Offices are one of the most standardised spaces in buildings, exhibiting an almost identical character, regardless of their location in the world. This is even more so for modern offices, which usually have several sorts of electronic equipment and other dominant heat sources (such as artificial lighting) indoors, making them almost unaffected by the local climatic conditions. Flexible open plan arrangement and high density of occupation are favoured, increasing the demand for mechanical ventilation. Under this perspective, the concept to design for comfort, using air conditioning, tends to dominate (ASHRAE 55/2004).
Air conditioning and mechanical ventilation coupled with the often excessive levels of artificial lighting (reinforcing the necessity for air conditioning), require high levels of energy. As a result, offices represent one of the building types with the highest values of energy use per square meter per year and consequently, are among the highest emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2). In the context of global warming and the associated climate change issues, offices are called to play a leading role both through the adoption of energy efficiency measures and by shifting from energy forms high in carbon contents to lower ones.
In response to the 3x20 targets set by the European Commission (EC) for 2020, Member States (MS) will need to adopt measures to increase the use of natural gas and technologies such as co- or tri- generation, heat pumps and solar energy ones. Nevertheless, the new energy paradigm favouring decentralisation and renewable energies is still based on an overall frame of a concerted effort towards energy efficiency (less energy for the same services provided).
At the European Union (EU) level, the Directive 91/2002, (Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, EPBD), is a major step towards rational energy use. The Directive focuses less on the technologies themselves, concentrating instead on the systems performance for climatisation and on the level of the due energy needs, including ventilation. Although the implementation of the EPBD is still at an embryonic stage, nonetheless, it can be argued that the foreseen changes imply best consumption for better identified needs.
An important issue to consider regards Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and in particular, IAQ in offices. Long term, it is predicted that EPBD will include the IAQ assessment together with the energy assessment, bearing in mind the conflicts pointed out above. Few MS have so far considered this step in the implementation of the EPBD to the national legislation although it is expected that eventually all will follow this path, as buildings should contribute to the well being of office workers. Therefore, it is clear that the energy performance cannot be separated from the IAQ performance.
Thus, it is anticipated that developments in the field of energy use in offices will lead to its reduction through various strategies, including comfort/health standards and ventilation levels. In such a context and given the technological evolution of the functions and services accomplished in offices, it is time to address the issue of IAQ in offices.
Over the last 20 years, a number of studies, both in Europe and beyond, have focused on the issue of IAQ in offices. The EC, through DG Research, promoted an IAQ Audit (European Audit Study in 56 Office buildings) in 1991-94, and more recently (2002-2004) the HOPE project (Health Optimisation Protocol for Energy - Efficient Buildings) that covered residential and office buildings in several countries.
At present, the overall social and political EU context appears much more receptive to IAQ issue than in the past. Significantly, the EU Environment and Health Action Plan 2004-2012 includes, as Action 12, the improvement of IAQ. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is currently in the process of developing guidelines for a number of common indoor air pollutants.
The overall objective of the OFFICAIR proposal is twofold. Firstly, to establish a framework that will provide new knowledge in terms of databases, modelling tools and assessment methods towards an integrated approach in assessing the health risk from indoor air pollution, focusing on modern office buildings. Secondly, to support current EU policies, such as, the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution and the European Environment and Health Strategy and Action Plan.
The scientific and technicalobjectives that are presented below are supported by current information on this field and therefore, require a careful update of all existing related backgrounds, in terms of both science and policy. The updates and the advances proposed by this project will contribute to the understanding of the procedures and their quantification and, eventually, to the assessment of the impact of exposures and the definition of policies that will lead to preventive and counter attacking practices.