Ventilation rates and health: multidisciplinary review of the scientific literature


H. Levin
Building Ecology Research Group
Santa Cruz
Tel.: +1 831 425 3946
Fax: +1 831 426 6522


Abstract  The scientific literature through 2005 on the effects of ventilation rates on health in indoor environments has been reviewed by a multidisciplinary group. The group judged 27 papers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals as providing sufficient information on both ventilation rates and health effects to inform the relationship. Consistency was found across multiple investigations and different epidemiologic designs for different populations. Multiple health endpoints show similar relationships with ventilation rate. There is biological plausibility for an association of health outcomes with ventilation rates, although the literature does not provide clear evidence on particular agent(s) for the effects. Higher ventilation rates in offices, up to about 25 l/s per person, are associated with reduced prevalence of sick building syndrome (SBS) symptoms. The limited available data suggest that inflammation, respiratory infections, asthma symptoms and short-term sick leave increase with lower ventilation rates. Home ventilation rates above 0.5 air changes per hour (h−1) have been associated with a reduced risk of allergic manifestations among children in a Nordic climate. The need remains for more studies of the relationship between ventilation rates and health, especially in diverse climates, in locations with polluted outdoor air and in buildings other than offices.

Practical Implications

Ventilation with outdoor air plays an important role influencing human exposures to indoor pollutants. This review and assessment indicates that increasing ventilation rates above currently adopted standards and guidelines should result in reduced prevalence of negative health outcomes. Building operators and designers should avoid low ventilation rates unless alternative effective measures, such as source control or air cleaning, are employed to limit indoor pollutant levels.