A Sociological Approach to Indoor Environment in Dwellings : Risk factors for Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and Discomfort

Abstract: The principal aim was to study selected aspects of indoor environment in dwellings and their association with symptoms compatible with the sick building syndrome (SBS). A validated questionnaire was developed specifically for residential indoor investigations, using sociological principles and test procedures. The questionnaire was mailed to 14,243 multi-family dwellings in Stockholm, selected by stratified random sampling. Females, subjects with a history of atopy, those above 65 y, and those in new buildings reported more symptoms. Subjects owning their own dwelling had less symptoms. A multiple regression model was developed, to identify residential buildings with a higher than expected occurrence of SBS. In total, 28.5% reported at least one sign of building dampness in their home (condensation on windows, humidity in the bathroom, mouldy odour, water leakage). All indicators of dampness were related to symptoms, even when adjusting for demographic data, and other building characteristics (OR=2.9-6.0). Associations between symptoms and other building data was evaluated in older houses, built before 1961. Subjects in older buildings with a mechanical ventilation system had fewer symptoms. Heating by electric radiators, and wood heating was associated with an increase of most types of symptoms (OR=1.2-5.0). Multiple sealing measures (OR=1.3), and major reconstruction (OR=1.1-1.9), was associated with an increase of symptoms. The effect of seasonal adapted ventilation (SAV) was studied in a small experimental study. A 20% reduction of ventilation flow from 0.5-0.8 ac/h to 0.4-0.5 ACH during the heating season increased the perception of poor indoor air quality in the dwelling in general, and in the bedroom. In conclusion, low building age, and building dampness in the dwelling are associated with SBS. In older houses, mechanical ventilation is beneficial. The thesis did not support the view that energy saving measures in general is an important risk factor for SBS, but major reconstruction and multiple sealing measures can be risk factor for symptoms. Reducing the outdoor ventilation flow below the current Swedish ventilation standard (0.5 ACH) may increase the perception of impaired air quality.