Indoor air quality (IAQ) impacts a Zoomer’s health, cognitive function and performance.
By Jillian Pritchard Cooke
The American Psychological Association’s recent study confirms that Generation Z, the age group described as stressed, depressed and exam-obsessed, is the generation most likely to say that their “mental health has worsened compared to before the pandemic.” In a 2020 WHO study, Generation Z showed increased signs of mental health diagnoses, including ADHD, anxiety, behavioral disorders and depression. In April 2021, Fortune noted that companies are searching for ways to ease “Zoom-gloom” – a documented cause of increased anxiety and stress.
As people spend the majority of their time indoors, the quality of the indoor environment has a major impact on overall health. Microsoft Teams recorded a 200% increase in meeting minutes after the start of COVID-19. Generation Z, Millennials and Baby Boomers studying and working remotely are now spending even more time in their homes, leading to an increased awareness of the importance of indoor environmental quality (IEQ). Poor quality air only exacerbates the negative impacts of video-conferencing, such as mental exhaustion, fatigue and stress.
“As people spend the majority of their time indoors, the quality of the indoor environment has a major impact on overall health.”
COVID-19 has put a spotlight on a long-standing issue of air quality. Just like in schools and offices, home IEQ has an impact on human health. Pursuing third-party health and wellness certifications gives builders a road map to achieving better IEQ. Although other key factors such as clean water, natural light and physical wellbeing are important, airborne viruses such as COVID-19 have significantly affected IAQ, making it of the utmost importance.
Controlling invisible adversaries – toxins and other minute particulate matter – in indoor air is essential. EPA studies show indoor air to be 2 to 5 – and occasionally up to 100 – times more polluted. Therefore, homes must be built with good IAQ management, allowing better control of airborne pollutants. IAQ is affected by a number of components.An analysis of a few – temperature, humidity, VOC/particulate levels and ventilation –confirms the importance of IAQ for homebuyers. It is a simple equation for the builder and homeowner: home building envelopes are tighter to reduce energy usage; therefore, it is imperative that builders introduce the best IAQ strategies.
Temperature is important, especially during winter months, because cold temperatures suppress immune systems and aid in the spread of viruses. Fluctuating humidity levels encourage the spread of viruses, as well as the growth of toxic mold. Although temperature and humidity play a role in comfort and energy efficiency, these factors also play a distinct role in the persistence, infectivity and dispersal of molds and viruses and impact defense mechanisms that protect against respiratory pathogens.
Exposure to VOCs and particulate matter, such as mold, dust, CO, CO2, formaldehyde, combustion gases, radon, home cleaning products, pesticides and other chemicals, causes a decrease in alertness, performance and decision-making abilities and leads to increased absences from work and school. High levels of toxins cause drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, allergies and asthma and lead to skin and respiratory issues. Asthma – triggered by dust mites, pests and molds – affects 1 in 13 children and is the leading cause of school absenteeism due to a chronic illness. Mothers & Others for Clean Air produced a Healthy Indoor Breathing Toolkit for consumers that specifies guidelines for common sources of indoor air pollutants and healthy air strategies.
Home ventilation systems are ever-increasingly critical because building envelopes have become tighter, trapping airborne toxins. Design/build teams must accurately calculate rates of return and determine the best mechanical system for homes they construct, looking at health issues as well as comfort and energy-efficiency. Proper filtration level is vital. For example, the higher the MERV rating of the filter used, the smaller and more diverse the particles that are filtered. MERV filters must be matched with a specific system to get the best performance.
IAQ management teams can assist in identifying proper design tools and integrating proper design strategies in each phase of the building process. When builders carefully select materials to avoid bringing in unwanted toxins and install high-performance mechanical systems that help reduce toxins, they contribute to healthier homes. Additionally, the builder should share with homebuyers maintenance strategies that bring balance, providing ways to live in a clean home that minimizes using toxic cleaning supplies. Healthier outcomes for occupants result by applying healthy behavioral strategies daily and performing maintenance regularly.
Clean indoor air can be difficult to achieve due to the diversity of sources of pollutants and occupants’ susceptibility, which can contribute to compromised health. Starting with a healthy, high-performance home designed with health and wellness strategies should always be the builder’s number one concern.
Jillian Pritchard Cooke, a 40-year design industry veteran formed Wellness Within Your Walls®, is an award-winning resource group, to create healthy living spaces through education and third-party health and wellness certification programs.