Today, more than ever, air quality is a crucial element not only in managing existing residential and office spaces but also in the planning and designing of properties for development in the new normal.
To help illustrate the relevance of air quality in our lives—indoors and outdoors alike—we’ve gathered 33 air quality statistics that every professional needs to know in 2023, plus some key takeaways to help guide your air quality monitoring efforts. Let’s dive in!
Benefits of IAQ-related improvements, by the numbers
- Harvard assistant professor Joseph Allen has estimated that the productivity benefits of improving air quality through ventilation are around $6,500 per person per year.
- Green buildings achieving the LEED certification in the US and other countries have been shown to consume 25% less energy and 11% less water, than non-green buildings.
- In a review of buildings that were certified to green and healthier standards, it was found that these buildings received 30% fewer complaints from occupants about problems with air quality, temperature, and other issues—suggesting that design standards have true impact.
- Using a CO2 based demand controlled ventilation (DCV) can reduce the energy output of HVAC systems by 70%.
- The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory concluded that improvements made to indoor air quality can boost workplace performance by 10%.
- Improved ventilation rates can result in up to 35% fewer staff sick days.
- 82% of millennials reported that they would feel safer returning to in-person work if their offices provided real-time transparency into indoor air quality
- 74% of survey respondents expressed worry about their workplace's IAQ, with 43% reporting they are very or extremely worried (2023)
Data related to indoor air quality in workplaces and other indoor environments
- Indoor spaces can be up to 5 times more polluted than the air outside from the buildup of formaldehyde from a wide range of items, including new textiles such as carpets, paint, glue, and cleaning products in residential buildings and asbestos, lead, and radon in commercial buildings.
- Fine pollution particles (PM2.5) can pass through the lungs and be carried via the bloodstream to virtually all cells in the body. Particles that enter the bloodstream have been associated with conditions like stroke and depression and may increase your risk of heart disease or dementia by nearly 5%.
- Over 20% of the general U.S. population report adverse health effects from air fresheners which can contain toxic chemicals known as phthalates that disrupt hormonal function, interrupt reproductive development, and aggravate respiratory illnesses such as asthma.
- A study of commercial workplaces found that the main VOC sources in offices included photocopiers, printers, furniture, cleaning products, wall and floor coverings, and that emissions were 10 to 120 times higher when the computers were “on” than “off”.
- LCD screens, such as those found in older monitors or televisions, release heavy quantities of over 30 VOCS and 10 L liquid crystal monomers alone. Other culprits include printers, copiers, laptops, and computers.
Costs and Consequences of Unhealthy Buildings
- 1 out of 6 Europeans – or roughly the equivalent of Germany’s population – reports living in unhealthy buildings, i.e., buildings that have damp conditions (leaking roof or damp floor, walls or foundation), a lack of daylight, inadequate heating during the winter, poor indoor quality or overheating problems.
- Meanwhile, the average US building is 53 years old and most are energy inefficient.
- HVAC systems are responsible for 16% of global energy use (Buildings use 40% of global energy, and HVAC is responsible for 40% of the energy output of buildings worldwide). However, further studies show that this figure can be reduced by 30 to 80% using the technologies available today.
- Air cooling is responsible for 20% of electricity use in buildings globally, according to another concerning study.
- Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), which causes symptoms such as respiratory ailments, allergies and asthma, occurs in 57% of offices.
- Occupants in buildings that are kept within the range of optimal temperature and humidity perform 5.4% better in cognitive tests than their counterparts with sub-optimal levels of temperature and humidity.
The relationship between poor IAQ and viral transmission
- European Society of Cardiology estimates that about 15% of deaths worldwide from COVID-19 could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution. In Europe, the proportion was about 19%, in North America it was 17%, and in East Asia about 27%.
- Rates of COVID-19 transmission are almost 19 times higher when indoors. Other research demonstrates that 50% of employees still feel anxious about catching COVID-19 in the workplace, and that this leads to reduced productivity.
- A preliminary study detected SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) could be hitching a ride on PM10 particles – similar to PM2.5, just slightly larger, suggesting that the virus could be dispersed more widely on air pollution particles.
- While new COVID-19 protocols emphasize the need for cleaning and sanitization to minimize the risk of viral spread, excessive sanitization can cause TVOC concentration to exceed the maximum acceptable concentration of 300 – 500 ppb by 9900%.
Outdoor air pollution prevalence and threats
- Air pollution is the fourth-largest threat to human health, behind high blood pressure, dietary risks, and smoking.
- The WHO reports that 99% of the global population breathes air that exceeds WHO pollution guidelines, and recently declared air pollution to be a global public health emergency.
- Air pollution is the largest cause of environmental fatalities worldwide, leading to 1 in 9 deaths. A 2016 study found that this situation results in about $225 billion in lost labor income.
- Air pollution can have a huge impact on intelligence. A 2018 study showed that, across all categories, the average effect equates to the loss of one year of education - this has big implications for employee performance.
- The Clean Air Act is a major success story in the realm of air pollution policy making. In terms of cost-benefit analysis, the Clean Air Act has saved the USA’s economy over $2 trillion. Recently, the Inflation Reduction Act has allocated 50bn for energy efficient building upgrades, a large portion of which will go to installing new HVAC systems across the US.
- Switching to cycling, walking, and public transport are some of the best changes an individual can make to reduce local air pollution and congestion. In cities, where trips tend to be shorter, it’s easier to take up cycling as a daily mode of transport that generates zero air pollution.
Wildfires as an environmental concern and cause of poor IAQ
- 15 of California’s 20 worst fires have occurred in the past 20 years, and we can expect these numbers to grow as climate change, poor forest management practices, and residential development deeper into flammable landscapes continue to prevail.
- A recent study on the 2011 U.S. wildfires found that wildfire smoke in areas with medium and high density smoke affected an even larger portion of the country than wildfires themselves. In fact, the number of areas affected by medium- or high-density smoke for 12-47 days were, in total, nearly 50 times greater than the areas burned directly by fire.
- During the 2020 wildfires, on average, PM2.5 concentrations increased by 91.7 μg/m3. Each week of wildfire smoke exposures was estimated to result in 87.6 cases of increased all-cause mortality, 19.1 increased cardiovascular disease deaths, and 9.4 increased respiratory disease deaths.
- By September of the same year, fire-related emissions in 2020 were already 3 times higher than the historical 21st-century average in California, Oregon and Washington.
Learn more about how indoor air quality data can be used to enhance the workplace experience, alleviate employee concerns, and drive better business outcomes in our FREE eBook, IAQ for Healthy Workplaces: