An air conditioning unit

Indoor air quality – a property manager’s duties

Good indoor environmental quality (IEQ) can significantly enhance the health, wellbeing, and productivity of a building’s occupants. But this isn’t just an enjoyable benefit, but a legal duty of those with the responsibility to manage properties.

IEQ encompasses various factors, including indoor air quality (IAQ), lighting, thermal comfort, acoustics, and overall environmental cleanliness. Good IEQ contributes to these benefits:

Health benefits

  1. Reduction in respiratory issues:
    • High levels of indoor pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), dust, mould, and allergens can lead to respiratory issues like asthma and bronchitis. Good IAQ reduces these pollutants, leading to fewer respiratory problems.
  2. Minimised allergic reactions:
    • Proper ventilation and humidity control help in minimising the presence of mould, dust mites, and other allergens, reducing the incidence of allergic reactions among occupants.
  3. Reduced Sick Building Syndrome (SBS):
    • Symptoms of SBS, such as headaches, fatigue, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, are often linked to poor IEQ. Enhancing IEQ reduces these symptoms and improves overall occupant health.

Wellbeing benefits

  1. Enhanced mental health:
    • Adequate natural lighting has been shown to improve mood and mental health, reducing the risk of depression and anxiety. Views of nature or the presence of indoor plants can reduce stress and promote a sense of wellbeing.
  2. Improved comfort:
    • Maintaining an optimal indoor temperature improves comfort levels, contributing to overall wellbeing. Reducing noise pollution through soundproofing and proper building design helps in creating a serene environment, reducing stress levels.

Productivity benefits

  1. Increased cognitive function:
    • Studies have shown that improved IAQ, with lower levels of CO2 and pollutants, can enhance cognitive function, leading to better decision-making and problem-solving abilities.
  2. Better concentration and performance:
    • Adequate lighting, especially natural light, helps in reducing eye strain and fatigue, leading to better concentration and performance. A comfortable thermal environment and low noise levels help occupants focus better, increasing productivity.
  3. Reduced absenteeism:
    • A healthier indoor environment leads to fewer illnesses, reducing absenteeism and maintaining consistent productivity levels.

Supporting evidence

  • Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Study (2015): This study found that improved ventilation and lower levels of indoor pollutants significantly enhanced cognitive function in office workers.
  • World Green Building Council Report (2014): This report highlights that better IEQ can lead to improvements in productivity by up to 11%, with specific reference to improved air quality and lighting.
  • European Heart Journal Study (2021): This study indicated that exposure to natural light and views of nature can significantly reduce stress and improve heart health, contributing to overall wellbeing and productivity.

Implementing good IEQ
In the UK, property managers have specific responsibilities regarding indoor air quality (IAQ) to ensure a safe and healthy environment for tenants and occupants. These responsibilities are shaped by UK-specific regulations, guidelines, and best practices. Here are the key responsibilities for property managers in the UK:

1. Adherence to legal requirements

  • Health and safety legislation: Comply with the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which requires property managers to ensure the health and safety of occupants, including maintaining good IAQ.
  • Housing Act 2004: Ensure properties meet the standards set by the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), which includes aspects related to IAQ such as damp, mould, and ventilation.
  • Building Regulations: Adhere to the Building Regulations 2010, specifically Part F, which deals with ventilation requirements to maintain IAQ.

2. Maintenance and inspections

  • Regular maintenance: Conduct regular maintenance of HVAC systems, including cleaning and replacing filters, to ensure proper ventilation and air quality.
  • Routine inspections: Perform periodic inspections to identify potential IAQ issues such as damp, mould, and poor ventilation. This includes checking for leaks and ensuring that building systems are functioning correctly.

3. Damp and mould control

  • Moisture management: Address any sources of moisture promptly to prevent damp and mould growth. This includes fixing leaks, improving drainage, and using dehumidifiers if necessary.
  • Mould remediation: Take immediate action to remove mould and repair the underlying issues causing it. Follow guidelines from health authorities on safe and effective mould removal.

4. Ventilation

  • Adequate ventilation: Ensure that all areas of the property have adequate ventilation to reduce the concentration of indoor pollutants. This involves maintaining and, if necessary, upgrading ventilation systems to meet the requirements of Part F of the Building Regulations.
  • Natural ventilation: Encourage the use of natural ventilation where possible by ensuring windows and vents can be opened and are not obstructed.

5. Chemical and pollutant management

  • Use of low-emission products: Use low-emission building materials, paints, and cleaning products to minimise the release of harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  • Safe storage of chemicals: Ensure that any chemicals used on the property are stored and used safely to prevent contamination of the indoor air.

6. Monitoring and testing

  • IAQ testing: Conduct air quality testing to monitor levels of common indoor pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, radon, VOCs, and particulate matter.
  • Continuous monitoring: Consider installing continuous IAQ monitoring systems, especially in larger or more sensitive environments, to detect and address issues promptly.

7. Tenant communication and support

  • Tenant reporting: Encourage tenants to report any IAQ concerns, such as damp, mould, or unusual odours. Provide clear channels for reporting and responding to these concerns.
  • Information provision: Educate tenants on how they can help maintain good IAQ, such as proper ventilation practices, reducing moisture, and the safe use of household chemicals.

8. Compliance with industry standards

  • Following best practices: Adhere to best practice guidelines from organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) and the National Health Service (NHS) for maintaining good IAQ.
  • Professional advice: Seek professional advice and services when necessary, particularly for complex issues like mould remediation or IAQ testing.

9. Record keeping and documentation

  • Maintenance logs: Keep detailed records of all maintenance, inspections, and repairs related to IAQ.
  • Incident reports: Document any IAQ-related complaints and the actions taken to resolve them, ensuring transparency and accountability.

10. Training and development

  • Staff training: Ensure that property management and maintenance staff are trained in best practices for maintaining good IAQ, recognising IAQ issues, and responding appropriately.
  • Continuous improvement: Stay updated with the latest regulations, technologies, and practices related to IAQ to continually improve the quality of the indoor environment.

By fulfilling these responsibilities, property managers can ensure compliance with legal requirements, reduce health risks for occupants, and create a more comfortable living or working environment.