Back to Insights

Give Indoor Air Quality Credit

Hardip Mann 28 Apr 2015

We spend on average 20 hours a day indoors, so knowing how we can reduce Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) concentrations in buildings is important as Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) directly affects building users’ productivity123. VOCs are all the indoor air pollutants that affect IAQ, such as components in air fresheners, smoke, and importantly, the materials we use to build and furnish buildings that release harmful VOCs such as formaldehyde.

It is important to know how we can reduce VOC in our buildings

The levels of VOCs in a new or refurbished building can be mitigated at design and construction stage by careful planning and material specification. To help with this, the BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) 2014 includes four Health and Wellbeing 02 (Hea 02) Credits for IAQ for project teams to aim towards and help improve IAQ for building users.

  • Hea 02 Credit 1 encourages the production of an IAQ plan to instigate measures, such as removal and/or dilution of contaminant sources, to mitigate and minimise indoor air pollution. This plan was mandatory under BREEAM 2011 in order to achieve any further credits under Hea 02, and it is a shame that this not mandatory anymore, since early consideration of the planning of mitigation measures as part of a good IAQ plan to reduce VOCs, is paramount to creating a healthy indoor environment.

  • Hea 02 Credit 2 considers the influence of the outdoor surroundings on the indoor air. Many low-rise, tight-site buildings are unable to gain this credit due to adjacent sources of external pollution, such as car parks and roads.

  • Hea 02 Credit 3 focuses on specifying finishing products that emit low levels of VOCs (e.g. paints, varnishes, flooring etc.) to mitigate Total VOC (TVOC) levels in the indoor air. In offices, for example, high VOC levels can result from new finishes such as  paints/varnishes, wall/floor coverings, ceilings etc. Although not currently within the scope of BREEAM, even office equipment such as photocopy machines, can release VOCs into the air.

  • Measurement of VOCs is important, and the Hea 02 Credit 4 deals with measuring formaldehyde (HCHO) and TVOC levels to ensure they are within WHO guidelines. Obviously, adoption of measures within the IAQ Plan (Credit 1), and specification of low VOC finishing materials (Credit 3) should help teams comply with WHO guidelines.

Not all VOCs can be measured using the same single methodology, as is stipulated for HCHO and VOCs in the BRE Guidance, so BRE have prescribed the BS ISO 16000 Standards of measurement4. BRE have prescribed guidelines for HCHO and TVOCs as equal or less than 100 microgrammes per cubic meter averaged over 30min, and 300 microgrammes per cubic meter averaged over 8 hours respectively (in line with Building Regulation requirements)4. The values measured should be reported in the BREEAM assessment and reporting tool, which will help BRE compile useful data on IAQ concentration in different buildings.

3 Pancras Square in London's King's Cross is targeting
BREEAM Outstanding and Hea 02 Credits

In future, it would be very interesting to understand the relationship between HCHO and TVOC concentrations occurring in different building variants, and in future, consideration of measurement of particulates, mould and other air quality markers in operational buildings. In the meantime, let’s all make an effort to improve IAQ and working and living environments for all.

Hardip Mann is an Indoor Air Quality expert, having completed his PhD in Environmental Sampling and lead the BRE’s IAQ Technical Consultancy team. For more information on our sustainability services please contact us.


1Proceedings of Healthy Buildings 2000, Vol. 1 635 Productivity is affected by the air quality in Offices;  Pawel Wargocki, David P Wyon and P Ole Fanger

2Wyon DP: The effects of indoor air quality on performance and productivity 2004;14 Suppl 7:92-101

3 R. Kosonen a,∗, F. Tan; The effect of perceived indoor air quality on productivity loss Energy and Buildings 36 (2004) 981–986

4 BREEAM 2014 v3.0 sec 5.0 Health and Wellbeing: sub-Hea02 Indoor Air Quality



Back to Insights