With approximately 90 percent of our time spent indoors, monitoring indoor air quality has become necessary to maintain human health. Some buildings have significant sources of air pollution due to an increased use of synthetic building materials and the improved energy efficiency of buildings.

Energy efficient buildings are typically tighter, which means less outside air moves into the building and vice versa, i.e., the indoor air remains trapped. Without adequate ventilation, the indoor air quickly stagnates, making it difficult to maintain the health and comfort of the building’s occupants.

Poor air quality puts people at an increased risk of health concerns, such as eye, nose and throat irritation, plus headaches, dizziness and general fatigue. Long-term effects can include respiratory diseases, heart diseases and cancer.

A real estate developer and property owner, Hung Kuo Development Co., Ltd., recognized the need to provide quality, indoor air for its employees and other occupants in the building. The organization spent three years upgrading their headquarters in Taipei City, Taiwan to become the first building in Asia Pacific certified to the UL Building Indoor Air Quality Certification Standard, UL 2891.

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Inside UL spoke with Elliott Horner, a mycologist and air quality scientist with UL Environment, to learn more about the process and its importance to people.

Air Quality Certification

UL 2891 outlines the tests a building must pass to be certified. The process can take several months, depending on whether work needs to be done to improve a building’s air quality. Certification can be applied to a whole building or to a portion of a building, such as an organization’s office suite or perhaps one floor of a high-rise.

An initial assessment is performed by a qualified assessor who visually inspects mechanical systems, such as air conditioning equipment, and takes air samples for lab analysis. Other environmental tests, like measuring carbon dioxide levels (CO2), are performed on site.

CO2 is not generally found at hazardous levels in an indoor environment, but it is a good indicator of how well the ventilation system is working in relation to the number of occupants. If the levels of CO2 are high, it is assumed that there may not be adequate ventilation, allowing for the build-up of other pollutants.

Conversely, a build-up of gases such as CO2 could indicate inadequate expulsion of pollutants too. A building needs both outdoor air intakes and exhaust outlets to help ensure a steady stream of fresh air for the occupants.

Another test measures the number of dust particles in the air. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates dust particles as pollutants—too great a concentration, and it is considered a risk to respiratory and/or cardiopulmonary health.

Additional tests include aldehydes, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), temperature and humidity levels.

“When those criteria are met, we can certify the building or portion of the building and then come back fifteen months later to start all over again,” says Horner. “Some indoor air quality problems will be associated with operating the air conditioning system or the heating system, so we go a year and three months before recertification. We want the process to rotate through the four different seasons.”

As for occupants in Taiwan’s Hung Kuo building, “We are honored to be the first in Asia Pacific Region to have achieved the UL Building Indoor Air Quality Certification,” said Yvonne Lin, Managing Director of Hung Kuo Development Co., Ltd.  “Thanks to UL’s certification process, we were able to identify the source of pollution and quantify our improvements.”

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