The Real Cost of Bad Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

The Real Cost of Bad Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

These days it seems that everybody wants good indoor air quality (IAQ) in their workspace, but nobody really knows why. Most of the attention is focused on toxic pollutants related to vehicle emissions, or construction materials, but even mundane things like carbon dioxide can cause problems on an ongoing basis.

Before you decide to tackle an invisible problem like poor indoor air quality (like getting IAQ certification), it’s worth thinking about the actual costs of that problem.

The costs of bad indoor air quality fall into three general categories: short term (acute) productivity loss, long term (chronic) productivity loss, and reputational impacts.


Short term (acute) productivity loss

Poor air quality can affect the productivity of even healthy and active staff. The most common issue is high carbon dioxide (CO2) levels.

As a natural byproduct of breathing (not to mention other sources), CO2 is always present in the atmosphere, so it is not usually thought of as a problem beyond climate change. But higher-than-normal concentrations of CO2 can significantly (and negatively) affect any person in that area.

At higher levels, CO2 can cause drowsiness, headaches, and loss of attention. A Harvard University study from 2015 showed a 50% reduction in cognitive function scores on high-CO2 days as compared with low-CO2 days. Even moderate-CO2 levels caused a 15% reduction in cognitive function scores. That means even moderately high levels of CO2 can significantly impair productivity, with increased risk of mistakes, longer time required per task, and sub-optimal decisions.

With cost impacts like that, it’s worth remembering that building ventilation is not just about moving cool air – it’s about moving fresh air.

Long term (chronic) productivity loss

Certain factors in the air can also cause health impacts serious enough to merit medical leave – a full day of productivity (or more) lost. A common example in Asia is respiratory problems resulting from high PM2.5 levels.

PM2.5 (Particulate Matter of diameter <2.5 micrometers) usually comes from some sort of burning or combustion. In urban areas, that might come from coal-fired power plants or motor vehicles (especially diesel vehicles). In areas near industrial activity, that could come from industrial burning of coal, gas, or other combustible fuels. Even rural areas can produce significant amounts of PM2.5 through agricultural burning.

Moreover, whatever the source, PM2.5 is often blown great distances by the wind to affect areas that do not produce much PM2.5 themselves. A good example is the haze that occasionally descends upon Singapore, or the smog that blows from the Pearl River Delta down to Hong Kong.

High PM2.5 levels have well-known long-term effects on health, even increasing mortality from heart attacks, stroke, and lung cancer. Keeping PM2.5 levels low indoors, where people spend most of their time, can truly save lives.

But even shorter term exposure to PM2.5 can trigger or worsen chronic diseases like asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory problems. That means that a polluted day every now and then can cause a significant increase in medical leave applications and thus productivity loss. Once again, keeping PM2.5 levels low indoors can have a big impact on keeping staff healthy and productive.


Reputational impacts

Your customers may not care about the air quality in your office, but your staff probably does. A company that makes an effort to maintain high air quality in the workspace shows its employees that it cares about their well-being and values them as an important resource for the company. Have you ever walked into an office and thought “this would be a nice place to work”? Part of that perception is air quality – whether it’s temperature, humidity, CO2, or a lack of other chemicals.

On the other hand, a company that asks employees to work in an unhealthy environment with stale air will fight an uphill battle to show employees that the company cares about their well-being. This will ultimately lead to higher turnover and higher costs.



The costs of bad IAQ may not be easily visible, or attributable to IAQ, but they are real and significant. Taking active control of your indoor air quality can have a significant impact on productivity, increasing the output of your most precious resource – your people. Get in touch with us today to learn how you can take control of your IAQ.

About En-trak

En-trak is an award-winning cleantech IoT company. We design and sell cloud-based solutions to help enterprises manage and optimize their energy consumption. Our flagship solution En-trak™ Energy enables users to know where, when and how they are using energy in real-time.

With continuous monitoring and advanced analytics, we’ve helped over 300+ world-class clients including Hong Kong Stock Exchange, National Environmental Agency, and Fuji Xerox achieve their sustainability goals. We’ve also launched our patented En-trak™ Smart Lighting solution designed to help companies and building owners to automate and optimize their office lights.