Top Ways to Diagnose Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Problems

Despite national attention on poor indoor air quality (IAQ), it’s still a problem affecting facilities and its occupants. Building owners who want to successfully combat poor indoor air quality, must ensure that their building managers and hired contractors understand IAQ and know how to address any problems that arise.

The Indoor Air Quality Building Education and Assessment Model (I-BEAM) is the EPA’s guidance tool for building professionals. It teaches you how to improve air quality and how to conduct an indoor air quality inspection. I-BEAM provides a set of forms to aid in diagnosing and solving air quality issues.

Organizations like The HVAC Inspection, Maintenance and Restoration Association also known as NADCA offer Certified Ventilation Inspector training based on the EPA’s I-Beam program. Certification exams test for knowledge of inspecting HVAC systems, diagnosing air quality problems and providing an analysis to the customer.

Four elements are involved in IAQ problems, according to the Healthy Facilities Institute: the source; the HVAC system; pathways; and occupants.

Contamination sources occur either indoors or outdoors, or within mechanical building systems. Problems occur if the HVAC system isn’t able to control existing air contaminants and if it’s unable to ensure temperature and humidity conditions that most occupants find comfortable.

Pathways provide an avenue for pollutant distribution. While an HVAC system is most often the pathway, all building components can affect air movement. Occupants have to be present in order for an air quality issue to exist.

Understanding the role of each factor is instrumental in preventing, investigating and solving IAQ problems.

An IAQ investigation often begins with an occupant complaint, or another reason for concern, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You should perform an initial walkthrough inspection and identify information about the building, taking into consideration the factors influencing air quality issues. Use I-Beam’s Occupant Complaint Record forms to help collect information from occupants during the walkthrough.

Identify whether the situation is an emergency. An IAQ emergency is classified as a situation that may cause serious health problems or property damage, according to the Healthy Facilities Institute. Examples of emergency situations include sewage, gas leaks, hazardous waste spills, Legionnaires disease outbreaks or serious widespread symptoms among occupants including dizziness, nausea, headaches or breathing problems.

In an emergency notify the appropriate authorities (utilities, fire department, etc.), evacuate the building and call for medical assistance, if needed.

Determine if the symptoms are localized to a floor, air handling zone, certain side of the building or if they’re widespread, suggests the Healthy Facilities Institute. Look for patterns related to occupants, time of day, temperature or activities. Assess the occupants and their individual sensitivities. If only one occupant is affected, the individual may be hyper-sensitive to a building agent.

After developing an understanding of the building and its potential pollutant sources, formulate hypotheses of potential IAQ causes. Collect additional information from occupants and further investigate how the building functions to develop support for your hypothesis.

The investigation should result in an understanding of the apparent cause of the IAQ issue along with potentially other IAQ problems not associated with the original complaint. An action plan can be established based on the findings.

Next Steps

3 comments


  • Too many so-called solutions to enqrvonmential problems are affordable only for the very rich, and very soon most of them will be living in tax-free Monaco or somewhare. personally, I would feel imprisoned living in a sealed structure. Time enough for that when I am dead.There are, however, some interesting articles on your site that I’m sure are bringing universal praise.

    June 10, 2012
  • Your post has excellent ways to diagnose indoor air quality problems. Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles into the air are the primary cause of indoor air quality problems in homes. Thanks for providing the ways to diagnose indoor air quality.

    June 15, 2012
  • Great post!! It is very necessary to keep our surroundings clean to prevent ourselves from different dust allergies and smell. We should diagnose the indoor air quality for the safety of our health. Thanks for giving this information I appreciate your work.

    October 5, 2012

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