Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ) is about targeting the well being of building occupants and is a critical element in providing a healthy building and office environment. Poor IEQ is often a leading cause of Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) but whilst this SBS term is widely known, it is not generally well understood by tenants leasing space.

With the advent of Rating tools such as Green Star, which specifically targets up to 16 elements for IEQ, the components that contribute to IEQ can be broken down and more easily understood.

The systems and installations that heat, cool and light office space, combined with base building elements and the tenant’s own fit-out, contribute significantly to indoor environment quality. Some of these factors are very difficult for the tenant to alter or improve if the building’s air conditioning plant, lighting and infrastructure is not up to current standards.

However the tenant’s fit-out, is under their own control and can be a real benefit to improving IEQ.

The layout of the office space to ensure full height partitions provide minimal obstruction to airflow and ventilation will assist effective ventilation rates and air exchanges.

The choice of workstations, furniture, fabrics and finishes will affect IEQ by the amount of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and Formaldehyde these items release over the lease term into the air. These compounds are generally found in significantly higher concentrations inside offices than in the outside air. Effective building ventilation (which may be largely beyond the tenant to change in an existing building), is a relatively simple way to reduce these compounds and by careful control or selection of materials and finishes their levels within offices space can be significantly reduced .

Specifying items such as low VOC paint, low VOC carpet and flooring, and low VOC adhesives and sealants used in typical joinery and construction is critical. It also means specifying low formaldehyde emission board (the substrate for laminate or veneer joinery and desks) for workstations which are always the most significant items of building board in any office fit-out. For example, the board in many workstations may not be rated and may ‘off gas’ a range of pollutants for the life of the 5 or 10 year lease. Utilising E1 rated board is now becoming more common and will reduce pollutant levels whilst even better EO or super EO board with even less emissions is available.

Early co-ordination between the interior designer and an aware mechanical consultant is essential to achieving improvements in Indoor Environment Quality.

Author Greg Prerau is a chartered architect with 20 years experience in strategic planning and commercial fit-out and a Director of Custance Associates.