Does the level of carbon dioxide in your office affect your decision making?

officesceneThis is probably a less flashy headline then “does carbon dioxide make you dumber?” And there have been some variations of that headline floating around.

The subject of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in office and school environments is not new. Generally speaking, productivity and effectiveness can decline throughout the day as CO2 levels rise.

The most recent study by Environmental Health Perspectives focused on effect of CO2 and VOCs on cognitive ability. Would higher levels affect decision making?

According to the study, it does.

Participants in the study were measured on a number of activities including task orientation, strategy, information seeking and usage. Overall, the study found that those working in buildings classified as Green (lower VOC concentrations) and Green+ (lower VOC concentrations and high outdoor air ventilation rate) typically performed better in cognitive function tests than those in conventional office buildings (higher VOC concentrations).

But what was interesting, was that there was a pretty consistent drop off of basic and focused activity level as CO2 levels rose regardless of building type. Information usage was less and tasks involving strategy dropped off significantly. “Cognitive function scores were 15% lower for the moderate CO2 day (~945 ppm) and 50% lower on the day with CO2 concentrations around 1400 ppm.”

That would mean to me that employees could be a lot less effective and efficient later in the day as CO2 levels rise in the office. Probably not dumber, but very likely tired or unable to focus as they would normally.

The simplest solution to this would be to is to increase the supply of outdoor air which lowers exposures to CO2, VOCs, and other indoor contaminants.

Here’s a quick look at the effects of increased CO2 levels:

  • normal outdoor level: 350 – 450 ppm
  • acceptable levels: < 600 ppm
  • complaints of stiffness and odors: 600 – 1000 ppm
  • ASHRAE and OSHA standards: 1000 ppm
  • general drowsiness: 1000 – 2500 ppm
  • adverse health effects expected: 2500 – 5000 ppm

If you’re looking to monitor CO2 levels or monitor other indoor air quality issues, we have a number of instruments that may help (including some of the instruments used in the study).

Products related to indoor air quality (IAQ):

RAECO-LIC LLC is the authorized TSI representative in the Midwest United States.

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