Good air and economy

The cost of bad indoor air in Finland has been estimated at some 6 billion euros annually. This sum is larger than the annual price of the energy used to heat buildings. The Finnish government has invested heavily in energy savings, but far greater savings could be reached by improving the indoor air. No pocket money, the cost to the national economy is huge; it is also a major expense for every company.

Inversely, good indoor air at a workplace significantly increases the work efficiency and the productivity of the company. The cost of bad indoor air has been estimated to be some 1200 euros a year per every Finn. This figure agrees closely with international research results.

Costs of bad quality air
Euros / year
Included in calculations
Deterioration of existing allergies, new allergies 1.18 billion 30 % of the cost of all allergic diseases
Sick leaves 0.8 billion In terms of office work, 600.000 employees, 15 % of absences caused by indoor air
Drop in work efficiency 0.2 billion Office employees' drop 10 %
Hospital infections 84 million Total cost of hospital infections 170 million, half caused by indoor air
Lung cancers caused by radon 34 million 450 cases per year, cost of one case 75.000 euros

Source: Finnish Society for Indoor Air Quality, National Technology Agency of Finland (TEKES)

The estimate includes allergic diseases caused by indoor air moulds, cancers caused by radon, costs of diminished work efficiency caused by the indoor climate, sick leaves caused by bad indoor air, hospital infections, and respiratory and cardiac diseases caused by passive smoking.

The cost to the national economy is huge, but how can the impact of bad indoor air on the productivity of each workplace be assessed?

Two per cent per one degree centigrade
Indisputable evidence points to the fact that in offices a change of one degree centigrade for the worse diminishes productivity by a couple of per cent.

As much as 3000 euros
Average work productivity in Finland is some 50 000 euros a year. If a rise of 1.5-6 % in productivity at offices can be achieved merely by improving the quality of the indoor air, a growth in productivity worth 750-3000 euros every year can be realised.

If the percentage of lost working hours and work efficiency is converted to money, it becomes possible to calculate a sum that would be wise to invest in improving the indoor air. The more people are cramped into an office, the bigger the cost expense per square metre becomes. In that situation the improvement of the indoor air quality has a relatively larger effect.

The most educated part of a company's staff usually works at the office planning, marketing, and managing personnel and finances. Their education is expensive. Furthermore, their wage costs are usually bigger than those of workers at the production level.

All around the western countries there is a trend for workers to move from "factories to studios". In the United States alone GNP share of office employees and schools is one half, so we are dealing with a problem that grows constantly bigger.

Profit drops for building owners also
Costs caused by bad quality indoor air can also be assessed from the point of view of the building's owner. The owner also has to pay many needless expenses that lower the profit from the building or even decrease its value. According to American researchers tenants will leave with more than 50 % certainty if they have to complain about indoor air problems three times or more every year. The commissions and repairs may cost the owner as much as the equivalent of 1.5 year's rent.

It pays to clean up
"The humid Asian air causes problems for ventilation machines. When the temperature inside the ventilation machine drops below the dew point, the water condenses. Where there is moisture, you will also find microbial growth. If untreated, it always causes diseases and symptoms. Therefore it is extremely important to keep the ventilation machinery clean," states Professor Olli Seppänen.

"Humidity or warm climates always demand cooling, which is used without exception in modern office buildings. The heat removed from the buildings is then transferred to the atmosphere in one way or another. Heat transmission often involves condensation. If bad bacteria get into the droplets of condensed water in the cooling system, the conditions for their growth are quite optimal. The penetration of bacteria-laden water droplets back indoors may cause severe negative effects on health."

Dust accumulates in ducts
When we start looking for causes of symptoms, diseases, and a drop in work profitability, we often look at the cleanliness of the ventilation system. A significant rise in productivity can be achieved simply by cleaning the interior surfaces of the ventilation system on a regular basis.

Even if ventilation system cleaning costs rise by a few per cent per year, the money spent will be gained back by a 0-0.3 per cent rise in productivity. In other words, cleaning is very profitable.

It is obvious that many years' accumulation of dust or grease in the ventilation ducts will not improve the quality of indoor air or raise productivity. Even in a normal office building the surface area of the incoming air ducts constitutes some 10 % of the floor surface area. Even in spite of good incoming air filtering, dust accumulates in the ducts and they have to be cleaned. Imagine 10 % of the office's floor surface area not being cleaned regularly. This area would collect quite a thick layer of dust over the years, and the dust would spread throughout the office.

Cleaning becomes more efficient
The Ministry of the Interior's new decree on cleaning ventilation ducts was enforced in Finland in the autumn of 2001. The decree involves the cleaning of ventilation equipment ventilating air mechanically or naturally as well as the cleaning of chambers, blowers, fire insulators, fire restrictors, and other equipment and ventilation ducts belonging to the ventilation system and affecting fire safety.

According to the decree, the ducts of food production facilities and the ventilation ducts and equipment of spray-paint shops, carpenter's factories and workshops, textile factories, laundries, bakeries, and smokehouses must be cleaned once a year. Similarly, the ventilation ducts of premises where there is industrial production or usage of flammable liquid must be cleaned.

The ventilation ducts of hospitals, old people's homes and closed penitentiaries must be cleaned every five years. The same goes for the ventilation ducts of day-care centres, schools, hotels, holiday homes, dormitories, and restaurants.

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