Sick Building Syndrome: How to Make Your Home and Office Work for You

SICK BUILDING SYNDROME refers to a number of factors inherent in a room that negatively affect human health. This is not always a consequence of violation of building standards – much depends on finishing materials, the quality of furniture and the organization of space. How to “cure” your home or office, we found out from the experts: academician of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, expert of the World Health Organization Yuri Rachmanin, chief architect of the “Quadrim” interior design service Viktor Shutka, designer-planner, founder of his own interior studio Olga Kondratova and director of the Internet boutique BORK Evgenia Morozova. 

How to purify the air and why humidify it

The air in almost any room contains industrial and household pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas released when cooking on a gas stove. They are joined by biological agents – viruses, bacteria, fungi, and often allergens – pollen or animal hair. The more polluted the air, the higher the risk of developing respiratory diseases, allergic reactions and immune disorders. Being in a stuffy room is at least unpleasant, everyone knows the state when it is difficult to concentrate due to lack of fresh air. 

It is very important to ventilate the room daily in the morning and in the evening for at least fifteen minutes. Powerful vacuum cleaners help remove dust and small solid particles, and an air cleaner for bacteria and viruses. Modern devices usually include several filters that solve different problems. For example, charcoal helps get rid of volatile organic compounds and unpleasant odors, and the so-called HEPA filter is designed to collect the smallest particles from the air. Air purifiers can be compact – for example, for improving your own workplace or a small room. Heavy duty models are suitable for large apartments and offices.

If the air humidity is low, for example due to batteries or an air conditioner, the skin and mucous membranes can dry out noticeably. This is especially noticeable at the beginning of the heating season, when you constantly want to smear your face and hands with cream or drink a glass of water. Viruses that cause colds more easily “sit” on dry mucous membranes – in fact, it loses some of its natural defense mechanisms. The normal humidity level is 50–65% and a humidifier can be used to maintain this. Evgeny Morozov advises to make a choice in favor of models that evaporate water in a natural way, and fill them with filtered water.  

Why do we need “green walls”

Phytowalls are no longer an innovation, but they are not yet very common. These vertical structures with pockets where indoor plants are planted and automatic watering are not only a decorative element. About 50 plants (spathiphyllum, aglaneoma, chlorophytum, fern, sheflera, Benjamin’s ficus and others) are placed on one square meter of phytowalls – few people have the opportunity to place so many plants on horizontal surfaces. They purify and humidify the air, partially absorb electromagnetic radiation, and in exchange they emit phytoncides – substances that suppress the growth of pathogenic bacteria and fungi – and, of course, oxygen. Green walls saturate the air with oxygen so that the chemical composition of the atmosphere of an apartment or office can approach the microclimate of a forest.

According to the investigation of the US Environmental Health Study National Institute medium polluted indoor air deteriorates thinking, reduces productivity, and may be the cause of cognitive disorders. During the scientific experiment, the participants worked in their usual office conditions, in a “green office” and in conditions close to working in the open air – for this, the ventilation level in the premises, as well as the content of carbon dioxide and other chemical compounds, were changed). It turned out that clean air increased the ability to make quick decisions in critical situations by an average of 115%, think strategically by 150% and process information by 260%.   

Wet cleaning and steam

Standard apartment cleaning: vacuum the carpets and the floor, wipe the dust off the surfaces with a damp cloth, wash the floor. Wet cleaning is recommended once or twice a week, and you can make it more efficient and faster with a steam cleaner. These devices do not require the use of household chemicals, and the principle of their operation is extremely simple: the water heats up, turning into steam. The latter dissolves grease and removes dirt from a wide variety of surfaces: tiles, wood, delicate fabrics. The set of a steam cleaner usually has several attachments: for cleaning the floor, upholstered or cabinet furniture, curtains, glass, and the intensity of vaporization is easy to adjust.  

How to reduce the noise level

If you hear what the neighbors on the floor are doing, or cars on the street bother you with the windows closed, then the problem is low noise insulation. This is not only unpleasant, but also unsafe: noise increases stress levels, and the body reacts to this by releasing certain hormones and even raising blood pressure . Over time, this can lead to a wide variety of disorders, from insomnia to cardiovascular complications like stroke. Of course, against the background of complete health, myocardial infarction from background noise alone is unlikely to develop, but noise is a removable risk factor – which means it is better to eliminate it.  

In Russia, the maximum permissible noise level in the daytime (from 7 to 23 o’clock) is 55 decibels, at night – no more than 45 decibels. To find out if the values ​​are exceeded, an independent examination can be carried out in the room. Based on its results, a protocol is drawn up, an ecological passport is drawn up, if necessary, recommendations are made on how to improve noise insulation.

According to architect Viktor Shutka, wooden double-glazed windows are the most environmentally friendly sound insulators. However, due to the high cost, not everyone can afford to install them. An alternative option is plastic windows. Plastic loses to wood in environmental friendliness, but it is becoming more and more safe. For example, some companies produce eco-lines of windows, where lead is replaced with a safe alloy, and the plastic itself is of very high quality. Such windows are practically harmless to health and even recyclable. Designer Olga Kondratova believes that the right solution to the problem of sound insulation, as well as improving air ventilation, is double-glazed windows in wooden frames. If the wooden window frames in the apartment have survived from the 1910s to the 1960s, they can be restored by replacing the windows themselves with double-glazed windows.

Decorating with sound-absorbing materials such as cork or Nordic softwood and a multi-layer front door is another effective way to reduce noise exposure. To keep the office or apartment as quiet as in a library, the walls should be made of environmentally friendly basalt wool (however, this option should be taken into account even at the stage of rough work during the repair). Unfortunately, the use of sound absorbing materials usually takes up additional floor space. For those who are not ready to put up with this (for example, in the case of a small apartment), there is a backup idea – to increase the number of dense fabrics that absorb sounds. Walls can be covered with textile panels and large carpets can be laid on the floor.

local_offerevent_note September 2, 2021

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