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Green Building 101: What is indoor environmental quality?

Published on Written by Posted in LEED

Need a quick refresher on green building basics? This is our "Green Building 101" series that we'll publish throughout the month. We'll visit topics that form the foundation of our understanding of green building today.

What is indoor environmental quality?

Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) encompasses the conditions inside a building—air quality, lighting, thermal conditions, ergonomics—and their effects on occupants or residents. Strategies for addressing IEQ include those that protect human health, improve quality of life, and reduce stress and potential injuries. Better indoor environmental quality can enhance the lives of building occupants, increase the resale value of the building, and reduce liability for building owners. 

Why is this important for buildings?

Since the personnel costs of salaries and benefits typically surpass operating costs of an office building, strategies that improve employees’ health and productivity over the long run can have a large return on investment. IEQ goals often focus on providing stimulating and comfortable environments for occupants and minimizing the risk of building-related health problems.

To make their buildings places where people feel good and perform well, project teams must balance selection of strategies that promote efficiency and conservation with those that address the needs of the occupants and promote well-being. Ideally, the chosen strategies do both: the solutions that conserve energy, water and materials also contribute to a great indoor experience.

What are common sources of indoor air contaminants?

  • People smoking tobacco inside the building or near building entrances or air uptakes
  • Building materials such as paints, coatings, adhesives, sealants, and furniture that may emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), substances that vaporize at room temperature and can cause health problems 
  • Combustion processes in HVAC equipment, fireplaces and stoves, and vehicles in garages or near entrances 
  • Mold resulting from moisture in building materials
  • Cleaning materials
  • Radon or methane off-gassing from the soil underneath the building
  • Pollutants from specific processes used in laboratories, hospitals, and factories
  • Pollutants tracked in on occupants’ shoes
  • Occupants’ respiration, which increases carbon dioxide levels and may introduce germs

The best way to prevent indoor pollutants is to eliminate or control them at the sources. The next line of defense is proper ventilation to remove any pollutants that do enter. Both approaches need to be considered at all phases of the building life cycle.

What are effective strategies improving occupants’ comfort and control?

  • Use daylighting.
  • Install operable windows.
  • Give occupants temperature and ventilation control.
  • Give occupants lighting control.
  • Conduct occupant surveys.
  • Provide ergonomic furniture.
  • Include appropriate acoustic design. 

Ready to learn more?

Become a green building expert—make a beeline for the Core Concepts Guide!

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    Tiffany Coyle made 10 contributions in the last 6 months

Tiffany Coyle

U.S. Green Building Council

2 commentsLeave a comment

President, Indoor Climate Consultants Inc.
Don't forget vibrations too... Here's how I see IEQ... IEQ = IAQ +ITQ + ILQ + ISQ + IOQ + IVQ where I = Indoor, Q = Quality and, A = Air T = Thermal L = Lighting S = Sound O = Odour (odor) V = Vibrations Also readers would be advised to study, Kim, J., de Dear, R. How does occupant perception on specific IEQ factors affect overall satisfaction? Network for Comfort and Energy Use in Buildings. Proceedings of 7th Windsor Conference: The changing context of comfort in an unpredictable world. Cumberland Lodge, Windsor, UK, 12-15 April 2012. London. Though IAQ is without a doubt an important element within IEQ it is not a proxy for all the other terms as commonly done; and current research will show acoustics and thermal comfort to be equal to or greater than IAQ on the hierarchy of occupant complaints.
"Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) encompasses the conditions inside a building—air quality, lighting, thermal conditions, ergonomics" Why are we always neglecting acoustics? Apart from last bullit, thanks. This pretty much illustrates the priorities when we build green. Lets change that!

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