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Indoor Air Quality - Buildings

John Poullain, P.E.

Course Outline

This three-hour online course provides general guidelines and measures to take for the improvement of indoor air quality in offices and other commercial buildings. The topics covered include the causes of indoor air quality problems, sources and types of air pollutants, ventilation and air exchange rates and outdoor air supply. The course presents methods to improve the air quality and how to identify and measure air pollutants. Source-specific pollutants including radon, tobacco smoke, stoves, fireplaces, pesticides, asbestos, related health effects and ways to reduce exposure are discussed. The course covers many links and references to informative sources covered in the text topics.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

Learning Objective

At the conclusion of this course, the student will:

Intended Audience

This course is intended for civil engineers and IAQ professionals.

Benefit to Attendees

The student will become familiar with the causes, health risks and suitable actions to take for indoor air problems at an office and other commercial buildings. How IAQ problems are identified, pollution levels are measured, basic methods for improving IAQ by controlling the sources of pollutants and ventilation and air cleaning are discussed. The student will consider the sources of office air pollution and review IAQ measures to take. Reference sources are provided for additional information pertaining to indoor air pollution problems, health effects linked to pollution sources and appropriate steps to reduce exposure of occupants.

Course Introduction

The EPA text for this course was designed to be used by building professionals and others interested in building air quality. The text is based on I-BEAM (Building Education and Assessment Model) which serves as a state-of-the-art guide for managing and improving indoor air quality (IAQ) in commercial buildings. I-BEAM modules can be used for IAQ building audits; diagnosing and resolving IAQ health programs; establishing IAQ management programs and calculating the cost of planned IAQ activities. The goal is to understand the causes and consequences of IAQ and avoid the conditions, which affect the health and performance of the building occupants.

It has been estimated that people spend as much as 90% of their time indoors at home, office, schools, stores or other buildings. This has become a serious health problem since indoor pollution may be worse than outdoor air pollution and some people including the young, elderly and those afflicted with respiratory diseases are especially susceptible to indoor air quality problems. OSHA estimated 30% of Americans work in buildings with air pollution. Asthma attacks are often triggered by dust, pollen or animal dander and estimated as the forth-leading cause of work absenteeism.

Concern over IAQ has generated the sale of air cleaning and purification devises, carbon monoxide detectors, electrostatic filters, ultraviolet germicidal irradiation devises and radon test kits as a means to protect occupants or detect indoor air pollutants. Outside air supply systems are used in buildings to provide the ASHRAE standards for rates of air exchange. Some gas-phase air filtration systems permit a reduction in outside air supply to cut costs. The statistics for people affected by allergies, asthma and other respiratory diseases have been increasing for all age groups. Building managers have become aware of the negative effect of an uncomfortable or harmful building environment. Poor indoor air can also impair students' learning ability. Prominent factors of poor IAQ, tobacco smoke and sick building syndrome have received much public attention causing regulatory actions and litigation to push building owners to monitor and improve the indoor air quality. Mold is perceived to cause serious harm and even long term health problems and perhaps may be "the next asbestos". Just a few years ago some yellow pages had no listings for mold remediation.

Source which cause IAQ problems include:

1. Industrial operations that release contaminants indoors.
2. Underperforming emission control equipment.
3. Underperforming HVAC and filtration equipment allowing carbon dioxide or odors to be excessive.
4. Construction materials releasing solvents or chemicals.
5. Infiltration of outdoor pollution.
6. Dust, mold and fungus.

There are many regulations for air quality but most pertain to outdoor air quality and the emission of pollutants into the atmosphere. Until now indoor air quality standards could not be easily developed because there were no monitoring devises available for accurate measurements. Indoor air quality is a complex problem which is hard to target because of ever changing types or levels of pollution and the occupant's susceptibility and perception of indoor conditions. Factors affecting IAQ are pollutant sources, operation and maintenance of ventilation systems, moisture and humidity. Because air cleaning alone cannot remove all indoor air pollutants, IAQ is most effectively controlled by the following regime of activities:

1. Effective source control. Manage the sources of pollutants by removal or protect the occupants with physical barriers.
2. Adequate ventilation. Ventilate the building with proper rates of air exchange.
3. Air filtration. Clean the air and remove pollutants with filtration.

Course Content

This course is based primarily on United States Environmental Protection Agency guide, "Indoor Air Quality in Large Buildings", sections "Fundamentals of IAQ in Buildings" and "Diagnosing and Solving Problems", EPA 402-K-93-007 (1995 Edition, 27 pages), PDF file.

The link to the course materials is:

I-BEAM Text Modules: Fundamentals of IAQ in Buildings

I-BEAM Text Modules: Diagnosing and Solving Problems

You need to open or download above documents to study this course.

Course Summary

This course considers the pollution sources, health risks and actions to take to improve indoor air quality in offices and other buildings. The course presents the methods and actions to take if you suspect indoor air problems in an office or other commercial building. Informative references for major indoor air pollutants are provided for sources, health effects and necessary steps to control and reduce exposure for each type of indoor pollutant.

Related Links

For additional technical information related to this subject, please refer to:
IAQ topics for buildings, schools, home, FAQ, information and guidance for air quality regulations.
IAQ for large buildings using I-BEAM developed by the EPA to be used by building professionals and others interested in IAQ in commercial buildings.


Once you finish studying the above course content, you need to take a quiz to obtain the PDH credits.

DISCLAIMER: The materials contained in the online course are not intended as a representation or warranty on the part of PDH Center or any other person/organization named herein. The materials are for general information only. They are not a substitute for competent professional advice. Application of this information to a specific project should be reviewed by a registered architect and/or professional engineer/surveyor. Anyone making use of the information set forth herein does so at their own risk and assumes any and all resulting liability arising therefrom.