Indoor Air Quality: The 7 Invisible Factors that Impact Your Health

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August 4, 2021

While it’s easy to visualize “air pollution” as images of cars idling or toxic gases coming out of smokestacks, the indoor environment can also be impacted in subtle ways. Since air quality is largely invisible, it’s crucial to monitor its effects at home and in businesses because pollutants can come from inside sources, such as household cleaning chemicals and upholstery polishes, or outdoor air can enter buildings and impact human health. The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has said that “Americans, on average, spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors where the concentrations of some pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than typical outdoor concentrations.” Everything from aerosol sprays to building materials can play a role in releasing harmful byproducts that pose threats to health, safety, and comfort. 


So what are the seven key air quality factors we measure with Awair Omni and why should you care about them? We’ll give you all of the details and let you decide for yourself. 

  1. Temperature - Indoor air temperature above or below 18 to 25C (64.4 to 77F) can adversely affect occupant comfort and productivity. If you go above the optimal range, overheating, dehydration and exhaustion can occur. Far below this range, on the other hand, can lead to dry air, a weakened immune system, and overall discomfort.
  2. Relative Humidity - The higher the percentage, the more water the air is holding relative to how much before it precipitates/rains. Humidity levels between 40-60% are considered healthy, but between 40-50% are considered optimal. Maintaining humidity within this range can minimize the growth and spread of mold, bed bugs, viruses, and bacteria. If humidity is too low, it can also cause eye, nose, skin, and throat irritation. That’s why it’s important to aim for the right amount of humidity and find ways to track your numbers regularly.
  3. Carbon Dioxide - Outdoor CO2 levels are around 400 parts per million (ppm) so the lowest achievable indoor CO2 level is around 400 ppm. Concentrations below 800 ppm are considered ideal for a productive environment. Anything above 1000 ppm can cause issues, such as difficulty concentrating, decreased cognitive ability, and overall fatigue. In 2016, researchers at Harvard and Syracuse University discovered that cognitive function declined by about 15 percent when indoor CO2 reached 945 ppm, and crashed by 50 percent when indoor CO2 reached an even higher level of 1,400 ppm.
  4. TVOCs - Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOCs) are a diverse group of toxic chemicals that are commonly found in the air in homes and offices. They are added to many manufactured goods as well as common cleaners, paint, upholstery, clothes, carpets, sealants, and treated or pressed wood. Moderate exposure can cause headaches, fatigue, skin reactions, and eye and throat irritation. Higher concentrations can contribute to the development of more serious health issues, including overworked liver and kidneys, impairment, and even cancer. Daily exposure should be kept under 333 parts per billion (ppb) and even lower for certain certifications.
  5. Particulate Matter - Fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, has a diameter of 2.5 microns or smaller. Fine dust particles are able to permeate membranous tissue in the respiratory system where it can enter and travel deeper into the vascular system (blood, heart, brain). It can cause chronic irritation, trigger allergies and asthma, and increase our risk of developing serious infections and diseases, such as COPD. Densely-populated cities tend to have higher PM2.5 because they’re epicenters of production and power consumption. Smoke from multiple wildfires burning across the West has dramatically impacted the air quality index (AQI). In July 2021, New York was at an unhealthy level of 155. By comparison, it was worse than Beijing which had an AQI level of 59. 
  6. Light (lux) - Light (lux) influences our productivity and health. For workplace task lighting, the recommended range is between 300 and 500 lux. For residential environments, increasing light exposure during the daytime and decreasing light levels during the evening can greatly improve alertness and lead to better sleep quality.
  7. Noise (dBA) - Similar to light, noise can affect the health and productivity of your workspace. Based on a study by Cornell University, increased illness and lower job satisfaction are associated with the negative impact of noise. Although background noise can drown out distractions, too much noise can cause stress and impede productivity. It’s important to avoid sustained and elevated levels of noise, such as 80 dB(A), as it can lead to permanent damage. 

Whether you are in the home or at the office, air quality factors play a role in your day-to-day happiness, productivity, comfort, and health. Encourage your employers and building owners to care for the air you share by introducing them to Awair Omni. You can also purchase Awair Element individually for your home to keep your family breathing the cleanest, best air possible.