Indoor Air Quality

Solutions for improving occupant outcomes in the built environment

When designing a building why go further than just meeting the basic ventilation regulations?

We spend up to 90% of our time indoors, in schools, offices, hospitals and our homes. We take it for granted that the air we breathe is clean and pollutant-free. Yet impurities found in both our working and living spaces can cause health problems and a reduction in our general wellbeing.

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) issues may have been worsened by the increased sealing of buildings in recent decades to conserve energy. The interior of modern buildings wood-based furniture contains a wide variety of man-made materials (synthetic fibre carpets, vinyl wall coverings, and plastics) that are often glued in place. Highly efficient building envelopes are now sealing in complex chemical formulations making our modern interior environment substantially different to those of the past (1).

Improving the indoor environment is a major consideration amongst clients and building occupants, most notably those concerned with sustainability and health and wellbeing. Good clean air can reduce health problems as well as enhancing healthy living in both our work and living spaces.

Using British Gypsum’s range of products the incorporate ACTIVair technology along with a good ventilation strategy, it is possible to create environments that offer exceptional indoor air quality for occupants that will have a positive impact on health, wellbeing and productivity.

How does bad IAQ affect people?

Several factors associated with mental and physical health impacts originate from poor indoor environments such damp, noise, lighting, and IAQ (2).

Poor IAQ is being blamed for a host of problems ranging from low worker productivity to increased risk of serious illness, and the resulting remedial action has been as severe as building demolition. Our building interiors, once thought of as providing safe havens from outdoor air pollution, may actually be more polluted than the surrounding ambient environment (1).

Concern about IAQ grew throughout the 1970s with the emergence of sealed buildings and a focus on reducing energy consumption. By the early 1980s, the prevalence of building-related problems had most researchers agreeing there was a phenomenon that is now called ‘Sick Building Syndrome’ (1).

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) comprises of mucous membrane symptoms (related to the eyes, nose, and throat), dry skin, together with what are often called ‘general symptoms’ of headache and lethargy. All these symptoms are common in the general population; the distinguishing feature which makes them part of SBS is their relationship with time spent in a particular building. All except skin symptoms generally improve within a few hours of leaving a problem building (3).

IAQ is clearly important to the health and wellbeing of the building occupants, and improving the environment can also have strong financial benefits. A comprehensive body of research can be drawn on to suggest that productivity improvements of 8-11% are not uncommon as a result of better air quality in offices (4).

Effect of VOCs on health

Pollutants called VOCs – volatile organic compounds – are naturally emitted into our homes, offices and schools by people, pets and cleaning products as well as furniture, carpets, paints and varnishes.

Some of the health problems VOCs can cause: People often complain about health problems after extended periods of time spent indoors. Many of these symptoms can be attributed to VOCs: 

  • Headaches 
  • Nausea 
  • Lack of concentration 
  • Eye irritation 
  • Fatigue 
  • Breathing problems

Why formaldehyde is the most important VOC

You can’t see formaldehyde, or smell it. Therefore there is no way of knowing what concentrations you are being exposed to on a daily basis. Formaldehyde is one of the most common and abundant VOCs in the indoor air:

As Building Regulations lead to more airtight construction, the importance of VOC management becomes more critical.

What are the solutions? How can a more comfortable indoor environment be created?

Thistle PureFinish plaster, Rigidur H plasterboards, Rigitone and Gyptone ceiling products.

The use of ACTIVair technology along with low VOC building materials, furniture and cleaning products, and the careful design of ventilation systems can greatly benefit the health, wellbeing and productivity of building occupiers.

ACTIVair technology:

  • Makes the air up to 70%cleaner**
  • Will produce cleaner, fresher air for at least 50 years**
  • Uniquely captures and converts formaldehyde
  • Poses no risk of re-emission even if the product is damaged

**The  Formaldehyde reduction is based on experimental data following ISO16000-23 standards from 0.4m2 to 1.4m2 installed/ m3 room.  Lifetime is based on a calculation assuming constant Formaldehyde reduction with indoor formaldehyde concentration of 25µg/m3 for ceiling, drywall or combined drywall and ceiling configurations.

Furthermore, ACTIVair technology:

  • Contributes towards 2 BREEAM points under indoor air quality, as part of a management plan and handover test plan
  • Works through an emulsion paint finish
  • Is recyclable through the British Gypsum closed loop Plasterboard Recycling Service (PRS)
  • Has no impact on the performance of the system regarding fire, acoustics and durability

British Gypsum Ceiling Products

British Gypsum has developed a range of acoustic ceilings that combine contemporary, stylish designs with outstanding acoustic properties. Our Rigitone and Gyptone products include ACTIVair technology as standard.


(1) Berglund B, Lindvall T, editors. Guidelines for community noise. Geneva: World Health Organization; 1999

(2) T Hsu, E Ryherd, K Persson Waye, and J Ackerman. Noise pollution in hospitals - Impact on patients. JCOM Vol 19, No 7 July 2012 Pg 301-309

(3) Busch-Vishniac IJ, West JE, Barnhill C, et al. Noise levels in Johns Hopkins Hospital. J Acoust Soc Am 2005;118:3629–45

(4) Ampt A, Harris P and Maxwell M. The health impacts of the design of hospital facilities on patient recovery and wellbeing: A review of the literature. 2008 Centre for Primary Healthcare and Equity, University of New South Wales, Sydney

(5) Ulrich R. and X. Quan. The Role of the Physical Environment in the Hospital of the 21st century: A Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity. Designing the 21st Century Hospital Project, The Center for Health Design. 2004

(6) Ulrich R. Evidence Based Design for better buildings. Welsh Health Estates and IHEEM Conference, Cardiff, 2006

(7) Ulrich R, Zimring C, Xuemei Zhu,  DuBose J, Hyun-Bo Seo, Young-Seon Choi, Xiaobo Quan, and Anjali Joseph. A Review of the Research Literature on Evidence based Healthcare Design. Health Environments Research & Design, 1(3), 2008.

(8) H Salonen , L Morawska. Physical characteristics of the indoor environment that affect health and wellbeing in healthcare facilities: A review. Intelligent Buildings International, 2013

(9) Bayo, M.V., Garcia, A.M. and Garcia, A., 1995, 'Noise levels in an urban hospital and workers’ subjective responses', Archives of Environmental Health, 50 247-251.

(10) Beyea, S.C., 2007, 'Noise: a distraction, interruption, and safety hazard. AORN Journal.

(11) Biley, F.C., 1994, 'Effects of noise in hospitals', British Journal of Community Nursing, 3 (3), 110-113.

(12) Joseph, A., 2010, 'Hospitals that heal’. Hospital design for the 21st century. Asian hospital and healthcare management.

(13) Hagerman I., Rasmanis G., Blomkvist V., Ulrich R., Eriksen C. A. ,& Theorell T. (2005). Influence of intensive coronary care acoustics on the quality of care and physiological state of patients. International Journal of Cardiology, 98 (2), 267–270.

(14) Devlin, A.S. and Arneill, A.B., 2003, 'Health care environments and patient outcomes: A review of the literature', Environment and Behaviour, 35 (5), 665- 694.

(15) Shield B. M & Dockrell J. E. Acoustical barriers in classrooms: the impact of noise on performance in the classroom. British Educational Research Journel. Volume 32, issue 3, 2006

(16) Nelson P B & Soli S. Acoustical Barriers to Learning: Children at Risk in Every Classroom. Language, Speech & Hearing Services in Schools. Oct 2000, 31, 4

(17)Shield B. M. & Dockrell J. E. External and internal noise surveys of London primary schools, Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 2004, 115(2), 730-738.

(18) Acoustics at work. Noise in Office Environments: Its effects and Means to Reduce and Control it. 2011

(19) Abbot, D. Calming the office cacophony. The Safety and Health Practitioner, 2004, 22 (1), 34-36.

(20) Sykes D M. Productivity: How Acoustics Affect Workers’ Performance In Offices & Open Areas. 2004.

(21) Barach, P. (2008). "Strategies to reduce patient harm: understanding the role of design and the built environment." Studies in Health Technology and Informatics 132: 14-22.

(22) White, R. D. (2006). "Recommended standards for newborn ICU design." Journal of Perinatology 26(SUPPL. 3).

(23) Altimier, L. B. (2004). "Healing environments: for patients and providers." Newborn & Infant Nursing Reviews 4(2): 89-92.

(24) Reiling, J. G., B. L. Knutzen, et al. (2004). "Enhancing the traditional hospital design process: a focus on patient safety." Joint Commission Journal on Quality & Safety 30(3): 115-124.

(25) Brown, P. and L. T. Taquino (2001). "Designing and Delivering Neonatal Care in Single Rooms." Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing 15(1): 68-83.

(26) Medibank. The Health of Australia’s Workforce. 2005

(27) Aurell J, Elmqvist D. Sleep in the surgical intensive care unit: continuous polygraphic recording in nine patients receiving postoperative care. Br Med J 1985; 290:1029–32

(28) Chaudhury, H., A. Mahmood, et al. (2006). "Nurses' perception of single-occupancy versus multi-occupancy rooms in acute care environments: an exploratory comparative assessment." Applied Nursing Research 19(3): 118-125.

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