Home Air Quality What a Healthy Hotel Should Look Like

What a Healthy Hotel Should Look Like

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Dr. Emer Duffy

Travelers and workers expect a comfortable and healthy hotel environment to work, relax and sleep in. Ensuring good indoor air quality (IAQ) while maintaining building comfort is an essential part of providing a healthy hotel environment.

The concentrations of some pollutants in indoor air are often 2 to 5 times higher than typical outdoor concentrations. Exposure to indoor air pollution can cause symptoms like headaches, poor concentration, and irritation to the eyes, nose, or throat. Poor IAQ is a particular concern for those affected by asthma and allergies, for whom certain pollutants can trigger a range of symptoms, from sneezing and watery eyes to more serious symptoms such as swelling in the throat and trouble breathing.

Poor IAQ can impact sleep quality and reduce cognitive function. A recent study showed reduced decision-making performance in workers exposed to high levels of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Many guests stay and work in hotels during business trips, where a healthy indoor air environment is important to their work productivity.

What Factors Impact Indoor Air Quality in Hotels?

Airflow and ventilation are important factors in IAQ (and thermal comfort) in hotels. Building materials, furnishings, flooring, and paint can release volatile chemicals into the air over time. Cleaning products and textiles can be sources of irritant or sensitizing chemicals. Carpet and fabric covered items such as bedding may harbor dust mites. There may also be a variety of allergens present in indoor air, including mold, dust mites and pet dander (pet fur is carried around on people’s clothing). High indoor humidity can promote mold and dust mite proliferation.

Strategies for Creating a Healthy Hotel

Understanding and controlling common pollutants indoors can help reduce indoor air pollution. Strategies for reducing indoor air pollution include a combination of ventilation, source control and removal of pollutants. These strategies are fundamental to creating and maintaining a healthy hotel.

Ventilation

Ventilation systems are an important factor in determining both thermal comfort and IAQ in hotel environments. Ensuring adequate air exchange and filtration is important to maintain high levels of air quality and thermal comfort, and to minimize the potential spread of airborne pathogens indoors.

HVAC Systems

A heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system works by drawing in air from outside and delivering it to the hotel environment. Filtration is an important part of this process that helps to maintain good indoor air quality. Filters have small pores that block particles and allergens from passing through, but that still allow air to pass through.

“High-efficiency particulate arrest (HEPA) filters are a good choice to ensure a high level of air filtration”, Dr John McKeon, CEO of Allergy Standards Ltd. explains. “The asthma & allergy friendly program tests HVAC filters using a test dust containing allergens to ensure that the filters can effectively remove allergens from the air.”

It’s important to ensure that ventilation systems are appropriately selected to deliver adequate air exchange rates. Regular system maintenance and replacement of filter media are important to ensure the system is operating efficiently and safely.

Mold can grow and proliferate in HVAC systems, which can lead to unpleasant odors and release of mold spores into the air (which can trigger asthma and allergies in some people). HVAC systems should be regularly inspected for mold and moisture. Check drains and condensate pans to make sure they’re draining properly. If they are clogged, moisture will accumulate, and this can promote mold growth. It’s important to also ensure that all HVAC ducts and system components remain free of any moisture.

Humidity

The recognized healthy humidity is between 30 and 50 percent but depending on the climate and season, the humidity in a hotel building may stray outside this ideal. Controlling indoor humidity within an optimum window between 30 to 50 percent for humidity balance (as recommended by the EPA) contributes to better indoor air quality and is important for guest comfort and prevention of mold growth.

If high humidity is a concern, then improving airflow and ventilation can help to dry the air out, as can using a dehumidifier. In bathrooms where mold can be problematic, exhaust fans should be provided for guests to use after they take a shower or a bath. Regular inspections for leaks should be carried out. Areas prone to mold growth (such as windows, shower, bath, sink, toilet, and cupboards) should be checked and cleaned if any mold is present. If shower curtains are used in bathrooms, these should be checked for mold, and cleaned or replaced if needed.

Source Control

Generally, the most effective way to improve IAQ is to eliminate individual sources of pollution, or to reduce their emissions. Source control includes selecting, using, and maintaining building materials, furnishings, consumable products, and equipment that are appropriate to the objective of healthy indoor air. Source control can also employ restrictions that eliminate or reduce emissions of harmful substances into indoor air.

Building Materials

Materials used in construction and decorating such as paint and flooring are contributors of indoor pollutants that can affect IAQ in hotels. Paint can be a source of VOCs (during and after application). When choosing paint consider minimizing VOCs and look for water-based paints. It’s important to ventilate well after painting, and to allow sufficient time for paint to dry before hotel rooms are occupied.

Flooring and the adhesives used during flooring installation can also release VOCs into the air over time. Soft flooring can be prone to dust and allergens related to nuisance dust such as dust mite-allergen. Sticky allergen particles can also be more difficult to remove from some types of flooring. When choosing flooring, consider the ease of cleaning.

Use a vacuum cleaner regularly with a high-efficiency filter and a fully sealed system to remove dust and allergens from flooring. Wet-vacuum cleaning or steam cleaning of carpet periodically is recommended for effective removal of allergens. Select flooring and other building materials that have been manufactured (and preferably tested by a third party) to be low emitting in VOCs. The asthma & allergy friendly program tests flooring, paint and other building materials for their impact on the indoor environment.

Bedding

Bedding is an important element to address in the context of a healthy hotel. Some chemicals used in bedding can cause sensitivities or even allergic reactions. Guests can spend up to 8 hours (or more) in their hotel bed where their skin and breathing zones are in close and intimate contact with potential pollutant sources for prolonged periods.

Select bedding products that have undergone independent testing to ensure that any chemicals with allergenic properties are either absent or at suitably low levels for sensitive individuals.

“Bedding encasings can be applied to mattresses, pillows and comforters and are a well-established way to protect from dust mite allergens,” notes Dr. John McKeon. “Washing sheets, blankets and other bedding items in hot water (130°F) is important to reduce any dust mites and dust mite allergens that might be present. CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly bedding has been tested for the presence of residual chemicals, allergen barrier properties and allergen removal through washing.”

Cleaning

Cleaning is an essential part of maintaining a healthy hotel. Regular cleaning of hard surfaces is key for the removal of dirt, germs, and allergens, however, some of the cleaning products used for this purpose can contain ingredients that impact IAQ. Fragrances and room fresheners can also impact IAQ and may contain ingredients that can trigger allergy symptoms.

The American Lung Association recommends using only cleaning products that “do not contain or have reduced amounts of VOCs, fragrances, irritants and flammable ingredients” and that air fresheners should be avoided altogether.

It’s good practice to always ventilate when using cleaning products, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and never mix different products as they may undergo a chemical reaction, which could release harmful pollutants into the air.

The asthma & allergy friendly program tests cleaning products for their allergen removal performance and for their impact on indoor air. A review of the chemical composition of each product is also carried out to ensure there are no allergenic or sensitizing chemicals present, or that the concentration is low enough to warrant no concern for sensitive individuals.

Conclusion

Ensuring good indoor air quality (IAQ) is essential to providing a comfortable and healthy hotel environment. Strategies for reducing indoor air pollution include a combination of ventilation, source control and removal of pollutants. Through consideration of factors such as ventilation, humidity, building materials and allergen and chemical exposure, the control of indoor air pollutants becomes an intrinsic part of providing a comfortable environment for guests.

About the asthma & allergy friendly Program

The asthma & allergy friendly program is operated by Allergy Standards Ltd (ASL), in collaboration with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). This program helps people to identify building materials, consumer electronics, textiles and cleaning products that will make a genuine positive difference to the air quality of their indoor environment. The program utilizes certification standards developed by ASL for relevant categories of products. All certified products undergo testing to those standards by ASL’s designated network of international laboratories. The certification mark is awarded only to those products that meet the criteria of the ASL standards. In this way, the asthma & allergy friendly mark can help people to make an informed choice about products.

References

  1. G. Allen, P. MacNaughton, U. Satish, et al. Environmental Health Perspectives 124 (2016) 805-812. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.1510037
  2. Mold Course Chapter 2: US EPA https://www.epa.gov/mold/mold-course-chapter-2
  3. Cleaning Supplies and Household Chemicals. American Lung Association. https://www.lung.org/clean-air/at-home/indoor-air-pollutants/cleaning-supplies-household-chem

Author Bio

Dr. Emer Duffy is Science Lead at Allergy Standards Ltd (ASL) where she develops and maintains the certification standards behind the asthma & allergy friendly Program. Dr. Duffy holds a PhD in analytical chemistry from the University of Tasmania and has published 20 peer-reviewed research articles in the areas of indoor air pollution, dermatology, and materials science. She has won several awards during her scientific career, including a Marie Curie Individual Fellowship and the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting Award.

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