Indoor air expert: “Indoor air problems are a global concern”

Indoor air problems are often seen as a Finnish problem, but moisture damage in buildings makes people sick all over the world.

Indoor air problems are an exceptionally hot topic in Finland, but this is by no means a Finnish or even Nordic issue. Problems caused by poor indoor air were first noticed in the United States in the 1960s.

“Back then they realised that indoor air problems were linked to ventilation ducts and mould caused by air conditioning. Later indoor air problems were also linked to building material emissions and moisture damage,” says Juhani Pirinen, head of a business unit at FCG, who has studied indoor air problems for decades.

The same observations were made here a decade later when mouldy structures were first found in Finnish buildings. In Sweden, they had noticed problems some time earlier.

“It was hardly surprising because we had copied our building structures from Sweden.”

Pirinen adds that there are indoor air problems everywhere in the world, but in some places the problems have been swept under the rug. The causes behind the problems vary depending on the prevailing climate.

“Here the biggest problems are caused by thermal insulation and the related physical challenges. Similar problems are encountered everywhere in the northern parts of the world.”

Climate affects the causes of indoor air problems

This is not a new phenomenon. Pirinen believes that indoor air problems have existed for a long time before the harmful effects were first brought up.

“Previously it was thought that some people just always happened to be sick. They didn’t realise that buildings could cause their symptoms.”

The climate is also the reason behind the heated debate in Finland: we spend an exceptional amount of time indoors.

“Finnish adults spend 90 percent of their time indoors. In places where the climate conditions allow more outdoor activities, indoor air and its problems play a smaller role,” Pirinen says.

He adds that, according to studies, the structures of Finnish buildings actually have less moisture problems than those in other parts of the world.

“We are not exceptional and our buildings are not exceptionally unhealthy. Maybe we just talk about indoor air problems more than others.”

There is a lot of lively debate over indoor air issues. It’s no wonder as many municipalities are feverishly looking for solutions to the challenges caused by indoor air problems. Indoor air, moisture problems, energy efficiency and, for example, the choice of materials involve a lot of data based on measurements and studies, but there are also many perceptions, assumptions and open questions related to the issue. Petri Heljo, head of R&D from Kiilto’s construction unit, compiled several statements and prevailing views on indoor air problems. Experienced and respected indoor air specialist Juhani Pirinen then commented on them and we were able to create an interesting series of articles that will be published during the autumn of 2018.