Between sleeping, commuting and working, it’s easy to see how we spend an average of 90% of our time indoors. Thanks to the pandemic, we’re also now much more aware of the impact that air quality can have on our health, particularly in the workplace. For companies, the importance of good air quality for employees’ comfort and well-being should not be underestimated. While we explore this further on in this blog, let’s first understand what we mean by 'poor indoor air quality' and how careful interior specification of floor coverings in particular can help.

Factors contributing to poor indoor air quality

Air pollutants in office buildings can derive from a variety of sources. The most obvious, due to their odour, include substances like office cleaning products, air fresheners and even people’s personal fragrances. Poor ventilation systems can also impact the level of dust and allergens circulating through a building and pollution from outside drifting inside.

Perhaps less obvious however are the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) emitted by an office’s interior furnishing materials and finishes. Often referred to as ‘off-gassing’, these chemicals can include components from paints, upholstered furniture, screening fabrics and floor coverings. While the initial application of paints or adhesives and newly installated furnishings can cause higher levels of emissions at first, these materials can continue to emit potentially harmful VOCs during use. Couple this with poor office ventilation and they can become trapped and ultimately have a prolonged impact on the health of the building’s occupants.

Office space with good air qualityWireframe at SWECO 

Choosing the Best Floor Coverings for Optimum Air Quality

When introducing new furnishing materials into the office environment, as part of a new build or refurbishment, emissions from freshly applied surface coatings and newly unwrapped furnishing materials can be at their highest levels. Checking product labelling and technical specifications for ‘low-VOC’ furnishing and finishes will be a good indicator of their air quality safety. 

For floor coverings such as LVT, carpet tiles or planks, adhesive-free installation options are now available that eliminate the need to use potentially harmful, wet adhesives and other chemicals during the installation process. As well as reducing waste, these systems offer the added benefit of making floor coverings much quicker to install, saving both installation time and cost.

For carpet tiles and planks, Milliken’s TractionBack® friction-coating, applied to the back of the product, also eliminates any need for subfloor treatments or wasteful sticky tabs and their associated packaging.

For luxury vinyl tiles, ‘loose-lay’ options are robust enough under their own weight to stay in place for small spaces. Larger spaces generally only require a minimal amount of adhesive perimeter ‘fixing’ into place.

Workplace with Loose Lay LVT
First Call - Open Shut (LVT) at Clarasys

Does your floor covering product make the grade for low-VOC emissions?

For floor covering products, there are a number of flooring and interior industry certifications that provide the assurance of assessment to the strictest of international test protocols for their impact on indoor air quality.

Among the most recognised of these include:

  • CRI Green Label Plus – Indoor Air Quality Testing program (Carpet and Rug Institute)
  • TUV Proficert Premium - Health and Quality of Interior products
  • Indoor Air Comfort – Gold – Low product emissions certification
  • FloorScore® - for hard surface floor coverings
  • A+ - Émissions dans l’air intérieur – French Certification for furnishings

Indoor Air Quality Certifications

Environmental building standards such as LEED and BREEAM also recognise ‘healthy buildings’ as being about protecting people as well as the planet. While a product cannot be LEED or BREEAM certified, certain attributes of a product can help to gain points in achieve a building’s overall environmental rating including indoor air quality.

Alongside these is the WELL Building Standard which features ‘AIR’ at the top of the list of seven core concepts for well-being (and not just because it starts with an ‘A’!). In relation to VOCs specifically, the WELL guidelines set out rigorous standards for achieving its now widely used healthy building standard.

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Entrance flooring is your friend 

It is estimated that around 80% of soil entering a building is walked in through the front door on people’s shoes. Having no entrance product installed can causes dust and debris to pollute the air in a workplace.  

Professionally installed, high quality entrance flooring systems will stop and contain dirt, debris, and moisture right at the door. The WELL Standard cites tests that shows while 1.8 metres of good entry flooring will trap 40% of dirt, 12 metres can effectively stop 100% of dirt entering a building.

Entrance Flooring - OBEX Tile Cut
OBEX Tile - Galaxy at Turing House, Manchester

In the fight for clean air, effective entrance flooring will not only prolong the life of other floor coverings in the building, but will also reduce the amount of cleaning required, resulting in less cleaning products as well. All good for office air quality.

Why is Indoor Air Quality in the Workplace important?

The World Health Organisation has identified indoor air quality as ‘the world’s largest single environmental health risk’ so this is clearly something employers need to pay more attention to.

In response to this assertion, a recent report by the CBI, recognises how optimising indoor air quality in the workplace can deliver some significant health as well as economic benefits for businesses:

  • Improved health and well-being: Good air quality can reduce the risk of respiratory issues, allergies, and other health problems, resulting in improved overall well-being for employees. 
  • Increased productivity: Clean and fresh air can enhance concentration, cognitive function, and productivity levels.
  • Enhanced comfort: Good air quality provides a comfortable and pleasant working environment, which can boost employee satisfaction and morale.
  • Reduced absenteeism: By promoting a healthier indoor environment, optimal air quality can help reduce sick days and improve employee attendance.

Alongside other measures, investing in carefully specified floor coverings will make an important contribution to improving indoor air quality and is a proactive step towards creating a healthier and more productive workplace. 

Find out more ways that flooring can be used to improve workplace well-being in our related Blog: 5 WAYS THAT FLOORING CAN IMPROVE WORKPLACE WELL-BEING

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