Creating an IAQ Policy Fit for Fitwel

Recent wellness trends are leading building occupants to expect healthier spaces, and one of the best ways to ensure your property is meeting these standards is by applying for a building certification.

If you’ve determined Fitwel is the right certification for your project, you aren’t alone–over 90 projects have been certified since Fitwel’s launch in 2017. Fitwel is often lauded as one of the more accessible certifications in the market: unlike other certifications, Fitwel does not include a list of prerequisites that every project must meet to be considered for certification. There is also much more room for creativity with Fitwel; while there is a rating system that requires a minimum number of points to be earned, no particular points are mandatory–which points you choose to pursue is entirely up to what makes the most sense for your project.

Choosing which points to aim for with your project is one of the most important decisions you make on your path to certification. Fitwel’s downloadable Scorecard Checklist effectively lists all 144 possible points organized into different sections, but how should you go about selecting the required 90 points effectively?

A great place to start is section 6.3:” Adopt and Implement and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Policy.”

Why focus on these specific points? Having an indoor air quality policy in place is important for both your occupants’ health and your bottom line.

Indoor air quality can have a profound impact on human health. High exposure to “unhealthy” indoor air can lead to health effects including headaches, dry throat, eye irritation or runny nose, flu symptoms, asthma attacks, bacterial infections, eczema and other skin condition flare-ups, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer.

Unfortunately, indoor air is often 5x’s more polluted than outdoors. In the most recent global burden of disease study, household air pollution was rated as the third most important cause of ill health for the world’s population.

Along with its impact on human health, indoor air quality can also unknowingly have financial effects. For example, the right air quality management can actually increase energy savings. The World Green Building Council noted that adjusting HVAC controls to enhance air quality and human health resulted in up to 79% energy savings–this is mainly due to many spaces unknowingly air condition when outdoor ventilation is sufficient. Healthy indoor air can also lead to increased property value.

Given these benefits, focusing on your project’s indoor air quality may seem like the clear choice–but many also view it as intimidating to rely on a seemingly invisible factor such as air quality as your means for certification. However, creating an IAQ policy fit for Fitwel becomes easily attainable with the help of indoor air quality monitoring.

Air quality monitors, like Awair’s Omni solution, track the factors that affect the quality of your indoor air and lets you know the moment your air is unsafe or unhealthy. Understanding and tracking exactly what’s in the air in your project will help you create an IAQ policy that can effectively be enforced and legitimized for certification.

 

So what are the exact steps you can take to create an IAQ policy with air quality monitoring that will be approved by Fitwel? With the help of a few members at the Center for Active Design (CfAD), the not-for-profit that is the licensed operator of Fitwel, we’ve created a quick guide to help you craft the ideal IAQ policy:

 

Monitor VOCs and Eliminate Potential Off-Gassing

A very important component of your IAQ policy will be the strict regulation of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in your project’s air.

VOCs are an incredibly common organic gas that have been known to negatively affect human health. Regular exposure to VOCs can cause irritated eyes, throat, nose, and skin, and prolonged exposure has been linked to eczema flare-ups, hives, allergies, leukemia, and damage to the kidneys, liver, and central nervous system.

Building materials, carpets, furniture, fabrics, cleaning products, adhesives, solvents, and many more everyday items are known to emit volatile organic compounds through a process called “off-gassing.” To help promote sustainable buildings with low VOC emissions, Fitwel specifically requires a specific list of materials and products to be guaranteed VOC-free in order to obtain points. To ensure you fully meet this requirement, check that all materials used in your project are GREENGUARD certified, and monitor your air’s VOC levels during and after installation.

 

Monitor PM2.5 (Fine Dust)

Fine dust, specifically known as PM2.5, is an incredibly small particulate matter that is virtually invisible. PM2.5’s small size allows for it to be absorbed by the lungs and bloodstream, leading to serious health complications ranging from chest tightness and shortness of breath to heart attack, stroke, and even certain cancers. Fine Dust is especially dangerous for people with heart and lung diseases, older adults, and children, but it has also been proven to affect healthy individuals.

If fine dust is present in the air, it is typically indicative of pollutants. Fine dust is produced from outdoor sources such as cars, trucks, buses, power plants, and wildfires–but indoor fine dust is just as commonly produced from activities such as smoking, cooking (especially frying, sautéing, and broiling), using fireplaces or fuel-burning space heaters, and more.

Fitwel requires that your IAQ policy include an action plan for pollutants, and the best strategy to address this issue is by constantly monitoring your project’s indoor air for pollutants, identifying any patterns in PM2.5 levels (such as reoccurring increases), and taking certain measures to reduce PM2.5 sources such as creating a tobacco-free policy and restricting activities that increase PM2.5 levels over a specific threshold.

 

Monitor Carbon Dioxide Levels

Having a proper ventilation strategy in place will be a necessary part of your IAQ policy, since ventilation is one of the most important tactics used to keep indoor air quality at healthy levels.

Spaces that are not well ventilated can cause its occupants to experience a variety of symptoms–often called sick building syndrome (SBS)–such as headaches, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, cough, sneezing, shortness of breath and eye, nose, throat and skin irritation.

How exactly can ventilation be measured and tested? It’s simple: just use carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is commonly used as an indicator for unhealthy and poorly ventilated air. Particularly stale air will be filled with carbon dioxide–especially in high occupancy spaces–and carbon dioxide itself can lower productivity and cause drowsiness.

Use indoor carbon dioxide levels as proof of a proper ventilation program. If your project’s CO2 is consistently below 1,000 ppm on average, you’re providing a healthy flow of fresh air to your occupants.


Implementing and maintaining an indoor air quality policy that is certification-ready can be easily managed with the help of air quality monitoring. Use Awair’s enterprise solution, Omni, to track real-time air quality as well as save and export historical air quality data to truly take control of your project’s contribution to building sustainability.