Summary of human responses to ventilation

Indoor Air. 2004;14 Suppl 7:102-18. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0668.2004.00279.x.


It is known that ventilation is necessary to remove indoor-generated pollutants from indoor air or dilute their concentration to acceptable levels. But as the limit values of all pollutants are not known the exact determination of required ventilation rates based on pollutant concentrations is seldom possible. The selection of ventilation rates has to be based also on epidemiological research, laboratory and field experiments and experience. The existing literature indicates that ventilation has a significant impact on several important human outcomes including: (1) communicable respiratory illnesses; (2) sick building syndrome symptoms; (3) task performance and productivity, and (4) perceived air quality (PAQ) among occupants or sensory panels (5) respiratory allergies and asthma. In many studies, prevalence of sick building syndrome symptoms has also been associated with characteristics of HVAC-systems. Often the prevalence of SBS symptoms is higher in air-conditioned buildings than in naturally ventilated buildings. The evidence suggests that better hygiene, commissioning, operation and maintenance of air handling systems may be particularly important for reducing the negative effects of HVAC systems. Ventilation may also have harmful effects on indoor air quality and climate if not properly designed, installed, maintained and operated. Ventilation may bring indoors harmful substances or deteriorate indoor environment. Ventilation interacts also with the building envelope and may deteriorate the structures of the building. Ventilation changes the pressure differences across the structures of building and may cause or prevent infiltration of pollutants from structures or adjacent spaces. Ventilation is also in many cases used to control the thermal environment or humidity in buildings. The paper summarises the current knowledge on positive and negative effects of ventilation on health and other human responses. The focus is on office-type working environment and residential buildings.

Practical implications: The review shows that ventilation has various positive impacts on health and productivity of building occupants. Ventilation reduces the prevalence of airborne infectious diseases and thus the number of sick leave days. In office environment a ventilation rate up to 20-25 L/s per person seem to decrease the prevalence of SBS-symptoms. Air conditioning systems may increase the prevalence of SBS-symptoms relative to natural ventilation if not clean. In residential buildings the air change rate in cold climates should not be below app. 0.5 ach. Ventilation systems may cause pressure differences over the building envelope and bring harmful pollutants indoors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Conditioning
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / prevention & control*
  • Climate
  • Environmental Health*
  • Ergonomics*
  • Humans
  • Hygiene
  • Infections
  • Perception
  • Sick Building Syndrome / etiology*
  • Sick Building Syndrome / prevention & control*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Ventilation*