The indoor air quality can affect your health, especially during the cold and hot season whilst all buildings are closed up tight, with their inhabitants reliant on heating and cooling equipment, to bring the temperatures at the "right" level.

Research shows that prolonged exposure to biological and chemical contaminants, poor ventilation, reduced solar access, underperforming acoustics, can trigger sick-building syndrome or building-associated illness.

Sick building syndrome (SBS) is a term that was coined in the 1970s to describe unexplained symptoms related to the time spent in a specific building. It is used when many of the building’s occupants experience similar symptoms. Even though the cause of the symptoms, whether biological, chemical or physical cannot be specifically grasped, for most people experiencing SBS, the structure causing the symptoms is typically the place where they spend a significant amount of time. The most popular candidates are our homes, office buildings, schools, age care facilities.

Most of the time, indoor air quality problems may only cause mild discomfort. However, indoor air pollution can sometimes cause more severe symptoms or exacerbate existing health conditions. The symptoms of sick building syndrome vary from case to case and haven’t been found to fit any specific pattern.

How can you tell if you and others in your building are suffering from SBS? One method could be to determine the factors that affect us directly and observe how our human senses react to the specific exposure to:

Chemical contaminants - Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be found in a variety of building materials (asbestos, lead, ...), combustion gases (carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide), water pollution caused by rust accumulating on old metal conduits and substances including adhesives, upholstery, pesticides and cleaning agents. When these VOCs enter the air, building occupants can inhale them and experience either temporary or chronic adverse health effects.

Poor Ventilation Levels - This is thought to be one of the major contributors to SBS. Inadequate air ventilation within a building can cause health and comfort issues for the building’s occupants. Poor ventilation can be caused by ineffective heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

Inadequate Temperature, Humidity or Solar Access - These weaknesses always supplement other sources of SBS symptoms and can be appropriately addressed from design stage.

Common symptoms include acute discomfort caused by headaches, sensitivity to odours, irritation in your eyes, nose or throat, dry cough, skin irritation, dizziness, nausea, trouble concentrating and fatigue. People experiencing SBS experience these symptoms without any apparent cause and usually experience relief soon after leaving the building in question.

Luckily, having access to a thorough building physics understanding, we are able to identify these pre-existing conditions and adopt the right design and construct strategies to prevent our buildings from making us sick.

If you would like to find out more about ways to improve our habitable and working environments, stay in touch with us.