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Defining an Indoor Air Quality Problem

Indoor Air Quality concerns have often been grouped into three categories: Comfort Issues, "Sick Building Syndrome" and Building Related Illnesses. In many cases, there is overlap between the categories.


Comfort Issues can be described as dissatisfaction with the "feel" of a building environment. Complaints may range from; too hot, too cold, stuffy, drafty, noisy, odors, closeness, etc. This is normally the easiest type of Indoor Air Quality problem to diagnose, but the fix can sometimes be difficult to achieve. Raising the satisfaction rate of some building occupants may affect the comfort of others. Polling building occupants can give information as to general trends in comfort issues. In this case, building maintenance and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) personnel are the best individuals to construct solutions.


"Sick Building Syndrome," or SBS, has been described as a set of symptoms that affect a significant portion of building occupants. These symptoms range from; irritation of mucosal membranes (eyes, mouth and nose), upper respiratory irritation and headaches, lethargy, decreased concentration and even nausea. These symptoms may occur shortly after entering the building and usually disappear after the individual leaves the building. Most often, there are no easily identifiable causes for this type of problem. Inadequate ventilation or building maintenance, misuse of chemical products and building activities may be the cause. Questionnaires for building occupants and possible solutions can be found on some of the web pages listed below. It is often advisable to contact an independent IAQ specialist, listed in the yellow pages under the categories of Industrial Hygienist or Environmental Consultants. These professionals can conduct investigations and recommend solutions.


Building Related Illness is the term for an illness, normally diagnosed by a physician, which can be directly attributed to exposure an occupant receives while in a building. Illnesses include: Legionnaire's disease, Pontiac Fever, humidifier fever, hypersensitivity pneumonitis and others. These illnesses may effect anywhere from a few, to the majority of building occupants. Quick determination of these types of illness is important, some of these diseases can cause lasting damage and while others can be fatal if not treated promptly. The type of disease can give vital clues as to the source and means of spreading of these illnesses.