visible. In fact, the visible elements of poor IAQ, like mould or mildew, occur after long-term exposure to IAQ. Measuring IAQ in real-time can make IAQ visible to occupants. It can allow for actions to be taken to improve IAQ before negative effects, including physical symptoms, can occur. 

CIAT provides expert solutions to help improve indoor air quality. Many new builds are fitted with smart meters, monitoring the efficiency of mechanical ventilation heat recovery (MVHR) units or air-conditioned spaces where heat pumps utilise fan coil units as the main source of heating and cooling.

IAQ sensors and monitors allow data to be displayed and used for demand controlled ventilation (DCV). When pollutant levels increase, the HVAC system will adjust the air-change rates accordingly cleaning the space. As levels drop, the HVAC system will readjust to design levels suitable for the rate of occupancy. The result is a clean, energy-efficient space.

The new IEQ standard brings much-needed clarity and direction to the realm of non-domestic building management. Ultimately, a healthy building is an efficient building. By prioritising the health and wellbeing of occupants and advocating for a holistic approach to IEQ, this standard positions itself as a valuable tool for building owners and managers. 

For further information about CIAT’s ventilation solutions visit: https://www.ciat.com/en/uk/