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Ask These 7 Questions to Know if your Building is Making you Sick

By National Refrigeration February 19, 2019

The average American spends 87% of their lives indoors, according to the National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS) conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This includes time spent in your home and at work, but excludes time you’re in your car, which brings the statistic above 90%!

When you consider we spend almost our entire lives indoors, it’s easy to conclude that the quality of our various indoor environments has a tremendous influence on our health.

Some pollutants can be up to 5x higher indoors than outdoors, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Unfortunately, indoor air quality and good ventilation are often afterthoughts, if they’re thought about at all, when people consider maintaining, upgrading, and expanding their HVAC systems.

Countless reviews for HVAC new construction installation in Rhode Island recommend National Refrigeration. 24-7 emergency service available.

Do you think the poor indoor air quality of your home or office is negatively impacting your health?


This convenient checklist provides 7 questions to quickly determine if you need to hire a professional HVAC technician to address the indoor air quality of your building:

National Refrigeration has residential and commercial HVAC technicians ready to repair and install HVAC equipment. All our heating and cooling technicians get factory training and education on the equipment they service.

Human symptoms

A “sick” building can cause any of the following symptoms:

  • Irritated eyes
  • Hoarseness
  • Headaches
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Faintness
  • Unsettled stomach
  • Heart palpitations
  • Miscarriages
  • Trouble breathing
  • Nosebleeds
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Tremors
  • Swollen appendages
  • Cancer
from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Any one of these conditions doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been exposed to a sick building. NIOSH considers a building “sick” when 20% of the workforce presents the above symptoms. Keep in mind, everyone has a different tolerance for the mold and other toxins associated with problem buildings.

If you, a family member, or coworker exhibit any of the above symptoms without explanation, pay close attention to when the symptoms come on. Often in cases of sick buildings, symptoms subside or go away when an affected person is out of the building.

Questions to ask:

  • Do I have chronic discomfort from one of the “sick” building symptoms?
  • Are your symptoms aggravated when you’re at work or home?
  • Do your symptoms go away completely when you’re out of the house or office for extended periods?
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Building symptoms

Some signs of a building being sick are visible and others are not, according to the SmarterHouse project by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Adverse environmental conditions caused by dirty ductwork polluting the air won’t be visible. Exposure to carbon monoxide from a hot water heater or cancer-causing elements like radon also won’t be detectable by sight, smell, or taste.

To detect these “invisible” types of pollutants, you need to call an expert. In Rhode Island’s weather conditions, the two most typical types of visible building symptoms result from:

  • Too much air flow
  • Too little air flow

A drafty building runs inefficiently all year, but the easiest time to detect too much air flow is during the winter. Stand by windows, doors, HVAC vents, and exterior walls and try to feel any chill air on your skin. This is a good indicator that added insulation and sealing is needed.

Static electricity is also a red flag for too much air flow. The dry conditions cause frequent discharges when you touch objects.

When there’s not enough air flow in a building, your nose will be your tester. Lack of air movement causes moisture to build up and a mildew smell develops. Also, common odors like perfume and food will hang around for a long time.

Questions to ask:

  • Are there chilly drafts in the building during the winter?
  • Is there a lot of static electricity in the winter?
  • Do certain areas smell like mildew?
  • Do odors hang around a long time?
HVAC training for our technicians includes manufacturer education on all equipment. Quality service is part of our HVAC technicians’ job description.

The Prescription for a Sick Building

If your home is hazardously sick, you need to hire professionals immediately. If your workspace is sick, you need to notify management and possibly such organizations as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Most buildings will fall somewhere in the middle. There are most likely several ways to improve indoor air quality and clean up problem areas.

Your first step is to schedule a home energy audit.

In Rhode Island, National Grid’s Rhode Island home energy assessment program will do an energy audit of your home, as well as offer rebates of up to $500 for energy-efficient central air conditioning systems, central heat pumps, and mini-split heat pumps.

The energy audit provides an informed assessment of how your home can use less energy.

For instance, a blower door test will determine the airtightness of your home, and a trained eye can help find drafty spots you may have missed. Along with the audit, you get recommendations for solutions, which may include everything from replacing windows or installing a ductless mini-split to buying a new, ENERGY STAR furnace.

You may be thinking, “What does energy efficiency have to do with a sick building?”

Buildings become sick when they stop running efficiently. That can happen for a number of reasons, from air leaking through old windows to HVAC equipment failing. Indoor air quality requires a holistic solution. The best air purifier won’t solve your allergen problem if those old windows don’t get sealed up or replaced so the pollen stops blowing in. On the flipside, foam insulating a building so it’s super tight and won’t leak any heat can create moisture problems without proper ventilation.

Then, hire the best nearby HVAC contractor.

Whether you decide to install a new HVAC system or upgrade your existing one, you need to have a factory-trained HVAC technician regularly service your system. Nowadays, HVAC equipment is engineered to be precise, which requires regular maintenance and calibration of equipment. Plus, the expert guidance you get will help you get the most out of your equipment. For instance, something as cheap and easy as buying the right air filter can protect you from pollutants caused by:

  • Office equipment
  • Cleaning products
  • Carpets and furnishings
  • Perfumes
  • Fungus, mold, and bacteria
  • Nature (pollen, insects, and rodents)
  • Dampness
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOC)

Sick building syndrome is preventable when you hire the best HVAC contractor near you who can offer affordable prices on heating, cooling, and air quality equipment.

Free quotes on air conditioners, mini-splits, furnaces, boilers, and heating & cooling systems. Get your free consultation to find the best heating, cooling, and air quality system for your home or business.

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Since 1969

National Refrigeration is a unique family company: one where we share our focus on our family of employees with yours. That’s why we offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee. We know that our reputation is on the line with every job that we do and will settle for nothing less than perfection. It’s been that way since our modest beginnings in 1969.

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Whether you need 24-7 emergency service or advice on improving your everyday air quality and comfort—at home and at work—call us at 401-737-2000 or email us.