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September 9, 2014

Are we facing a sick building syndrome II?

Are you sick or is your building sick? We are making our buildings insulated and airtight, but the ventilation system is the last on our list. This is a danger to the occupants´ health! And we might be facing a sick building syndrome II!

In the past, in a natural ventilated residential building fresh air is secured by either by openings next to the windows or cracks through old windows´ frames or via infiltration through walls. In most cases the openings next to the windows might be sealed by occupants as they often cause draught problems or they might be inefficiently maintained thus no longer providing enough fresh air coming in the rooms.

The current trend is to have your house well insulated and have nice new windows and to get a lower bill for heating your house. After making a residential building insulated and airtight during the refurbishment process, the natural ventilated building no longer provides its occupant with enough fresh. And occupants ask what happened and where is the problem?

The new residential buildings are built as energy-efficient and airtight as possible, but the ventilation system is the last item on the budget list. And the ventilation system is first one to be left out when there is a need for budget decrease.

So people living in renovated or new buildings often experience mould problems, condensation on windows, and feeling of stale air, and many more problems. And they don’t know what the problem is and how to handle it. Of course, the first step is the local treatment of mould spots or wiping the condensation down from a window frame, or opening a window for five minutes to exchange the air. But this is only a temporary solution.

The same problems can be seen in commercial buildings such schools. In renovated schools with newly insulated walls and new windows, the head master gets lower energy bill but the pupils start to get problems with concentration and tiredness, and so on, as indoor air quality is very bad without a proper ventilation system.

All this is leading to the same situation as we faced in 1980s where the sick building syndrome (SBS) was defined as situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. A 1984 World Health Organization report suggested up to 30% of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may be subject of complaints related to poor indoor air quality. Sick building causes are frequently pinned down to flaws in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems (source Wikipedia).

And it is happing again!