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Sunday Scaries: High CO2 Levels

Oxygen is the lifeline to the human body. It provides mental clarity, blood circulation, energy, and movement.  Indoor Air Quality is very important to ensuring that adequate oxygen and carbon dioxide levels are maintained within living spaces. Without proper ventilation, carbon dioxide can build up to dangerous levels. This imbalance of gases can have lasting effects on the mind and body.  Having an HVAC system that helps to maintain this Indoor Air Quality can be fundamental to one’s health.

How High Levels of CO2 Occur:

While all air is mostly the same, composition sometimes varies between indoors and outdoors. A study published by Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory notes that, “People produce and exhale carbon dioxide (CO2) as a consequence of their normal metabolic processes; thus, the concentrations of CO2 inside occupied buildings are higher than the concentrations of CO2 in the outdoor air.” As our bodies go through their natural processes, they exert more CO2 gases into the environment. This difference in concentration can lead to symptoms of ‘Sick Building Syndrome’, an umbrella term for symptoms of fatigue, asthma, weakened immunity, and mental fog that is associated with poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ).

Increases in CO2 can also reflect a broken or poorly functioning HVAC system. If the system is not ventilating properly, CO2 gases may not be exhausted from the building creating a higher concentration. There may also be inefficiencies in how the air is being filtered or exhausted out which require inspection to fix.  Given how damaging this can be in the worst cases, remediating this condition is a high priority for long term health.

High CO2 Levels on the Brain:

Most people are aware of the exchange of gas elements between plant and animal. The air we breathe is made up of 78% Nitrogen, with Oxygen at about 21%, Argon at 1%, and Carbon Dioxide is 0.035% of the air composition. This careful balance is very important to the cognitive functioning of the brain. Without adequate supply of oxygen, or higher levels of CO2 being present, serious impairment can take over the brain. This imbalance in the IAQ is commonly found in places like schools and offices where ventilation is difficult for large facilities.  Feelings of depression or fatigue are also common in these spaces as the brain has difficulty in processing emotions. Oxygen has been directly linked to serotonin levels, which is the happy hormone. The more oxygen present in the body, the more serotonin is also found leading to an influx in mood with the saturation of oxygen. Monitoring these CO2 levels regularly can help maintain productivity and positivity benefiting both the individual and organizations.

High CO2 Levels on the Body:

Having an influx of carbon dioxide can affect more than the brain. Many symptoms appear such as Sick Building Syndrome, including shortness of breath, feeling nauseated, headaches, and having asthmatic or allergy symptoms. High levels of CO2 are also linked to increases in sickness and overall immunity being depleted as ventilation is working improperly. CO2 levels being high for a long time have also been proven to increase heart rate, causing serious risk to those with heart problems or heart disease.

Acceptable CO2 Levels:

There are specific guidelines available for monitoring CO2 levels and maintaining good Indoor Air Quality.

Normal outdoor air reads at about 400ppm.

Anything below 800ppm is an indicator of good indoor air quality. This is the best range for sustaining comfort and adequate ventilation to an indoor space.

Average indoor range for CO2 is anywhere from 400ppm-1,000ppm. These levels are acceptable and provide reasonably fresh indoor air quality.

 Anything beyond this range should be inspected by a technician as soon as possible to prevent any illness or discomfort to occupants.

How to Improve IAQ:

One of the best ways to manage high CO2 levels is through CO2 monitoring. These monitors take readings of your home or building and will alert the user when increased ventilation is required.

Other ways to improve the air quality of a space include:

1.            Replacing your furnace air filter regularly: This cleans air of contaminants while also preventing debris from getting into your HVAC system or duct work.

2.            Controlling the humidity: Humidity set between 30-40% in winter and levels set between 50-60% during summertime. These levels help to prevent sickness and mold.

3.            Paying attention to what you bring indoors: Save home improvement projects for when the room can be properly ventilated. Invest in cleaning supplies that are not harmful to your health.

4.            Have your furnace inspected: Have a technician inspect your HVAC system once a year to ensure that the system is working properly. Will help to elongate the life of the HVAC system while also preventing carbon monoxide poisoning.

5.            Use an Indoor Air Quality Monitor: If CO2 levels appear to be too high, it means your HVAC system isn’t functioning properly with a higher concentration of chemicals, pollutants, and contaminants. If these readings are too low, you are wasting energy from your HVAC system. Monitoring helps to prevent the system from getting out of balance.

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