Bring in the Fresh Air

The Wall Street Journal ran an article this week on fresh air. The article described some current research being done on the effect of varying levels of fresh air on office productivity. Subjects were placed in office setting for periods of time, receiving differing amounts of fresh ventilation air. They were then given tests to assess their cognitive abilities. As it turns out, subjects who received significantly more fresh air than is suggested by current guidelines did demonstrably better on these cognitive tests. The researchers involved identified common office toxins that build up in indoor air as the culprit in lowering cognitive ability. Fresh air got rid of those toxins, increasing cognitive ability.
The standard guidance for ventilation rates comes from ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air conditioning Engineers. ASHRAE Standard 62.1 Ventilation for Acceptable Air Quality in particular is the industry standard for adequate ventilation. The research suggest ventilation rates twice the standard produce significant and measurable benefits.
This is not to knock ASHRAE. The organization has arguably done more than any other body to advance sustainable development of the built environment. What it does suggest is that ASHRAE’s guidance may be based on outdated data. When 62.1 was created, were there computers and printers in offices? Were infiltration rates from building leakiness the same as today? Was the science behind healthy environments as advanced as it is today? Maybe not. What this new research suggest is that the time may be ripe to re-assess the assumptions that underpin 62.1.
Doubling fresh air requirements will have a negative affect on energy efficiency. It takes a lot of energy to move and temper outdoor air to make it suitable as indoor air. Doubling ventilation rates will significantly increase the amount of energy it takes to maintain a healthy indoor environment. This will in turn take us a step backward on our quest toward net-zero buildings that are healthy.
Bottom line: Bring on the fresh air.

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Principal at Sealander Architects, Ellsworth Maine. Revit guru. Married with 3 children. Avid gardener. Lived in San Francisco for nine years. Master in Architecture from Columbia University Bachelor of arts in religious studies, Wesleyan University. Graduated Staples High School, Westport CT. Hope to spend some time in Hokkaido before all is said and done.