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«Health and Productivity Gains from Better Indoor Environments and Their Implications for the U.S. Department of Energy William J. Fisk1 Staff ...»

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The most effective method of controlling the indoor concentrations of many indoor-generated air pollutants is to eliminate or reduce the sources present indoors. Many of these sources depend on the design, furnishing, operation, and maintenance of the building; for example, the selection of building and HVAC materials and office equipment. Building ventilation requirements are diminished when indoor pollutant source strengths are reduced; thus, indoor pollutant source reduction can save energy. Research and technology transfer efforts are needed to identify the sources that do and do-not affect health and to develop and demonstrate methods of eliminating or reducing the important sources.


1. There is relatively strong evidence that characteristics of buildings and indoor environments significantly influence the occurrence of communicable respiratory illness, allergy and asthma symptoms, sick building symptoms, and worker productivity.

2. Theoretical and empirical evidence indicate that existing technologies and procedures can improve indoor environments in a manner that increases health and productivity. Estimates of the potential reductions in adverse health effects are provided in Table 1.

3. Existing data and knowledge allows only crude estimates of the magnitudes of productivity gains that may be obtained by providing better indoor environments in a manner that improves health; however, the projected gains are very large. For the U.S., the estimated potential annual savings plus productivity gains, in 1996 dollars, are approximately $20 billion to $50 billion, with a breakdown as indicated in Table 1.

4. Over the next two decades, the current goal of providing an adequate indoor environment may be replaced by an emphasis on providing excellent indoor environments that maximize the health, satisfaction, and performance of building occupants. Factors underlying such a paradigm shift would include increasing affluence of the U.S. population, increased expectations for excellent health, the desire to contain health care costs, and the rapidly increasing evidence, summarized in this paper, that IEQ affects health and productivity.

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5. A leadership role for the U.S. Department of Energy is to undertake aggressive research and technology transfer programs which: (1) help stimulate the shift towards excellent indoor environments, thereby improving the health and economic well-being of the US population; and 2) guide the U.S. response so that energy-efficient technologies and practices are used whenever possible to provide excellent IEQ. Research and technology transfer topics that provide opportunities for simultaneous energy savings and improvements in health include the following: building ventilation; evaporative cooling; reducing moisture and humidity problems;

efficient air filtration; better indoor temperature control; natural ventilation;

HVAC system maintenance and operation; rethinking HVAC architectures;

and indoor pollutant source control.

Acknowledgments The author thanks Dr. Richard Diamond and Dr. Ashok Gadgil for their very helpful review of a draft of this document.

This work was supported by the RAND Corporation and by the Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Office of Building Technology, State, and Community Programs, Office of Building Systems of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) under contract No. DE-AC03-76SF00098.

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