Few things truly feel better than a breath of fresh air. Most of us have felt this desire at some point, waiting for that full breath of air after time spent cooped indoors. However, most of us spend a majority of our time inside. This means our health is greatly impacted by the quality of our indoor spaces. As a result, the IAQ and HVAC industries are booming. Installers, technicians, duct cleaners and indoor air quality experts are all important to ensure healthy indoor air.
Whatever role you may already play in the HVAC industry or a different home service industry, indoor air quality is an essential trade to add to your business or skill set. These professionals are much more than their trade. In many ways, they’re the champions of home and building health–ensuring that the spaces we live and operate in on a daily basis are as healthy as possible.
If you’re already in the industry, you likely notice the shift in demand from solely HVAC to both HVAC and IAQ options. You may want to up your game, differentiate yourself from the competition and stand out with current in-demand skills. Or, perhaps, you’re from a different trade or industry but see the need for IAQ or have the ease to add it to your company’s offerings. Whatever reason–it’s clear that now is the time to become an indoor air quality expert. Thankfully, the demand for these skills can meet you at your interest.
Health as the Motivating Factor
Considering we are living through an unprecedented pandemic, health is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Because of this, it’s easy to assume that the novel coronavirus is driving the demand for indoor air quality experts. While it is of course a contributing factor and a motivating one at that, it is not the sole reason. Even pre-covid, the focus on the connection between health and indoor air quality was growing. The industry is gaining footing because it has solutions to help solve health concerns and respiratory illnesses caused by poor indoor air quality.
The number of individuals suffering from air quality illnesses is increasing. Indoor air quality illnesses present in symptoms like chronic fatigue, shortness of breath and hypersensitivity to allergens. Many initially think they are simply suffering from allergies, or at worst a cold. They take a regimen of antihistamines and cold medicine assuming it’s just a bad day or allergy season. While this can be true sometimes, other possibilities must be considered when one realizes the symptoms aren’t lessening. They can eventually have harmful impacts limiting one’s quality of life and possibly making them unable to complete even simple tasks.
Sadly, chronic symptoms can be the beginning of potentially fatal illnesses. Worldwide, indoor air pollution was responsible for 3 percent of premature deaths in 2017. That’s 1.6 million people who died in one year because of harmful contaminants in the air. While most of us have heard about the dangers of outdoor air pollution, it’s important to keep in mind that indoor air pollution can be just as toxic.
Symptoms Caused by Poor Indoor Air Quality
So, what does indoor air pollution really feel like? People commonly report at least one (more often multiple) of these symptoms:
- Dry or irritated eyes, throat, nose and skin
- Shortness of breath
- Sneezing and coughing
- Sinus congestion
Those who get sick from poor air quality might simply think they have a cold or the flu because the symptoms are obviously similar. This makes identifying illnesses caused by poor indoor air quality even more challenging. The important distinction between having these symptoms because of a temporary cold compared to an ongoing indoor air illness is the duration. Indoor air illnesses are chronic, meaning one will suffer from these symptoms for an extended period of time.
Individuals will feel the onset of these symptoms when in the contaminated building or home. This is part of what makes it difficult to recognize, because it generally means it’s something you won’t notice until spending time away from said indoor space. This could look like feeling sicker at work and slightly better once they’ve left the facility to head home. However, usually, it’s not noticeable until you get an extended break from the space, such as an entire weekend or a vacation.
Indoor Air Illnesses
Because of its prevalence, indoor air sicknesses now have specific names for certain causes of illness.
Building-related illness (BRI) refers to illness that doctors can trace back to a specific building and time. They are the result of exposure to identifiable airborne substances and poor ventilation. Legionnaires disease is an example of a health issue that falls into the BRI category. Legionnaires disease is a severe form of pneumonia that spreads through water sources, both indoors and outdoors. It is caused by the specific legionella bacterium. Indoors, this microscopic bacteria can multiply in plumbing and HVAC systems. The infection then spreads by inhaling the miniscule particles simply through everyday actions in contaminated indoor spaces. Experts estimate that up to 70,000 people suffer from this underdiagnosed illness every year. Other building-related illnesses include types of asthma and inhalation fever. Scientists are advocating for stronger policies to make sure buildings and indoor spaces adhere to water management and air quality guidelines. As indoor air quality experts, you would be able to provide customers with recommendations to prevent and solutions to fix such conditions.
Sick Building Syndrome and Tight Building Syndrome
Sick building syndrome, or SBS, is a general term used for illness experienced when in a building that causes one to feel sick. SBS is when someone can link their symptoms to a specific indoor space–whether that is a home, office, business or building. Any indoor space that a person can identify as the source for consistent symptoms can generally refer to their illness as sick building syndrome. The difference between SBS and BRI is that the factors causing SBS symptoms are not necessarily known. Considering most that report SBS symptoms improve once they’ve left the building, it is still considered an obvious air quality issue.
A similar health concern is TBS, which stands for tight building syndrome. Scientists theorize that the feelings associated with TBS come from our HVAC systems. Modern buildings can often have HVAC systems that continuously recirculate air, instead of bringing in fresh air using mechanical ventilation. Scientists and health experts alike are noticing a common illness among those who live and work in buildings where the air is only recirculated. These individuals suffer from nose, eye and throat irritation, as well as fatigue and headaches.
Causes of Poor Indoor Air Quality
Indoor air quality starts with the HVAC system. If a building has an outdated or poorly maintained HVAC system, then contaminants can and will abound. Where harmful particles can grow and circulate, illnesses will follow. Thankfully, there are many possible HVAC system upgrades to choose from. Hence, there are many different aspects of indoor air quality control to learn. This includes air filter upgrades, whole-home or building purification systems, mechanical ventilation systems and ensuring proper humidity levels through humidity control.
Indoor air contamination and pollutants originate from several sources. Sometimes, poor indoor air quality originates from the material sources themselves in a specific space. Possible source options include:
- Construction materials: Buildings that have had a recent project will have new materials like glues, particle boards, chemicals, paint and fiberglass that impact the air quality.
- The interaction of building materials and furnishing can affect air quality as well. For example, the combination of humidity and poor air circulation along with inadequate temperature can lead to mold growth and poor air quality.
- Even the number of occupants can affect air quality. The more people in a building, the more carbon dioxide produced. This means that an indoor space with many people needs a robust air system.
Indoor Air Quality Expert Training
Whether you understand the ins and outs of HVAC installation and maintenance already, or perhaps are new to the entire industry, the need for IAQ experts is present. Adding the expertise of indoor air quality to your skill set or company’s offerings will benefit you and make your business even better and more sought after. It is an important responsibility to ensure home and building occupants with clean healthy air.
IAQ training informs about the contaminants that cause indoor air illnesses and the multi-pronged approach to eliminate them. You’ll learn how you and your team can start the conversation with clients and make thoughtful recommendations. The market is expressing a high demand for quality air experts. It wants people who can keep them healthy by providing cleaner air. We can help you answer it.