Does Your House Have Sick Building Syndrome?

by Cindy Gray

If you suffer health issues such as nausea, headaches or fatigue when you spend time in a specific location, perhaps it’s time to check out the building. It could be the cause of what is known as sick building syndrome (SBS).

Is your home or office responsible for Sick Building Syndrome?

Symptoms of this distressing building-related disease may include any or all of the following:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath on mild exertion
  • Heart palpitations
  • Pregnancy problems or miscarriages
  • Allergies and asthma attacks
  • Pneumonia
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Personality changes

and even more serious diseases such as Legionnaire's

These distressing symptoms can cause absenteeism and inefficiency among workers who develop sick building syndrome as an occupational hazard. It is more common in women, possibly because they are more likely to work in an office environment, and it is more common in air-conditioned buildings.

Related:  Six Tips for a Healthy Home

Causes of Sick Building Syndrome

Often the exact cause of SBS cannot be identified. It may affect just one room or the whole building. Usually the symptoms are caused by airborne contaminants within the buildings. These fall into several categories:


Contaminants from plumbing vents, bathroom or kitchen exhausts, adhesives, carpeting, pesticides, heaters, wood products or byproducts from manufacturing, such as formaldehyde, asbestos and lead paint may all be getting into the building and cause SBS

Biological Contaminants

Pollen, bacteria, mold and fungus are prime causes of sick building syndrome. They flourish in damp humidifiers, drainpipes and ducts and are recirculated by air-conditioning systems. Insect and bird droppings may also cause chest infections, aches and fevers 

Poor Ventilation

To improve energy efficiency, buildings are now more airtight with less outdoor ventilation.  However, this increases the likelihood of indoor air pollution. Ventilation standards by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning engineers (ASHRAE) recommend a minimum airflow rate of 15 cfm per person, and even higher in office spaces

Electromagnetic Radiation

Microwaves, computers and other electronic appliances give off electromagnetic radiation which ionizes the air. Check all such gadgets are correctly grounded to avoid possible ill-health

Poor Environment

Something as simple as inappropriate lighting or bad acoustics can manifest themselves by causing symptoms of sick building syndrome

How to Prevent and Control Sick Building Syndrome

Increase ventilation to affected rooms, service and clean air-conditioning systems and replace any carpeting or upholstery that may be causing the problem. Air filters can be helpful in providing quality air, or follow the advice from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Hopefully these actions will reduce, prevent or control any further symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome, but understanding the possible causes is always useful to know. 

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