Existing guidelines do not consider all factors affecting indoor air quality – researchers emphasize health and energy consumption

Buildings and indoor spaces should meet people's needs and improve their overall quality of life. According to researchers, existing national and international guidelines do not adequately consider all factors related to indoor air quality. Such guidelines for indoor air quality should be established that consider both health and energy-related factors.
Three persons using an indoor air quality measuring device in a room.
Researchers Thuzar Win Shwe, Filip Fedorik and Oluyemi Toyinbo.

Achieving good indoor air quality and climate often require using heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems that consume energy. Researchers from the University of Oulu's Good Indoor Air and Building Health research group are involved in a recent international study that sheds light on the balance between building energy efficiency goals and health, productivity, and well-being concerning national and international guidelines. The study has been published in the high impact journal Environment International.

Researchers call for scientifically justified guidelines for various indoor pollutants and indoor environmental factors that directly and indirectly affect people's health and productivity, as well as buildings’ energy consumption. The research is based on an open database developed by the International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate's scientific-technical committee, led by Professor Ulla Haverinen-Shaughnessy of the University of Oulu. The continuously growing database includes guidelines from over 30 countries.

Last winter's energy-saving measures led many people to consider the impact of lowering indoor temperatures on people's health, well-being, as well as the condition of buildings. "Questions related to ventilation have also been widely discussed during different phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is clear that there is a great need for health-based indoor air guidelines," says Haverinen-Shaughnessy.

The study focuses on various indoor pollutants as well as temperature and humidity. Carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and radon are related to occupant health. Indoor temperature and relative humidity are important for thermal comfort and can also affect moisture-related issues such as mold growth and other microbiological factors in buildings.

The database serves as a valuable resource when aiming for globally more comprehensive and consistent indoor air quality guidelines. "In Finland, the situation regarding guidelines is very comprehensive; guidelines exist for a larger number of pollutants than average. In addition, the guidelines are generally scientifically justified, and, for example, WHO's health-based guidelines are respected," says Haverinen-Shaughnessy.

In addition to laws and decrees, Finland widely uses the Indoor Air Association's Indoor Climate Classification, where classes S1 and S2 guide to designing indoor air quality above the basic level.

Researchers emphasize the importance of finding the right balance between indoor environmental quality and energy consumption in a situation where the world is grappling with the challenges posed by climate change, and societies are striving to create sustainable built environments. The research aims towards healthier buildings and a more sustainable future.

Research article: Indoor air quality guidelines from across the world: An appraisal considering energy saving, health, productivity, and comfort.

Last updated: 9.10.2023