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Operational Audit and Report of Indoor Air Quality Essay

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Updated: Jun 18th, 2022

Introduction

Indoor air quality (IAQ) implies the condition of air within building structures, especially within places of residence. According to Brown (2019), the quality of IAQ tends to affect the health, contentment, and well-being of residents. The issue on poor indoor IAQ has been the main subject of study/research among real estate developers and public health officials. Since the beginning of the 19th century, there have been thousands of real estate agencies building residential apartments in the United States accommodating millions of occupants. These amenities have since been experiencing acute indoor environmental hazards due to substandard external conditions within and around the residential centers. The extent of this problem was realized in the late 90s after researchers proved that most residential premised in the United States gives an account of poor indoor air quality and insufficient ventilation.

This report indicates that tenants, based on the pre-existing poor IAQ and insufficient ventilation, are highly susceptible to health symptoms and illnesses. Furthermore, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports respiratory health concern to be the core contributor to the tenant’s illness (Tham, 2016). The CDC also points out the causal factors of health symptoms are related to pollutant vulnerabilities in connection to molds, allergens, bacteria, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). From this perspective, the research and literature evidence demonstrates that poor IAQ and insufficient ventilation can affect the health of tenants in residential environments. The objectives of this paper, therefore, are to:

  1. To determine residential environmental vulnerabilities pertaining to IAQ and ventilation.
  2. To identify and assesses the causal elements leading to health symptoms through evaluation of the existing data on Carbon (IV) oxide (CO2), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), humidity, temperature, dust and molds, and ventilation.
  3. Identify possible solutions and recommendations on how property owners can improve IAQ.

Background

Most people are believed to spend a better part of their day indoors; hence indoor air is a significant environmental factor for most people. Deteriorating IAQ is one of the most critical contributors to poor health concerns, such as respiratory problems and allergies. Exposure to indoor pollution, therefore, needs to be minimized to reduce deaths related to poor indoor air quality. Certain elements, including material, human, and natural factors, have a negative impact on IAQ (Brown, 2019). According to brown, IAQ can be improved if property owners avoid using materials that are believed to be emitting pollutants. With the improvement in technology and change in lifestyle, most residences have introduced modern air conditioners to help improve air quality in the living rooms.

CO2 is among the most common pollutants of IAQ in places of residence and efforts to address this issue can improve air quality. Accordingly, optimized ventilation systems would save energy while at the same time, reduce CO2 in rooms. The high concentration of the gas can cause drowsiness and exhaustion, especially in poorly ventilated rooms. To resolve issues regarding IAQ, researchers have conducted studies on the effectiveness of the HVAC systems in maintaining good indoor air quality. For instance, Chang et al. (2018) described how the HVAC systems interact with both indoor and outdoor environments helping reduce indoor pollution. Proper maintenance of the HVAC systems can help minimize indoor air pollution. Efficient ventilation is considered to lead to good indoor air quality in rooms. Improper ventilation is believed to point to the accumulation of hazardous pollutants. Chang et al. (2018), in their experiment, to examine the relationship between particle movement and ventilation effectiveness established that high ventilation effectiveness results in better removal of fine particles than coarse ones.

Reports and scientific data continue to emerge, pointing out that IAQ directly affects an individual’s health. Indoor air quality typically depends on poor dusting/cleaning and insufficient ventilation that impacts on someone’s health within the surrounding residential environment. For example, in our residential environment, the occupants are exposed to substandard environmental conditions that make them more vulnerable to health symptoms and deterioration of their health standards. A considerable amount of evidence reveals there is a connection between poor IAQ and respiratory health concerns among residents, primarily due to poor cleaning and overuse of cleaning chemicals. Majorly noted health concerns include asthma, allergies, and acute irritant symptoms such as throat irritation, coughing, itching of the eyes, and wheezing.

Most residential apartments also have insufficient ventilation that brings about the growth of molds and bacteria, allergens, too high or too low temperatures, dampness, and heightened concentrations of CO2. As a result, the frequency of health symptoms and illness becomes so high within the premises. Improved IAQ in residential environments, on the other hand, is established to minimize health symptoms and respiratory illnesses among occupants. By learning about these details from peer-reviewed literature on IAQ, this paper generates a better understanding of the connection between poor indoor air quality (IAQ) in private residence and individual’s health. This aspect also includes some of the alleviative factors to be considered.

On several occasions, cases of poor indoor air quality (IAQ) have been reported to be the causal factors for severe health symptoms as well as inactivity among people in their places of residence. Reports have also suggested that poor IAQ lessens an individual’s intellectual and psychological processes. However, the big question is how indoor air quality affects people’s health in residential centers. To determine the validity of this possibility, this paper will investigate if, indeed, low indoor air quality in the private premises compromises or directly affects an individual’s health.

Method

Considering that no physical samples are allowed for assessment of IAQ at my place of residence, this report only utilized observations. On that note, the report relied on the first-hand audit comprised of observable deductions made at my residence. Moreover, further research on IAQ was made from inferences obtained based on observations made by immediate neighbors and visitors. Towards that end, an open-ended observation was conducted to help come up with this research. The survey aimed at finding the influencing factors affecting the residence IAQ and possible recommendations to help improve the condition of air. The common aspects to be observed include factors such as CO2 concentrations, dust and molds, humidity levels, temperature range, ventilation systems and air movement, HVAC problems, radon, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

The survey seeks to explore the property owner’s building standards in regards to IAQ within the residential house. The questions are to be randomly distributed through various online platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter because the method is cheap and has the likelihood of reaching most visitors and neighbors. People who have visited my premises are to give their responses about the experience they had in the various living rooms concerning the quality of the indoor air. A rating strategy would be provided for each factor where the respondent is to choose an appropriate scale depending on available data regarding the contaminants. Respondents were, however, assured of privacy and confidentiality to enhance genuine responses. Once the observations are collected, the data would be carefully analyzed, noting down the main points highlighted by the visitors and neighbours concerning the significant factors affecting IAQ at the residence and possible recommendations for improvement.

Results and Discussions

CO2

Exposure to CO2 at places of residence is mainly through the consumption of carbonated drinks, the use of dry ice, or the burning of fossil fuels. High concentrations of CO2 in the indoor air reduces oxygen supply, which may lead to an individual becoming unconscious or even dying (Karnauskas et al., 2020). Property owners should use CO2 detectors in houses to monitor the levels of CO2 in the rooms to protect tenants from high levels of CO2 concentration (Ghaffarianhoseini et al., 2018). Rooms should also be well ventilated to allow proper air exchange. Machines like the air conditioning system need to be maintained occasionally to avoid the emission of more CO2 in the rooms. Generally, when windows are open, the average indoor CO2 levels in the air-conditioned bedroom were lower compared to when the windows remain closed.

VOCs

The concentration of VOCs indoors is usually higher compared to outdoors, making the living room an easy target of the chemicals. Volatile organic compounds within the residence are commonly emitted by paints, building materials, and all furnishings done in the rooms. Since I often prepare meals, the overheated cooking oils do release acrolein, which also pollutes the indoor air in the rooms. Besides, many types of furniture and building materials used in the rooms have high counts of VOCs that are released to the indoor air over time, contaminating the air. Exposure to low levels of VOCs can lead to respiratory complications, dizziness, and memory impairment. Bad smells from chemicals may not be harmful by themselves but do cause symptoms like nausea and headache (Carrer & Wolkoff, 2018). House management should keep all the materials that emit VOCs far away from the guest rooms as well as ensuring plenty of air circulation in the rooms to reduce the level of exposure of customers to VOCs. Cleaning labels used in the houses should be zero VOC or low VOC.

Radon

Radon gas occurs naturally in some rocks or soils and is likely to diffuse through the soil into buildings. Considering that radon gas is common in America, it was imperative to consider it among the air contaminant in the living rooms. Radon is a leading cause of lung cancer in the mentioned countries, and as a heavy gas, it tends to concentrate at the lowest points of the house. Drinking water and bathroom water is one of the agents that introduce the gas into the rooms with building materials not being the primary source of the gas (Kukadia & Upton, 2019). Therefore, the management should consider testing for the presence of the gas in the rooms regularly to reduce exposure of the gas to occupants. Sealing of basement foundations and water drainage systems is critical in avoiding the leakage of radon gas into the rooms.

Temperature

The temperature in the rooms is very critical in determining the quality of indoor air. High temperatures in the rooms create a conducive environment for chemicals within the house to rapidly leak into the rooms. The chemicals lead to irritation, headache, or even cause serious health complications to the occupants of the room (El‐Sharkawy & Javed, (2018). Very low temperatures, on the other hand, lead to shivering and results in discomfort. Generally, very high or low temperatures in the rooms make the IAQ unpleasant to the occupant. Air conditioning units, together with ventilation in the house, should be used appropriately to enhance optimal temperatures.

Humidity

There should always be an optimal level of humidity in any indoor environment. High humidity levels in living rooms are caused by water leaks and moisture that condenses on cold surfaces (Mao et al., 2018). High humidity levels lead to poor IAQ as it facilitates the growth of molds. These plants, in turn, will release chemicals that, if one breathes them, can lead to respiratory distress and shortness of breath. The residence experiences poor IAQ during the winter season as it becomes a challenge to maintain humidity levels in the apartment. Despite the season, the management should strive to maintain an average indoor humidity level in the living rooms to avoid the growth of dust mites and molds.

Ventilation

Ventilation is one of the essential factors that determine the quality of indoor air. The residence has a moderate level of ventilation systems in every room. Low ventilation with a high concentration of various chemicals and toxic gases like CO2 are likely to lead to severe health conditions on the occupants of the room. Proper ventilation, even with high levels of CO2, is healthy and is said to contribute to safe indoor air cushioning occupants of a room from major health hazards (Ooi et al., 2016). Ventilation should, therefore, be a priority for house owners, and they should ensure effective ventilation of all rooms as a way of enhancing good IAQ.

Dust and Molds

Molds are biological chemicals released to the atmosphere that are facilitated by moisture. The growth of the plants can only be inhibited by keeping humidity levels below 50 percent. The living rooms, if not well dried, are likely to develop molds that eventually lead to emission of the biological chemicals polluting the indoor air (Qi et al., 2017). Moisture levels in rooms often go up due to condensation occasioned by the moderate ventilation, eventually leading to the growth of molds that pollute the indoor air. The plants also flourish because of mattresses in the bedrooms getting exposed to moisture through humidity or even body sweat. Substantial quantities of dust lead to chest tightness, wheezing, and difficulty in sleeping due to respiratory complications. Routine cleaning of the rooms stirs up the dust trapped inside the room with other contaminants, making it suspended on-air. The management should regularly check for molds in the house and ensure that the environment remains dry to reduce their growth.

HVAC Problems

The quality of indoor air is also affected by problems associated with heating and cooling equipment in the rooms. Microbes easily build up in the HVAC system resulting in poor IAQ (Chang et al., 2018). Moreover, filthy air filters and leakages from refrigerant also result in poor indoor air. Routine maintenance of all HVAC systems in apartment and regular replacement of filters plays an essential role in creating clean indoor air.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The report reveals that the factors discussed affect the quality of indoor air, implying that the pollution of indoor air has a severe health problem in residential apartments. Besides, it is also clear that most people spend a significant part of their day indoors hence risk of the negative implications of poor IAQ. As Chan et al. (2017) note, there is an urgent need for property owners to develop practical measures that will assist in addressing the health concerns by reducing the contamination of IAQ. The real estate sector provides shelter for millions of Americans annually, thus increasing the need for implementing viable solutions to enhance a comfortable and secure environment for tenants. The residence where I stay will gain the trust of more clients through the assurance of improved IAQ because there will be an increased willingness to live within the residence. The following recommendations, if well adopted, will help the property owner to create good IAQ in the apartment by reducing air contamination.

Optimization of HVAC

The management should ensure they optimize on their heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems to enhance good IAQ. The HVAC systems must be regularly maintained and inspected as they are central in determining a room’s indoor air quality. Besides, the filtration systems must also be periodically inspected and replaced depending on whether the residence is in an environment with dirty outdoor air. Similarly, they need to install CO2 detectors in strategic places to help regulate levels of the gas in the living rooms. Since the residence receives different occupants every season, there is a need for the hotels to change air filters at least once every two months. Also, the management should ensure that the HVAC systems are maintained to operate as per the original specifications (Afroz et al., 2018). Furthermore, the managers must ensure that the HVAC systems are in operation at all shifts.

Training of House Maintenance Employees

The management should ensure that all its staff is well trained on how to perform their day-to-day activities as well as better ways of minimizing indoor air pollution. Employees involved in the maintenance of the residence need to undergo training on how to maintain adequate ventilation of air contaminants generated during cleaning or maintenance (Quansah et al., 2017). Besides the employees need to know how to minimize adverse effects of IAQ in the process of using and disposing of chemicals and other agents. Employee training should include informing all employees of the contents of the IAQ compliance plan as well as the signs and symptoms associated with building-related illness.

Monitor Possible Sources of Pollution

Most indoor air pollutants within the residence usually arise from various activities in the house. For example, CO2 arise from combustion activities during the preparation of meals using fossil fuel. Besides, materials used in residence during renovations and painting also leads to indoor air pollution. It is, therefore, imperative for the management to ensure that during renovations, they only use low-VOC paints, flooring, and furniture to minimize harmful emissions. Besides, the HVAC systems need regular cleaning and maintenance to ensure it does not keep dust particles. Sources of molds like water-stained ceiling tiles should be monitored and addressed once noted to avoid the effects of the plant. Besides, the management should use environmentally-friendly building materials and cleaning products as a way of reducing VOC emission in the hotel rooms (Afroz et al., 2018). Additionally, the kitchen should be located far away from the guest room to keep the rooms safe from indoor air pollution.

References

Afroz, Z., Shafiullah, G. M., Urmee, T., & Higgins, G. (2018). Modeling techniques used in building HVAC control systems: A review. Renewable and sustainable energy reviews, 83, 64-84. Web.

Brown, N. J. (2019). Indoor air quality [Electronic version]. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.

Carrer, P., & Wolkoff, P. (2018). Assessment of indoor air quality problems in office-like environments: Role of occupational health services. International journal of environmental research and public health, 15 (4), 741. Web.

Chan, W., Lee, S. C., Li, D., & Chen, X. K. (2017). Cigarette induced PM2.5 in hotel rooms: An assessment of the effectiveness of management’s mitigating measures. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 60, 42-47. Web.

Chang, D. Q., Liu, J. X., & Chen, S. C. (2018). Factors affecting particle depositions on electret filters used in residential HVAC systems and indoor air cleaners. Aerosol and Air Quality Research, 18, 3211-3219. Web.

Ghaffarianhoseini, A., AlWaer, H., Omrany, H., Ghaffarianhoseini, A., Alalouch, C., Clements- Croome, D., & Tookey, J. (2018). Sick building syndrome: Are we doing enough? Architectural Science Review, 61(3), 99-121. Web.

Karnauskas, K. B., Miller, S. L., & Schapiro, A. C. (2020). Fossil fuel combustion is driving indoor CO2 toward levels harmful to human cognition. GeoHealth, 4(5), Web.

Kukadia, V., & Upton, S. (2019). Ensuring good indoor air quality in buildings. BRE Group.

Tham, K. W. (2016). Indoor air quality and its effects on humans: A review of challenges and developments in the last 30 years. Energy and Buildings, 130, 637-650. Web.

Mao, Z., Yang, Y., & Wang, M. (2018). Sleepless nights in hotels? Understanding factors that influence hotel sleep quality. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 74, 189- 201. Web.

Ooi, S. S., Mak, J. W., Chen, D. K., & Ambu, S. (2016). The correlation of Acanthamoeba from the ventilation system with other environmental parameters in commercial buildings as possible indicator for indoor air quality. Industrial health, 5, 2015-0218. Web.

Qi, M., Li, X., Zhu, E., & Shi, Y. (2017). Evaluation of perceived indoor environmental quality of five-star hotels in China: An application of online review analysis. Building and Environment, 111, 1-9. Web.

Quansah, R., Semple, S., Ochieng, C. A., Juvekar, S., Armah, F. A., Luginaah, I., & Emina, J. (2017). Effectiveness of interventions to reduce household air pollution and/or improve health in homes using solid fuel in low-and-middle income countries: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Environment international, 103, 73-90. Web.

Appendix

Various IAQ Contaminants

Factors Observations
CO2 i) Consumption of carbonated drinks, the use of dry ice or the burning of fossil fuels at the residence increases exposure to CO2.
ii) The average indoor CO2levels in the air-conditioned bedroom were lower when windows are open, compared to when the windows remain closed.
VOCs i) Paints, building materials, and all furnishings done in the rooms emit Volatile organic compounds.
ii) Overheated cooking oils do release acrolein, which also pollutes the indoor air in the rooms.
iii) Furniture and building materials used in the rooms have high counts of VOCs that are released to the indoor air over time.
Radon Drinking water and bathroom water tend to introduce the gas into the rooms.
Temperature High temperatures in the rooms create a conducive environment for chemicals within the house to rapidly leak into the rooms, causing irritation and headache.
Humidity Poor IAQ during the winter season as thus a challenge to maintain humidity levels within the residence.
Ventilation There is a moderate level of ventilation systems in every room.
Dust and Molds i) Moisture levels in rooms often go up due to condensation occasioned by the moderate ventilation, thus promote the growth of molds.
ii) Mattresses in the bedrooms getting exposed to moisture through humidity or even body sweat also enhance their growth.
HVAC Problems Some microbes, refrigerant leakages, and dirty air filters affected the HVAC systems.
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