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Indoor Air Quality is important to the health and wellbeing of humans, how is this captured in the rating systems?

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Indoor Air Quality refers to “the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants” (n.d.). LEED offers several credits for steps taken to improve air quality for both existing and new buildings. For new buildings, LEED v4 Building Design and Construction (BD+C) rating system offers “Indoor Air Quality Assessment” credit. LEED v4 also offers  “Enhanced indoor air quality strategies” credit for CO2 monitoring and additional source control and monitoring. For existing buildings, LEED v4 offers “Performance-based indoor air quality design and assessment” credit (Oaks, 2018). Is it necessary to be concerned about indoor air quality? Yes, it is important to be concerned about indoor air quality. “Among the factors that influence the estimation of human exposure to indoor air pollution, the pattern of human behavior and activity play a fundamental role” (Cincinelli & Martellini, 2017, p.2). Some of the key household elements/practices that could deteriorate indoor air quality include fuel-buring combustion appliances, tobacco products, building materials and furnishings (asbestos-containing insulation), newly installed flooring, upholstery or carpet cabinetry, furniture made of certain pressed wood products products, central heating and cooling systems, humidifiers, etc. (“Indoor air quality,” n.d., para. 8). Exposure to poor indoor air (could lead to “irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue” (“Indoor air quality,” n.d., para. 3). In a long run, poor indoor air quality could lead to asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), heart diseases and many other complications of lungs.


Cincinelli , A., & Martellini, T. (2017). Indoor air quality and health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(11), 1286. doi: 10.3390/ijerph14111286

Introduction to indoor air quality. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/introduction-indoor-air-quality.

Oaks , L. (2018, July 17). Learn about indoor air quality testing in LEED. Retrieved from https://www.usgbc.org/articles/learn-about-indoor-air-quality-testing-leed.


If there was ever one important topic when it comes to sustainability and the built environment, it is Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). It is quintessential to the health of long-term building occupants, and even those just visiting. Per the LEED handbook, the intent of the IAQ section is “to contribute to the comfort and wellbeing of building occupants by establishing minimum standards for Indoor Air Quality.” With poor air quality comes many side-effects such as, but not limited to: sick building syndrome (irritated eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue), reduced productivity, and educational impairment in school. There are also other long-term effects like respiratory and heart disease.

The necessity for concern is as great as the pros of improving and maintaining IAQ. With that comes improved mood and productivity, increased health/well-being, reduced effects/symptoms from allergies, and high test scores in schools. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are several signs to detect whether your home or office has poor ventilation caused by low IAQ.

Signs of poor ventilation: -Moisture condensation on windows/walls -Smelly/stuffy air -Dirty central heating/cooling equipment -Moldy areas (e.g.: books, shoes, etc.)

With that, there are also ways of improving IAQ; and some are fairly easy and inexpensive. The first being opening windows and doors to allow outdoor air to move through your home/building, which falls under ‘natural ventilation.’ Another means of ventilation is infiltration. That comes from openings throughout that provide outdoor airflow through the home. The most common means of ventilation is HVAC- heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. However, those are not the only means, The EPA states that source control is the most cost-effective means of improved IAQ. Lastly, you have air cleaners that help circulate and purify air to remove any harmful pollutants.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I love opening the windows when the weather is nice. It always makes me feel so refreshed and invigorated. That also happens to be when I feel I am most productive. I think that as young architects, we need to push for better IAQ throughout every project we touch; even if it’s just something as simple as having operable windows.


LEED V4 – Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ)

EPA Introduction to Indoor Air Quality https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/introduction-indoor-air-quality

EPA Improving Air Quality https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/improving-indoor-air-quality




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LEED has created the credit of minimum indoor air quality to contribute to the “comfort and well-being of building occupants by establishing minimum standards for IAQ” by both ventilation and monitoring of HVAC systems. What this means is systems of HVAC and natural ventilation, regardless of states of activity, must adhere to stringent codes. Example: a system where mechanical systems are mixed-mode and use plenty of natural ventilation, it must still fall under the requirements ASHRAE 62.1–2010, or the most stringent applicable local code. In addition to this, devices “must measure the exhaust airflow with an accuracy of +/–10% of the design minimum exhaust airflow rate. An alarm must indicate when airflow values vary by 15% or more from the exhaust airflow set point”. The definition of this portion of typical rating systems ensures that the air/environmental quality inside a building is not only minimally safe but has the highest capacity of endurance to allow breathing and general acceptable conditions for safety of end users.

In a word: yes. It is absolutely necessary to be concerned about IAQ. Architects and designers need to ensure the future/current tenant spaces are able to be breathable and healthy. Architects have a basic condition to provide health, safety, and welfare of end-users of any space and to not concern ourselves with IAQ would be absolutely antithetical to our design profession and reductive towards our intentions as decent human beings. If using high-VOC materials and limiting the fresh air intake in our mechanical systems were not important, every building designed would be dangerous and borderline toxic to the community as a whole.





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