What Is Sick Building Syndrome And How To Avoid It?

Kimberly Diaz-Gomez
Head of Brand Marketing

Have You Heard of Sick Building Syndrome?

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is a medical condition where occupants of a building suffer from a series of symptoms or feel unwell for no apparent reason. The effects are linked directly to the time spent in a particular building - they get worse the longer the person is in the building and improve or disappear completely when people leave.

SBS occurs mainly in open-plan office buildings, and the complaints can be localized in a particular room or space or widespread throughout the building.

Symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Tiredness and difficulty concentrating
  • Eye and nose irritation
  • Nausea
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Skin rash and itching

Isolated, these issues may seem negligible. However, together, they are a substantial problem leading to poor performance and impacting overall well-being. In fact, a building affected by SBS may impact nearly all occupants. Because of this, SBS is increasingly becoming a significant occupational hazard, as it causes a rise in absence due to sickness and a decrease in employee productivity.

What Causes Sick Building Syndrome?

modern workplace

SBS is caused by a combination of both physical and environmental factors, as well as job-related factors. These can include dust, smoke, fumes, poor cleaning, changes in temperature, and even crowded desks. Stress and extended exposure to a computer are also listed.

Possible heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) deficiencies and general operating and maintenance conditions contribute to lower ventilation rates, which lead to higher indoor concentrations of air pollutants - a potential cause of SBS symptoms in office workers.

High levels of indoor CO2 concentrations impact cognitive performance and have been associated with SBS. CO2 is a colorless, odorless gas that is a normal constituent of the atmosphere at 330-350 parts per million (ppm). It is generated indoors primarily through human metabolism - people in the office environment exhale carbon dioxide at a rate of about 0.3 L/min when performing light office duties.

Both short and long-term CO2 exposure can cause serious health repercussions, while optimized air quality has several clear benefits. In fact, some studies show that working in an office with CO2 levels below 1000 ppm, managed through intelligent ventilation, can increase productivity by 60%.

How Can Sick Building Syndrome Be Prevented?

CO2 sensor

There are several actions that, combined, help prevent SBS. Building managers should first look into the symptoms and evaluate what the most likely causes for each affected building and particular situation are. Understanding whether people are getting affected in the entire building or just in certain areas can be a good indicator of what is causing the symptoms.

The Health and Safety Executive recommends enhancing lighting, improving air quality, and having well-ventilated areas to minimize the risk of SBS. Ensuring that your buildings generate indoor air of suitable quality is one of the first steps. This requires real-time, 24/7 monitoring and control, and CO2 sensors are instrumental in monitoring the effectiveness of ventilation systems.

The amount of CO2 in a building can change depending on where you are, how many people are there, and what time it is. The level of CO2 in an office building can even, in some cases, be used to determine how well it is ventilated. Some sensors will instantly measure the CO2, temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure in any space, such as the one that Disruptive Technologies (DT) offers.

CO2 levels above 1000 ppm in office environments indicate that the ventilation rate is low and that other airborne contaminants are accumulating. The 8-hour time-weighted average exposure limits of CO2 are 5000 ppm. And levels exceeding 40 000 ppm (4 %) present an immediate health risk. DT’s CO2 Sensor can measure CO2 concentrations between 1 and 5000 ppm with an accuracy of ± 45 ppm.

The suitable sensor will provide accurate, real-time readings with actionable insights, helping you maintain healthy CO2 levels indoors.

Selecting the Right CO2 Sensor

CO2 sensor

There are several CO2 sensors available in the market. Our eBook: Healthy Air, will give you a detailed breakdown of different types of CO2 sensors and their features.

DT offers an energy-efficient CO2 sensor that leverages Non-Dispersive Infrared technology (NDIR) and is easy to use. Its size and appearance (without any screen showing data) make it one of the most discreet in the market and ensure low power consumption and several years of battery life.

Differing sensor types will suit the varying requirements of businesses and buildings to different extents. Factors such as weight, size, accuracy, and speed will most likely impact a business decision on CO2 sensor installation.

Facilities managers and software partners also tend to value adaptable sensors for retrofitting to existing infrastructure. This option is particularly beneficial for those managing a range of property types. Compatibility with HVAC systems is frequently factored into the decision as well, especially as a degree of automation significantly improves energy efficiency.

However, without the support of IoT, wireless, and data-intensive technology, matching ventilation control with environmental readings can present significant challenges.

It is possible to partially automate ventilation systems to adjust to new conditions using recorded IoT sensor data. IoT sensors can instantly detect elevated CO2 levels in spaces requiring ventilation. Therefore, changes can be implemented instantly, ensuring consistent air quality. This automation and increased efficiency also factor into cost control since they translate to maintaining air quality with minimal intervention.

Selecting a trustworthy sensor supplier is key to minimizing any building integration- and data collection issues.

Understanding IoT and Scalability

With the growing demand for smart solutions across various industries, IoT applications are becoming more diverse and specialized. Standard protocols for wireless connectivity, such as cellular, WiFi, and Bluetooth, cannot meet the requirements of state-of-the-art IoT applications to meet customer expectations and drive competitive advantage. As a result, new IoT protocols are emerging to allow for customization.

On the other hand, a sensor solution designed for scalability can be deployed to cover thousands of sensors, allowing them to be placed in high density for more accurate data collection. New IoT applications can be added to keep up with demand without changing or replacing the communication infrastructure.

DT's sensing solution is affordable and built to support billions of sensors. Inspired by cellular network technology, we have designed a tailored protocol for our tiny sensors called SecureDataShotTM (SDS). The SDS protocol has a range similar to WiFi and allows up to one million sensors to operate in a small geographical area. It is designed for efficient radio spectrum usage and can share spectrum with other sensor technologies that also use fair spectrum usage. Additionally, it has been developed with a security-first mindset, resulting in industry-leading end-to-end security.


Even in modern, energy-efficient buildings, CO2 can be elevated to levels that are harmful to the health and well-being of their tenants. High levels of CO2 can lead to SBS symptoms, such as headaches and nausea, so it’s imperative that a building has ways to detect and reduce high concentrations of CO2 before they reach dangerous levels.

IoT CO2 sensors provide a cost-effective way to optimize operations and improve occupants’ health and well-being by ensuring healthy air in buildings. Used in conjunction with ventilation systems, they ensure that concentrations of CO2 remain below certain levels for safety and can also be combined with ventilation controls to automatically modify the airflow through a building to keep CO2 at comfortable levels.

While the choice of a sensor solution will always depend on the requirements of businesses and buildings, certain fundamental features ensure sustainability and affordability. Some things to consider include the possibility of retrofitting existing infrastructure, compatibility with current HVAC, the longevity of the solution, scalability, reliability of the sensor, and data collection security.

If your employees and tenants are dealing with Sick Building Syndrome and you would like to look at options to improve the air quality in the buildings you manage, reach out to one of our team experts.

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Ensure Healthy Indoor Spaces By Monitoring CO2 Levels

Elevated CO2 levels in enclosed or inadequately ventilated spaces lead to negative health impacts. To address these issues, commercial and corporate real estate sectors are increasingly focusing on CO2 emission control in residential and working environments. Discover everything you need to know about CO2 sensors and the growing importance of healthy air in our comprehensive guide.
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