Health, comfort and performance in offices

Indoor air quality and comfort in office buildings

At the close of the European OFFICAIR project and its national campaign underway in commercial buildings, the OQAI took stock of the knowledge and prospects for indoor air quality, health and comfort in offices.

Presentations were given of the first lessons learned from these research programs, unprecedented in terms of scale and areas of research: determining pollutant and comfort levels, emission sources, impacts felt by users, performance at work, etc.

Andrée Buchmann and Corinne Mandin, President and leader of the OQAI team, respectively, underscored the major challenges of this critical topic in terms of health, economy and the environment, reminding us that: “The office, which is the second living space of people working in them, is less studied than housing, yet has specific characteristics likely to have real and consequential impacts on the quality of the daily environment of workers.”

Researchers, institutions, health professionals, real estate companies and environment stakeholders met on Monday, December 8 in Paris for the second OQAI workshop of the year.

Air quality and comfort at the office: current knowledge and issues

Compared to housing, few studies have focused on the office in terms of comfort and indoor air quality. However, we know that this living space has many specific characteristics impacting indoor air quality and comfort: high density of office equipment and furniture, daily cleaning, etc.

Much is at stake in terms of:

  • Worker health and well-being: air quality, noise, lighting, temperature, etc. can be at the origin of various ailments (irritations, asthma, allergies, headaches, drowsiness, sick building syndrome, etc) and decreased well-being.
  • Economy: the effects on health and comfort can have repercussions on work performance (lower efficiency and absenteeism).
  • Environment: air quality and comfort of use of office buildings are two essential components of sustainable buildings and can affect other criteria, such as environmental quality and energy performance.

OFFICAIR, 2010–2014: indoor air quality and comfort in new and recently rehabilitated office buildings in Europe

The OFFICAIR project, initiated by the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission, coordinated by the Greek University of Western Macedonia, aimed to gain knowledge about the quality of the indoor environment, health and comfort in new and rehabilitated office buildings over nearly a decade.

It brought together 13 partners from eight European countries and focused on field surveys, including measurements and questionnaires addressed to users of the buildings under study.

This large program, completed in 2014, resulted in various observations:

  • the two main sources of discomfort brought up by the users interviewed, regardless of country of origin, are noise and excessively dry air.
  • Levels measured in air are generally low compared to reference values.
    However, there are levels of terpene, which is emitted from cleaning products, higher than those of other volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particularly limonene in winter.
  • Air quality varies depending on the season (for example, formaldehyde and ozone levels are higher in summer) and the floor of the building.
  • Choosing fragrance-free cleaning products containing very few VOCs makes it possible to decrease the levels in office air of aldehyde, which are respiratory tract irritants.

These results are essential, especially to:

  • provide real estate stakeholders with a repository of benchmarks for office air quality, with a view to defining future measurements.
  • remind designers, builders and managers of the merits of best practices already identified: choice of location of a future building, need to size and properly maintain mechanical ventilation systems and monitor sources of interior emissions, such as cleaning products.
  • clarify sampling strategies to be considered in the measurement protocols.

National OQAI campaign 2013–2015: 300 office buildings studied up close

In June 2013, OQAI launched a national campaign using a sample of about 300 office buildings with over 50 people in mainland France.

The objective of this ongoing campaign is to determine the state of the office building stock in terms of indoor air quality, perceived comfort and health, and technical characteristics. Given the challenges of reducing energy consumption, energy performance of the surveyed buildings was also documented.

In the first phase of this campaign, building data was collected (coverings, equipment, environment, etc.), various parameters were measured (volatile organic compounds, ultrafine particulate matter, temperature, relative humidity and CO2 levels) and occupants were asked about their perceived comfort and health.

The second phase involved refining the data and analyzing new parameters (fungal and bacterial contaminants, dust mites, cat and dog allergens, noise, lighting, etc.).

With these two major programs—OFFICAIR and the national OQAI campaign—knowledge about the environment and indoor air quality in office buildings will be considerably expanded. The data will help improve the comfort and health of the people working there by optimizing the choice of construction, renovation and operation of buildings.

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