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Sick Building Syndrome: Why You Need to Take it Seriously Now

I just feel better when I’m here.

A good indoor climate can have amazing effects on the cognitive, physical and emotional state of a human being. The effects take place as soon as you step in. The exact opposite of the Sick Building Syndrome. Whether it’s a conference room, office or a cafe. People want to spend longer hours in a comfortable indoor atmosphere. In an office, good indoor air quality means higher productivity, more quality output and the company meets targets faster. In schools, students in classrooms with good indoor climate perform 8% better than in bad indoor climate, according to a recent Danish study. In restaurants, people wanting to spend longer times naturally means more sales and more popularity of restaurant. That’s all very nice.

However, it is surprising just how badly poor indoor climate can impact human health and business output. Sick Building Syndrome and Building Related Illnesses, are not just the leading cause for lowered productivity, and absenteeism in companies. It’s much more. For instance, NIOSH estimated in 2012 “that around 31% of new-onset adult asthma is attributed to work-related exposures and 23% of existing adult asthma is exacerbated by work.” If the occupant continues to be exposed he/she won’t respond to medical treatment.

The national annual cost of asthma that is attributable to dampness and mold exposure inside buildings is $3.5 billion according to EPA Studies by Berkley Labs,. The overall economic disadvantage of induced health problems is unimaginable. To understand how to change this, let’s take a look at the causes first. However, if you’re already familiar with them, jump to Getting rid of Sick Building Syndrome

Sick Building Syndrome SBS

SBS is a term used to describe the sickness or uncomfortableness that people suffer when they spend time inside a particular building. The symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, ENT irritation, dry cough, dry or itchy skin, difficulty in concentration, fatigue, allergies, cold, flu-like symptoms, increased incidence of asthma attacks and personality changes. But there are no known exact causes of these symptoms. They tend to increase the more time people spend inside and appear to go away once they exit the building.

Building Related Illnesses BRIs

BRIs are different. These are a direct consequence of indoor airborne pollutants. So the symptoms have a known cause. Besides respiratory problems, victims of BRIs suffer from Humidifier fever, Legionnaires Disease, skin rashes, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and other illness related to bacteria or fungus (mold).

A study in Europe shows that 1 out 6 people are living and/or working in unhealthy buildings. That’s the size of Germany’s entire population. The BESA reports 70% workers complaining of poor indoor air that negatively impacts their productivity and health. So what is about these buildings that makes staying indoors so uncomfortable and leaves people with Sick Building Syndrome and other BRIs?

The Cause of Sick Building Syndrome and BRI’s

This is a list of the most common factors. If you’re already familiar with them, jump to Getting rid of Sick Building Syndrome

  • Inadequate ventilation. An ideal HVAC system vents out stale air and vents in fresh air. All without causing an area to lose heat or cooling. A reason why you are jetlagged and often catch flus and viruses after long flights, is that the air constantly circulates in the aircraft. Meaning you breath in the same air and high amounts of CO2 everyone has been breathing out. A phenomenon known as backdrifting of air could actually be poisonous in areas with many occupants, or in buildings constructed in dense urban areas, laboratories, industrial facilities, etc.
  • Inadequate humidity levels. High levels of moisture in the air forms an invisible breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria and fungus that cause asthma, allergies and several other respiratory conditions. On the other hand, low humidity levels cause dry skin, itchy eyes and throat, bloody nose and sinuses. Long exposure creates more alarming problems, making you completely vulnerable to flus, viruses and other infections. Health professionals recommend humidity levels in the range 40- 60 %, while the ideal range is between 35% to 45%.
  • Fluctuations in temperature is a very pesky but common cause of workplace stress. Individuals vary by so many factors like body fat, muscle mass, gendre, age, hormones, etc. that it’s impossible to have a steady temperature that everyone is comfortable with. The result is a building full of stressed out and unproductive personnel or students.
  • Airborne particles such as dust, carpet fibres and fungal spores and
  • Airborne chemical pollutants such as cleaning products, ozone from photocopiers and printers, carbon monoxide, asbestos are dangerous allergens and irritants responsible for the BRIs listed above.
  • Poor lighting. Whether it is a patient ward, a library, a classroom or an office, a well-lit room immediately uplifts the moods and encourages productivity of the people in it. And keeps its inhabitants energetic. On the contrary, too much light, glare, flickering, or dim rooms can have the exact opposite effect. Along with headaches and eye strain.
  • Poor standards of cleanliness.

The sad part is our lack of evolution. SBS and BRI’s were both an enormous problem since the 80’s. Back then they started researching causes of symptoms and derived methods to improve indoor air quality. However, they are still at large today. New Zealand is now facing its next big health epidemic with an 11 billion dollar price tag. It is due to people living and breathing in stuffy air in mouldy or leaky buildings. And, U.K’s RCP estimates indoor air pollutants “cause, at a minimum, several thousands of deaths per year in the U.K. And amount to healthcare costs of tens of millions of pounds.”

This in no way means that the right solution hasn’t been developed yet. It just implies that their knowledge hasn’t reached you yet.

Getting Rid of Sick Building Syndrome and BRI’s by a BMS

The legacy way of running buildings involves installing large amounts of dedicated servers. These are mostly only responsible for switching on/off different HVAC control systems. And they don’t dynamically adapt to the changing use of building or external weather. ClevAir, on the other hand, is a modern, data-driven solution.

A building management system like ClevAir is created for the sole purpose of optimizing Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) activities in real-time. It continuously monitors all required parameters like temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, etc., in areas of the buildings and takes into account factors like the weather forecast and even occupant preference, to adjust these parameters for the health and comfort of its inhabitants.

How we do it

Before we install ClevAir, we first analyze a building infrastructure for existing sensors and HVAC systems. If there is a need of required sensors for any intended end goal, we add those in the relevant locations. Since it is too expensive to install whole new smart HVAC systems, the existing system with all of its sensor/controller components is utilized to gather data and send it to the building management system, Clevair. Where it then makes smart decisions and automatically optimizes every single component of indoor environment through decentralized control.

The Results

In layman terms, the results of this optimization are healthy levels of humidity, comfortable temperature, CO2, removal of airborne pollutants, removal of airborne particles and clean indoor air, uninhabitable for bacteria, fungus or mold. Furthermore ClevAir is an economizer, as it performs all operations, while consuming minimum energy.

And there’s more.

The good thing about ClevAir is that it provides and endless list of possible use cases. One of them is conveying the right information to the right person in time. So for example CO2 levels from a meeting room could generate an alert to cleaning personnel that the room has been used and is now empty. In other words, ClevAir can be customized to fix absolutely any deficiency in building hygiene. So as to reach the goal of an ultimate healthy building and hence inhabitants.


As a business manager, maintaining a healthy indoor climate is essential to economic advantage. If workers or customers are not comfortable in an area, they simply won’t stick around. Or perform horribly if they have to. But I think you would agree that the health and well being of people in your business is a huge responsibility. One that you need to own. And one that you could easily fulfill with a building management system like ClevAir.


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