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Green Certification: Focus Area 8 -- Air Quality Issues

December 19, 2010

by Kit Cassingham

Air quality is a critical but often overlooked element for a green hotel. It has the most immediate impact on guests and staff alike. There is so much an innkeeper can do to improve the indoor air. From striving to use products with low volatile organic compounds to using air purifiers or cleaners, innkeepers can provide the best experience for their guests and save money too. Being an environmentally friendly hotel and working toward green certification is about being good to your cash flow, your guests, and the environment.

What you don't see won't hurt you, right? Well, not necessarily. Air quality is one such situation where what you don't see can definitely hurt you. Indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air!

It seems our modern lifestyle has contributed to poor air quality from two angles. First, the chemicals we introduce into our buildings are big pollutants. Second, tight construction, designed to conserve energy and increase user comfort, keeps fresh air from entering and diluting the affects of our indoor air pollution. Sometimes it's the things we do with the best of intentions that contribute most to bad indoor air quality.

Innkeepers are sometimes the worst offenders. They strive to make the inn smell fresh, the linens seem "sun dried", and pursue a super-duper clean experience for their guests. Often, those very items of "comfort" are the culprits of poor indoor air quality. Research shows that some VOCs (volatile organic compounds) can cause chronic and acute health effects at high concentrations, and some are known carcinogens. Low to moderate levels of multiple VOCs may also produce acute reactions. I wrote an article (Listen to the Canary's Song) about this several years ago, and feel it's important to review frequently.

Few people will argue that tobacco smoke is a problem indoors. We can see it and smell it, and identify the smell with unhealthy conditions. Environmental tobacco smoke contributes to high levels of VOCs, but it's not alone in that. Other toxic compounds, and particulate matter like dander, skin mites, dust, mold, and even bacteria and viruses, contribute to poor indoor air quality as well.

Indoor air pollution is a source of discomfort and illness for many people. The white areas illustrate some of the places where you can improve air quality.

Air Quality in Green B&Bs

Here's the gotcha for indoor air pollution: most comes from indoor sources like

  • adhesives
  • flooring, like carpeting and vinyl
  • upholstery, curtains, and flame retardant treated fabrics
  • manufactured wood products
  • copy machines
  • pesticides
  • cleaning agents
  • air fresheners and perfumes
  • floor and wall finishes
Formaldehyde is a common source of the problem, often being found in many of these items.

Have you heard of sick-building syndrome? It's an increasingly common problem with new construction and renovations. Worldwide it's estimated that up to 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings are subject of excessive complaints related to indoor air quality. It's a syndrome that can be remedied with a bit of attention to detail.

Symptoms can be as subtle as sniffles and as drastic and severe as breathing problems. Headaches, cold-like symptoms, and vision problems are among problems people experience.

The good news is that it's really easy to prevent indoor air pollution.

  • provide fresh air with opening windows and HVAC filters that you keep clean
  • consider air purifiers if your B&B is in a polluted area
  • hire a periodic air duct cleaning service
  • manage repairs to prevent mold growing
  • jump on mold abatement if your inn floods or develops a leak
  • placing live, green plants around the inn
  • using environmentally friendly cleaning products made of natural ingredients, not man-made ingredients from petroleum-based chemicals
  • avoid perfumed products
  • cleaning
  • air fresheners
  • laundry supplies
  • buy products made of natural materials and fibers
  • cotton
  • wool
  • silk
  • wood
  • linoleum (not vinyl) or cork
  • ceramic, porcelain, glass, or silicone (avoiding melamine, plastic)
  • metal (avoiding non-stick surfaces)
  • strive for low-VOC finishes and adhesives
  • paint and sealants
  • glue
  • furniture and floor polishes
  • avoid chemical pesticides and herbicides
  • vent gas-burning appliances
  • hard-surface floors over carpeted floors

The list goes on and on, but this is a good start. My intent is to give you ideas to improve the air quality in your bed and breakfast. You can do that through the items you bring into the inn and use to create a quality guest experience. Guests appreciate a clean inn that has good air quality. That appreciation turns into repeat and word-of-mouth business.

To make sure your guests know the care you are taking to provide them a healthy experience, be sure to list all the steps you take to reduce air pollution and provide great air quality. Communicating all the green and sustainable practices you incorporate improves your appeal to the traveling public, improving your bottom line. too.




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