How Employee Productivity Chokes on Indoor Air

As tree pollen in the spring morphs into grass pollen in the summer, allergy sufferers are probably blaming the air out there. But it’s the air in here — in the office — however, that’s probably making them wheeze, cough and sniffle.

According to the EPA, the air inside can be two to five times more polluted than outside. Even though the EPA has ranked indoor air pollutants among the top five environmental risks to public health, it may not be a topic that comes up around your water cooler.

The impact of indoor air pollutants can be subtle — eye irritation, headaches, nausea and fatigue. However, a growing body of research suggests that poor indoor air canincrease the risk of asthma, pulmonary infections and allergies. Poor indoor air hinders comfort, attention span and productivity, and OSHA estimates that poor indoor air costs employers $15 billion annually due to worker inefficiency and sick leave.

Few companies are focused on poor indoor air and its impact on workforce productivity. Concerned about maximizing productivity, many employers today focus on encouraging employees to eat well and exercise, but they haven’t done much to improve the air their employees breathe. According to research conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, employers can improve workforce performance by up to 10 percent through improvements in the quality of indoor air.

One of the major reasons for poor indoor air is the growing amounts of chemicals in the workplace, which can emanate from technology hardware, construction materials, furniture and furnishings, and cleaning products.

Printers and copiers can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), small particles and ozone while other products like floor and wall coverings, paints and furniture can emit hundreds of different VOCs into the air including formaldehyde and toluene. Computers and other electronics generate significant amounts of heat, accelerating emissions into the air from the plastics, circuitry and adhesives used to make these products. And this doesn’t even take into account the impact of cleaning products, pest control solutions, personal care products and more that can also send odors and VOCs into the air.

Not only are we coming into contact with more chemicals than ever before, we are spending more time around them — the average American spends up to 90 percent of his time indoors.

Outdoor air ventilation is essential to reducing indoor air pollutants and providing good air quality in the workplace. While increased ventilation may reduce VOCs, it increases the use of energy. As a result, many modern buildings are designed with a tight seal, which is good for energy efficiency, but bad for air quality. The World Health Organization estimates that 30 percent of all new or renovated buildings have poor indoor air quality.

Since smoking was banned in the American office, indoor materials, furnishings and office equipment have become the biggest threats to the air we breathe. Luckily, small changes can make a big difference. Install large networked printers in well-ventilated spaces with direct exhaust to the outdoor air, and if you must use a personal printer in a confined workspace, select a printer with slower printer speed and an environmental certification, as they will emit fewer chemicals.

Also, don’t constantly fiddle with the thermostat as fluctuations in temperature and humidity can cause condensation and lead to mold growth and — in extreme cases — could affect the indoor air quality by increasing chemical emissions and odors from products. And lastly, seek out and purchase office products with the lowest possible chemical emissions.

A healthy workplace can lead to a more productive workforce. With some small changes, you can stop choking off employee productivity by cleaning up the air they breathe.

How to determine an appropriate building fabric response to the climate?

Winston Churchill said, “we shape our buildings and, in time, our buildings shape us.”
The relationship between People, Climate and Buildings is non- linear and complexly interdependent. Changes of temperature with time can cause discomfort if they are not under the control of building occupants. The building fabric is a critical component of any building, since it both protects the building occupants and plays a major role in regulating the indoor environment. Consisting of the building’s roof, floor slabs, walls, windows, and doors, the fabric controls the flow of energy between the interior and exterior of the building.

It is often difficult to anticipate indoor environmental quality problems since prevailing materials and construction practices change faster than scientists are able to evaluate their potential health impacts. Health and comfort can also be affected by physical factors, such as lighting and heat, and by the physical organization of the space. The air-handling systems can affect the amount of moisture in a building and thereby prevalence of upper respiratory tract symptoms. Building design, operation, and maintenance can all have critical impacts on worker health and well-being, and some interventions have been found to improve health.     

The building fabric must balance requirements for ventilation and daylight while providing thermal and moisture protection appropriate to the climatic conditions of the site. Fabric design is a major factor in determining the amount of energy a building will use in its operation. Also, the overall environmental life-cycle impacts and energy costs associated with the production and transportation of different envelope materials vary greatly.

There is term called Thermal comfort is influenced by factors that affect the way the body loses and gains heat. Other than the critical component of temperature, these factors include:

  • Air movement (breezes or draughts)
  • Humidity
  • Radiant heat sources (e.g. direct sunshine) heat sinks (e.g. cool surfaces)

Thermal comfort can be considered generally as a range of temperatures that is influence by these factors. For example, a higher temperature may still be comfortable.
If cross-ventilation is present, while high humidity will reduce evaporative cooling and lower the upper temperature limit.

Building Fabric






What we have discussed above is scientific reason behind what we face in our daily life. Generally what happens are maximum temperatures usually occurring after noon and minimum temperatures in the early morning. The range varies according to location, with high variation in continental areas, and low variation in maritime areas.

Diurnal temperature variation

A second important factor in fabric design is what occurs inside the building. If the activity and equipment inside the building generate a significant amount of heat, the thermal loads may be primarily internal (from people and equipment) rather than external (from the sun). This affects the rate at which a building gains or loses heat.

Building Configuration also has significant impacts upon the efficiency and requirements of the building fabric. Careful study is required to arrive at a building footprint and orientation that work with the building fabric to maximize energy benefit.

Transmission loss through ground floor

In keeping with the whole building approach, the entire design team must integrate design of the fabric with other design elements including material selection; daylighting and other passive solar design strategies; heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) and electrical strategies; and project performance goals. One of the most important factors affecting fabric design is climate. Hot/dry, hot/humid, temperate, or cold climates will suggest different design strategies. Specific designs and materials can take advantage of or provide solutions for the given climate.

As we have already discussed that building fabric Consists of the building’s roof, floor slabs, walls, windows, and doors, the fabric controls the flow of energy between the interior and exterior of the building. We have to seriously think of alternatives that can be more effectives yet environment friendly. We have been using glass in buildings, is glass the best option we have? Although the glass facade looks striking, glare remains a major problem. As most glass curtain walls cannot be opened, ventilation is another issue that needs special attention. Glass is also poor in terms of heat preservation, leading to higher costs in the operation of air-conditioners. I am not against using glass in building design; then what else below mentioned are examples  

“In a desert country like Qatar that is sunny all year round, it is not logical to build towers with glass facades that attract the heat of the sun to the inside of the building. The air conditioners will need to use more power to be able to cool the heat that was attracted to the building through the glass façade. There are alternatives to glass and aluminum facades. We can use stone for example in the facades, it will look good and it is in line with the desert environment. This doesn’t mean going back to the past, but to respect and develop elements of the past according to the changing needs and requirements of modern life. “We need to combine old and modern elements to come up with a new architectural style. It’s just an example of how people have already started thinking about using alternative building materials.

 A more sensible way of designing a building is to take the environment into consideration when designing the building in the first place. When we work with nature like this, the need for mechanical and artificial heating and cooling is reduced, with considerable savings in energy use. This saving is not just financial, but also environmental.
Orientation of your property to maximize natural resources, and eliminate un-necessary heating & cooling. Understanding the path of the sun and it’s angle in the sky at various times of year is key to working with nature in order to reduce energy costs.

Sun Path Diagram

The sun rises daily in the east and sets in the west. In summer in North America, it will pass almost directly over-head at noon, whilst in winter its path will be low in the southern sky. This is true for any location north of the equator, and the further north you go, the lower the sun will be in the southern sky – south of the equator the sun follows a path that is low in the northern sky.

Therefore, to let the sun inside the house in winter, most windows should be on the southern side. Windows on the east and west tend to lose more heat than they gain in winter and they can cause overheating in summer since they receive hot morning and afternoon sun. A roof overhang over southern windows shades the windows in summer while allowing sunshine in during winter, due to the lower position of the sun in the sky – the sun shines in under the overhang to heat the inside of the house

If the sun is allowed to stream in through a window, the room will warm up. If there is a concrete floor or thick walls, they too will warm up and stay warm for a long time and release heat slowly into the room after the sun has gone down. The walls and floor act as thermal mass to store the heat gained. Stone, concrete, brick, adobe and rock chips are all good thermal storage materials, which can be incorporated in walls, floors and a fireplace.

Cooling a Building
Besides providing heat during winter, successful climate sensitive buildings are cool in summer. Sufficient overhang protects the south facing windows from the high summer sun while at night, the house must be well ventilated to cool the place down. Insulation and thermal storage that retain heat in winter will keep the building cool during hot days.

In very hot climates ventilation is important. For example, a front porch is used to cool the air before it circulates through the house via the windows, which open on the porch. Plants and trees are also cooling, preventing heat to be reflected off bare ground while deciduous creeper growing over a porch will shade it in summer and let the sun through in winter when the leaves fall.

Building Materials
The skin of a building is made up of various materials, which may reflect, absorb, store, transmit or resist heat. In winter, retarding heat loss is as important as admitting sunlight, so the roof needs insulation, normally in the form of a ceiling with additional bulk insulation on top.

A wide variety of commercial insulation materials are available on the market, or in low-income houses, a layer of crumpled newspaper is better than no insulation at all, but fire risks should be considered. The curtains help to insulate windows while in very cold climates people use double-glazing (two sheets of glass with a gap between them) to reduce heat loss through windows. Similarly, a double wall (a double brick wall with an air gap in between) can be used to prevent losses and gains through walls.

Building Insulation

 The shape of a building is also important from an energy point of view. A tall, slender building has a high surface area to volume ratio. Ideally a building should be compact, with a low surface area to volume ratio, since the building’s surface is the element through which the heat transfer occurs.

 Some practical advice….

  • Ceiling / loft insulation will reduce the need for heating the home and could reduce energy costs by 50%
  • Plastering is an excellent method for insulating walls, as it improves the moisture resistance. Within walls, non conducting material such as polystyrene sheets can b used.
  • Traditional building materials such as mud bricks, thatch roofs, clay walls and floors are all also excellent sources of insulation
  • In North America, window and doorframes are now most often made of steel except in the coastal areas where rust is a problem and wood is the material of choice. Wood however, provides a better insulation than steel.

Climate sensitive design principles can be incorporated to various degrees in office buildings, social housing, private homes as well as apartment buildings and townhouses. Incorporating energy efficient design principles, especially in the delivery of low cost housing, would have numerous benefits to the poor families living in these houses. Low-cost houses may be cheap to build, but their running costs are astronomical. Because of the use of energy-inefficient materials, it is sometimes warmer outside the house than inside. The costs of keeping these houses heated come out of the earnings of the people who can least afford to pay them – heating can cost poor people up to 60% of their income.

Net Zero Building

There are tangible benefits through the use appropriate building fabric such as:

  • Reducing extremes of heat and cold within your home, improving quality of life
  • Working more with nature, the health of people working or living within buildings improves
  • Energy demand reduces due to less need for artificial heating , lighting and cooling
  • Savings on energy costs (electricity and heating bills), therefore releasing funds for other basic essentials such as food, clothing and education
  • Financial benefits through energy and subsequent monetary savings
  • Environmental benefits through reduced air pollution; which is a result of less ‘dirty’ fuels being used
  • Improved air quality reduces the cases of respiratory and associated illness
  • Benefit to power suppliers through reduced/eliminated peak electricity demand

 A house – your home, an office – any building, can be seen as a shelter, protecting an indoor space from the weather and external elements. Our shelters allow us to maintain a comfortable environment, free from the extremes of heat or cold outside. For achieving this we need to be careful while choosing the fabric of our buildings. That will not only serve the purpose but will also help us in achieving the maximum output. Good health results in maximum attendance of the employee.

Organisations always have concerns about employee health, so healthy employee means maximum output. Better concentration for student results in better academic performance. If we will start now then our future generations will also get benefit from it. Because building we make are not only for us but for our future. Therefore let us make our future bright.                                            

Get to know your manufacturer

We spent a few hours on Friday afternoon discussing VRV system efficiencies with John Fraser Mifsud of Daikin.

What was very interesting was their process of matching condensers, compressors and evaporators to suit job requirements. They can match condenser sets to reduce space constraints or similarly to improve energy efficiencies. John lamented that they had been “trying to get the message out there” but with limited penetration so far. I am trying to do my bit with this blog.

They have been experimenting with success in their Sydney  office. By raising (Saturated Suction Temperatures) SST alone, they had recently experienced a 25% reduction in HVAC energy, and it appears they are on track for exceeding a 5 Stars NABERS with air cooled equipment.

Some of what was discussed quantitatively is covered by confidentiality agreement, yet I cannot help but contemplate how often a consultant is able to get the opportunity to sit down with a manufacturer’s representative and work through the energy efficiency options. From my perspective, the benefits were significant. We now understand better a well-known solution that can be easily maintained, capable of highly efficient configuration, modular and air-cooled.   It certainly can make our work easier and our clients dreams more easily attainable.

Please understand – the physics obviously are unchanged. And I am sure the other VRV manufacturers such as Mitsubishi and Sanyo can also provide these configurations. What I am promoting is that there is less reliance upon catalogue information and more discussion with the manufacturer of choice to understand their energy efficiency options. You may be pleasantly surprised, as I was, to discover the work they have done.

Daikin VRV System

The SEED Kitchen Ventilation Control System


The SEED KV control System

What is the product?
The SEED KV control system comprises fan controllers and sensors. It uses an electronic nose and an “odour nuisance map” to control kitchen fan ventilation systems and filtration systems.

It has several systems of sensors:-
1) A sensor system indicating minimum turndown from a capture perspective inside the kitchen. This uses the German Ventilation Code VDI 2052 to determine the minimum flow rate to capture emissions inside the kitchen.
2) A sensor system polling external conditions and their ability to hinder or enhance odour dilution. This compares wind direction and strength to a site-specific “odour nuisance map”. It calculates the predicted dilution effect of the external conditions.
3) A sensor system using an artificial nose that determines the “odour units” of the discharge. This uses a vast array of electronic and chemical sensors to determine the likely odour units. It is site-calibrated across key chemicals from the cooking process, mostly polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).

With the inputs of these sensor systems, the controller calculates what minimum fan
speeds the system can operate at to maintain EPA compliance. If scrubbing, UV or grease extraction systems are installed, it can provide control or switching such that these systems only operate as required by external conditions. This can prevent unnecessary operational costs such as water, energy and detergent. It also greatly extends the life of these systems.

What is unique?
1. SEED KV uses “an electronic nose”. 
2. SEED KV evaluates external conditions in terms of odour nuisance and manages fan speeds and filtration systems such that odour nuisance is prevented in an energy efficient fashion. 

No other ventilation system in USA or Australia uses this combination of sensors or this technique.

Modern Kitchen ventilation controllers
Note there are a number of products on the market that will turn down kitchen exhaust fan speeds in response to various signals such as hood temperature or optical sensors.
Whilst they save energy, they may be placing the owner at risk of odour nuisance complaint.

When kitchen ventilation systems slow down, the threat of odour nuisance rises because:-
1) The discharge is less diluted by external conditions because it discharges at a lower velocity. 
2) The discharge may be more polluted [subject to hood configuration]. 
3) The filters become less effective because they rely on velocity for “impingement” (capture).

The Australian standard for kitchen ventilation outlines minimum velocities for discharge and minimum filtration efficiencies. The purpose of these requirements is not to improve conditions inside the kitchen but to improve amenity outside the building.

When systems slow down, the owner risks allegations of non-compliance and of creating odour nuisance.

Why would an owner want to install SEED KV?
SEED KV is programmed to permit energy saving reductions in air quantities whilst
maintaining operations where odour nuisance is unlikely to be substantiated. The odour sensors will maintain 5 olf or lower at the site boundary.

It ultimately provides the owner the peace of mind that odour nuisance cannot be
substantiated. If a scrubbing system fails, the owner gets an immediate signal that there is a problem. This may enable them to proactively engage their neighbours before the complaint reaches a legal scenario.

Common examples of odour nuisance include:-
1) Restaurant discharges near low level apartments 
2) Kitchen discharges near residential or commercial buildings

To know more about this product email


Are Green Buildings Unfamiliar Territory?

I recently travelled from Australia to Chicago for business. I hailed what I thought was a cab and hopped in the backseat. The driver asked me what I was doing and I said I wanted to go “downtown”. I suddenly realised the driver was no cab driver but a policeman, and the car was no cab but a police car. I quickly escaped and joined the laughter of surrounding Americans as I went searching for another cab. We can do weird things in unfamiliar territory.

Recently I was asked to provide some consultancy for a well established building owner. He advised me his business was “not into this green stuff” and they needed some help as they were in unfamiliar territory. LEED ratings, energy credits, it was another language to him. I struggled to find a meaningful explanation when it struck me – we have green building techniques all around us in our homes.

I asked him whether he did any of the following at home (take the test yourself):-
1)Used a recycling bin
2)Installed low flow shower fixtures or dishwashers
3)Used an inverter AC unit
4)Put insulation in his ceiling or caulked up any gaps in his home.
5)Replaced incandescent lighting with fluorescent lighting
6)Studied his energy bill
7)Went around turning off lights when not needed
8)Caught the Elevated train to work

As we discussed the home analogy further, it was apparent he did many green things at home but not because he was thinking of the environment. He dumped his laundry water on the grass because it helped the grass stay green during water restriction months. Scraps were composted because it was good for the wife’s gardening. He had cancelled his paper subscription because he preferred his news emailed to him. He travelled less and skyped more because it was easier for him.

If you do think of green buildings as unfamiliar, take a closer look at what you do at home. I regularly find once people can compare what they do at home to what they think they want to do for their next LEED building, they are much more engaged and enthusiastic. Hopefully it will stop them “hopping in the wrong cab”.

We are pleased to start SEED Blog!


what is SEED about?

I am often asked “what is SEED about?” At first,  the standard elevator pitch comes to mind – “helping your project reach it’s sustainability potential”.  As I reflected upon it, I realized my long term clients don’t care a toss about the pitch. So what is SEED about?

SEED is a group of engineers that see sustainability opportunity in projects and proposition their clients to take the opportunity up. Did you know the Model T Ford cars built by Henry Ford had a similar fuel efficiency to today’s cars? All of the gains made by engine development, smaller-sized cars, lighter alloys etc has been absorbed by power consuming conveniences such as air conditioning & power steering. Similarly, technology in itself is no silver bullet for green buildings… but it could be.

Often the opportunity is about the arrangement of services. For example, most air conditioning systems will not turn off until the temperature sensor is too cold. Imagine how efficient we could be if we arranged the AC to be warm and then provided extra cooling through air movement, such as through Task Air workstations. We could save energy, give people more control over their comfort systems and provide better IAQ. (For more information, refer to

There are many other examples such as how to arrange building facades or when to expose thermal mass in buildings. The technologies are often older than Henry Ford cars but with some arrangement, they can work harder for the sustainability metrics. That is what SEED is about – arranging architecture and services in a familiar way to achieve better outcomes. If you want more examples, email us or call me



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