Sick building syndrome emerged in the 1970s when people made buildings airtight because of increased energy costs. This reduced indoor air quality by increasing concentrations of pollutants like dust, cleaning products, cigarette smoke, and mold. The symptoms of sick building syndrome vary along with the pollutants, and they include watery eyes, flu-like symptoms, headaches, allergies, asthma, nosebleeds, fatigue, and other problems that may seem unrelated. If you feel better when you go outside your Columbia, Maryland, home, you could have sick building syndrome. Here are some of the common causes and how to get rid of it.

Mold and Mildew

Mold and mildew often cause sick building syndrome because some molds produce mycotoxins that can irritate skin and airways. Some people are more sensitive to mold than others. It usually grows in moist areas like water-damaged walls, ceilings, and insulation. Many people don’t realize that they have mold until they start to feel ill because it grows inside air ducts, especially in humid climates like ours. Since many people are allergic to dead mold spores, specialists must remove all mold from homes and businesses with sick building syndrome. Be sure to have your duct work cleaned regularly to remove any such contaminants.

Volatile Organic Compounds

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are chemicals that evaporate at room temperature. They can cause breathing difficulties or even increase the risk of cancer. Formaldehyde is a common VOC that comes from particle board because of the powerful glues used to make it. Other VOCs include acetone, toluene, xylene, and benzene. Carpeting is a source of many of these because of the glues, backing materials, flame retardants, and dyes used to make it. Paints and varnishes also release VOCs that can come from building materials and furniture for years, but they’re in the highest concentrations in the first six months.

Many cleaning products like stain removers and aerosol sprays contain VOCs, as well as markers, ink cartridges, and toners. Computers, televisions, and other electronics emit volatile organic compounds from flame retardants and other chemicals. Other sources of VOCs include air fresheners and perfumes.


Poor design and maintenance of a building’s ventilation system often contributes to sick building syndrome by leading to a buildup of pollutants. A good ventilation system reduces condensation, which encourages mold and mildew growth. Keep furniture away from your vents for the best performance. Check air filters every thirty days and change when necessary to remove contaminants like dust and mold spores and increase the efficiency of your HVAC system. You should also make sure your system is the correct size for your home and open a window occasionally to get some fresh air in. Mechanical ventilators will introduce even more fresh air to keep bad, stale air from recirculating.

Air Purification

Air purifiers work by filtering or cleaning indoor air instead of diluting it. Ambient air purification devices like air ionizers emit a sanitizing substance. Air ionizers emit negative ions that attach to smoke and dust particles, giving them a charge so they stick to walls and furniture. These negative ions repel each other, so as more are produced, they spread out further to have a larger effect. To keep dirt from ending up on walls, some models have collector plates that people can clean easily.


Replace moldy or stained ceiling tiles, water-damaged insulation, and any other damage from a roof leak or flooding as soon as possible to prevent sick building syndrome. Drywall is a common source of mold as well. You should also have your roof and HVAC system inspected at least once per year and after large storms. Watch out for leaks from plumbing, too. Something as minor as a leaky faucet can cause mold growth. You should also use furniture that doesn’t contain particle board.

Griffith Energy Services has over 100 years of experience, and we can get you more information on how the right HVAC system can help you breathe easier. Our skilled technicians offer 24-hour emergency service. Just call 888-474-3391.

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