Sick Building Diagnostics

Sick Building Diagnostics

What is Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)?

Sick building syndrome (SBS) is a situation in which occupants of a building experience acute health effects that are apparently linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or single cause can be identified. The complaints may be localized in a particular room or zone, or may be widespread throughout the building.  Problems may involve the structure or mechanical systems, however, frequently the activities of the occupants are the issue.

Loss of productivity, absenteeism, unhappy tenants and the threat of litigation as a result of poor indoor air quality (IAQ) can negatively impact return on investment and building occupants’ health.  Building tenants and office workers believe indoor environmental quality (IAQ, lighting, comfort) are among the most important components of job satisfaction.  Some tenants are willing to pay more in rent to obtain benefits from intelligent buildings, including enhanced building controls, ventilation and IAQ.  A study, What Office Tenants Want: BOMA/ULI Office Tenant Survey Report, analyzed 1800 office tenant surveys in 126 metropolitan areas.  The results of a series of national opinion surveys consistently showed that overall concern for indoor air quality is at an all-time high.  With respect to office workers, 75 percent of people who are employed full-time ranked the quality of air at work as very important, another 20 percent believed it is somewhat important, but only 3.1 percent said that it was not important.

Some factors that may contribute to occupant discomfort and adverse health effects are not readily observable, such as elevated levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from office or building products, furnishings and office equipment; microbial contamination deep within wall cavities or heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems; inadequate ventilation rates; or an imbalanced HVAC system. It is easy to overlook potential problems that are not directly observable or do not constitute an immediate crisis.

What are the symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome?

Building occupants complain of symptoms associated with acute discomfort that may affect worker productivity and increase absenteeism. These symptoms include headaches, eye/nose/throat irritation, a dry cough, dry or itchy skin, dizziness and nausea, difficulty in concentrating, fatigue, allergy issues, and sensitivity to odors.  Most of the complainants feel relief soon after leaving the building.  Individuals with allergies, asthma, respiratory disease, and suppressed immune systems are particularly susceptible to indoor contaminants.

Our Approach

Our goal is to assist you in identifying, understanding, and correcting any issues that may contribute to the effects of Sick Building Syndrome.  Evaluation considerations include building performance, mechanical system condition/ performance, structural conditions, and occupant activities.  Since our practice is strictly limited to environmental testing and consulting – and never remediation – you’re assured of an accurate and unbiased assessment. Our approach follows the EPA model of investigation:

  • Perform interview of the key contacts and/or complainants
  • Review the history of your building
  • Perform a detailed evaluation of the building, occupant activities, and HVAC systems
  • Perform testing (Note:  Problems are often identified and resolved without the need for costly testing)
  • Report findings and submit mitigation recommendations

When to Call IAQ Management

Our professional, third-party service should be performed in the following circumstances:

  • Real estate transactions
  • Documented verification of healthy indoor environment will enhance the marketing, lease negotiation, or enjoyment of a building
  • Special use tenants, such as clinics, day care facilities, and retirement living occupy the space
  • Complaints of unusual or irritating odors are reported
  • Perceptions of poor air quality or experience of ill-health symptoms are reported


Alert IconA word of caution: Beware of conflict of interest – hiring contractors to evaluate environmental quality if they may benefit from mitigation recommendations.