Today, indoor air quality is top-of-mind. From facility managers of apartment buildings to health and safety personnel at schools, it seems we’re all looking for ways to provide safer, cleaner environments for occupants. For large, commercial buildings like apartment complexes and schools, sick building syndrome is a common, but serious concern. 

What is Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)?

Sick building syndrome (SBS) is a term used to describe a condition that is thought to be caused by being in a building, and that affects a number of building occupants. Those experiencing SBS may experience a range of minor health complaints, ranging from coughing to sneezing, dry skin, headaches, and more, with no identifiable cause for the complaints. SBS can be localized to a few specific rooms in a building, or could be widespread throughout the building. 

Sick building syndrome should not be confused with building-related illness (BRI) which is a similar concern, but is characterized by more severe health concerns that can be directly tied to airborne building contaminants. 

Identifying Sick Building Syndrome

Sick building syndrome can be difficult to identify, because a range of factors can contribute to a general malaise in building occupants. SBS is most easily identified when a number of building occupants are experiencing health concerns like:

  • Headaches
  • Eye, nose or throat irritation
  • Dry cough
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to odors

When a number of occupants are making the same health complaints, but there seems to be no direct cause for the symptoms, sick building syndrome is often the problem. In general, SBS is attributed to poor air quality.

What are the Main Causes of Sick Building Syndrome?

As mentioned, poor air quality is most often the cause of both temporary and long-term sick building syndrome concerns. A number of factors can contribute to poor air quality, but a few common causes associated with SBS include: 

  • Poor building design or ventilation. In large commercial buildings, as well as many office and school buildings designed to accommodate a number of occupants, poor building design can contribute to improper building ventilation. This can negatively affect indoor air quality, causing SBS. 
  • Chemical contaminants from indoor sources. Commercial buildings, office buildings, and even school buildings are full of products that contain chemical contaminants. Carpeting, upholstery, adhesives, machinery, cleaning agents, and more can all emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that produce acute reactions in building occupants. If a building is poorly ventilated, these VOCs are unable to dissipate, further contributing to poor air quality. 
  • Biological contaminants. Biological contaminants like bacteria, viruses, molds, and pollen can all accumulate in a building, especially in stagnant water that collects in carpeting, in the ceiling, in the HVAC system, and more. Biological contaminants contribute to poor air quality, and to the adverse health effects associated with sick building syndrome. 
  • Chemical contaminants from outdoor sources. Outdoor air pollution (for example, pollutants from building exhausts and motor vehicle exhausts) can make its way into the building through air intake vents. These pollutants can contribute to poor indoor air quality as well.

How Can Sick Building Syndrome Be Prevented?

It’s clear that poor air quality is generally the leading cause of SBS symptoms. To prevent sick building syndrome, it’s important that building owners and facility managers prioritize air quality, and make efforts to reduce contaminants and pollutants within the building, while also improving ventilation throughout the building as a whole. While sick building syndrome can be difficult to identify and resolve, there are a few efforts you can make to help prevent sick building syndrome: 

  • Follow proper cleaning procedures with low VOC cleaning agents. Your building should be cleaned regularly to help remove dirt, debris, and any external contaminant that may have entered the building from outdoors. Implementing low-VOC cleaning agents can help ensure your commercial building is clean, without contributing to poor air quality. 
  • Perform regular HVAC maintenance. HVAC systems are a major cause of poor indoor air quality, as any contaminant within the system is distributed through air ducts to the rest of the building. Scheduling regular HVAC maintenance can help ensure there are no contaminants within the HVAC or duct system.  
  • Clean any wet or damp areas and control building humidity levels. Wet and damp spots in your building are a breeding ground for mold and mildew growth, contaminants that can negatively affect anyone. Be sure to clean any wet or damp areas as soon as possible, and carefully control humidity levels to ensure your building is neither too humid nor too dry for occupants. 
  • Install and maintain air filters. Air filters can help to improve your building’s indoor air quality by filtering out contaminants before they are circulated throughout the building. It’s important to change and replace air filters regularly to ensure you are always filtering out as many contaminants as possible. 
  • Choose low-VOC products. By selecting paints and finishes that are low-VOC, you can minimize the number of chemical contaminants within your building. Since indoor air quality is a priority for so many schools, companies, and offices, it’s not difficult to find carpeting, furniture, upholstery, cleaning agents, and more that are low-VOC and contribute to improved indoor air quality.

While these methods can all help to reduce indoor pollutants and contaminants, regular maintenance and inspection is key to successful prevention of sick building syndrome. One great way to ensure you’re reducing contaminants, at the room level, is to implement UV-C light technology. 

Can UV-C Light Technology Help?


The majority of sick building syndrome concerns are resultant of airborne contaminants. UV-C light technology is remarkably successful at treating and neutralizing bacteria, viruses, and pathogens in the air. Implementing active room air treatment systems like UV Angel Clean Air helps to provide a cleaner, safer, and healthier environment for all of your building occupants. 

Why is UV-C Light Technology an Effective Method of  Prevention for SBS?

Ceiling-mounted UV-C air treatment systems are a remarkable tool for improving indoor air quality. A few of the benefits of an in-ceiling UV-C treatment system include: 

  • Control at the room level. Sick building syndrome is often localized to a certain room or area within a building. In-ceiling UV-C light treatment systems provide control directly in the areas of your building that present the greatest concern. 
  • Actively neutralize pathogens. While efforts like installing air filters and following safe cleaning protocol can help prevent sick building syndrome, UV-C light technology can work to actively draw in and neutralize pathogens in your building, providing a cleaner environment for all occupants. 

Whether your building is suffering from sick building syndrome, or you’re looking for ways to ensure that SBS doesn’t become a problem, UV-C light technology is a proven, effective method of neutralizing indoor contaminants. Providing a safe, clean environment for your building occupants — whether they’re students, working professionals, guests, or residents — is your top priority. UV-C light technology can help you provide cleaner, safer air throughout your building. For more information, contact the UV Angel team today.