What is Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)?

Indoor Air Quality can be quite a vague term as it doesn’t have a strict universal definition. However, simply put, it refers to how healthy the air is in an indoor space. This is primarily measured by looking at the level of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOCs are compounds that include carbon and are in gaseous at room temperature (hence volatile).

Examples of VOCs are mold, benzene (released through cigarette smoke), formaldehyde (evaporates from paint). Exposure to VOCs can cause irritation to your eyes, nose and throat as well as allergic reactions on your skin. It can also cause vomiting, nausea, difficulty breathing and fatigue / dizziness.


Why is it important?

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), concentrations of VOCs in indoor air are 2 to 5 times greater than in outdoor air and sometimes far greater.

Put that together with the fact that in the UAE, over 90% of our time is spent indoors. Then layer on the fact that the humidity, air conditioning systems constantly circulating the same air and smoking happening indoors, and it is no surprise that Sick Building Syndrome is a key issue in Dubai. Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is when multiple people in the same building develop ailments (often including coughing, sneezing, sore throats, itchy eyes) with no other obvious cause. This is often due to constantly being in an environment with poor Indoor Air Quality.


How to measure it

There are a variety of portable Indoor Air Quality monitors on the market, with most of the better ones costing around 750 AED. As well as TVOC levels, these should also measure Temperature and Relative Humidity and allow you to easily track changes in your IAQ (usually via a mobile app). Unfortunately, these are very much first generation products so they are limited and don’t tend to isolate compounds well. They also have sensors that are often not able to detect smaller particles (most are limited to PM2.5 at best). That said these devices will give you an idea of how healthy your air is and if there are big changes, just take the results with a pinch of salt.

If you are experiencing specific issues with a particular room or area, then it might be worth doing a more thorough test. Sancare is able to help you with this by installing devices that collect air samples over a period of time (usually about 8 hours) and then sending those samples to a laboratory for a detailed breakdown. This is a little more expensive than buying a portable monitor so is recommended for areas where you feel that the air quality may be poor (eg you notice that you or your family tend to feel congested when spending time in a particular room).


How to improve it

  1. The first thing step to improving your IAQ is to do a basic audit of all the items in your residence that might be releasing VOCs. Typically, look out for paints containing lead, sources of smoke, poor performance of exhaust fans when cooking and many scented candles.
  2. Measure your IAQ to ensure that you are seeing an improvement.
  3. Make sure that you regularly clean your soft furnishings and AC ducts.
  4. Watch out for humidity levels and ventilate well. High levels of humidity are perfect conditions for mold and fungi to grow.
  5. Buy products with low or no VOC levels. For example most paints are now lead free and some even go a step further, eg Breathe Easy Paints