Preventing Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) Using Carbon Dioxide Detection

Image Credits: Matej Kastelic/

Image Credit: Matej Kastelic/

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is a medical condition that occurs when people who are living or working in a communal building experience various symptoms that create a sense of malaise for no clear reason. The most frequent symptoms are eye irritation, shortness of breath, and headaches. Frequently, all of the symptoms cease once the person leaves the suspected building or room.1

Although the specific underlying triggers of SBS are hard to locate and differentiate between other causes of illness,2 it has been noted that the promotion of ventilation within the building eases the symptoms of sufferers, and that high carbon dioxide levels have a negative impact on those with SBS.3,4

Good ventilation does not only reduce the symptoms of SBS, but can also lessen the impact of other factors that contribute to SBS. For example, high volatile organic compounds (VOCs), present from the degassing of furniture or floor linings, have been linked to causing sensory irritation symptoms in humans. The concentration of these compounds can be reduced by better ventilation in buildings.5

Where a building has been impacted by SBS, it is possible that all members of staff will suffer from poor wellbeing and a reduction in productivity.3,4 Most often, symptoms cease once the person leaves the building, but as the long-term effects of SBS are not yet known, businesses should take measures to avoid cases of SBS.6

Preventing Sick Building Syndrome

The Health and Safety Executive advice for the cessation of SBS in the workplace centers on various strategies in combating SBS. Some methods include enhancing light in the building, making sure rooms are ventilated adequately, and ensuring that ventilation systems themselves are properly maintained.7

They also explain that an obstacle in diagnosing SBS is that polluting gases and chemicals can be ‘present at several times lower than the current occupational exposure limits’ and this therefore means that ‘sampling may be complex’.

In the case of carbon dioxide, a suspect in causing SBS, the eight hour time-weight average exposure limit is 5,000 ppm at the moment.8 The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety explains that carbon dioxide levels above 40,000 ppm (4%) create an instant risk to human life and health.9

The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Condition Engineers also suggest maintaining carbon dioxide concentrations at around 1,000 ppm for the best comfort in the workplace.10

Keeping a record of carbon dioxide levels is a critical factor in controlling SBS and necessitates continuous, online gas measurements being taken with highly astute detectors. The detectors must be very sensitive because concentrations of below 1,000 ppm of carbon dioxide have been implicated in a serious case of SBS. 3,4

For this particular application, Edinburgh Sensors provides various online gas detectors which are simple to install, suitable to be used in communal buildings, and can even be installed in buildings while under construction.11

Gas Monitoring for Ventilation Systems

With over twenty years of experience, Edinburgh Sensors manufactures non-dispersive infrared (NDIR) gas monitors to be used in various applications.12 Along with being robust and simple to use while continually monitoring gas levels, NDIR sensors are highly astute in detecting gases such as CO2.

Gases such as methane and carbon dioxide are simple to detect using these devices because they absorb infrared light extensively. They also have definable fingerprint signals which makes it impossible for them to not be identified and allows the smallest amounts of the gases to be detected when present.

The Gascard NG technology is already being utilized as part of a fully integrated and centrally controlled ventilation system to monitor and control SBS. The Gascard provides quick and trustworthy CO2 concentration measurements from 0 to 5,000 ppm. The RS232 connections and possibility to connect by USB for data logging, means it is simple to integrate the device into both early warning and detection systems.

Along with the convenient Gascard NG, which has a particularly small power draw and low footprint, Edinburgh Sensors also provides the Boxed Gascard.14 This equally has Gascard NG technology but the housing makes it quicker to install and more convenient. The Boxed Gascard similarly offers a high level of precision (±2% of range) over 0 – 45 C and 0 – 95% humidity. This means that measurements are trustworthy regardless of the environment.

One way of utilizing the Gascard would be to integrate its precise CO2 detection capabilities with the feedback loops in the ventilation system of a building, as the improvement of ventilation is important in ceasing the symptoms of SBS thereby improving the comfort of workers, and the reduction of CO2 is equally important in alleviating SBS symptoms.

If CO2 levels start to rise, then they would be quickly detected by the Gascard and the data could then be used to change the ventilation conditions before an issue arises.

Other Options

The Guardian NG series can detect CO2 concentrations from 0 to 3000 ppm, with an efficient response time of under 30 seconds from the sample inlet to the point of detection.15

Created as an easy and simple to mount box unit, the Guardian NG also comes with a graphical display that shows an accurate volume percentage readout that is compensated by pressure and can illustrate historical data logs.

Where remote monitoring or logging of gas concentrations is needed, there is an included RS232 interface or optional Ethernet to allow the connection to remote networks.

The Guardian NG also has an alarm system included where users can define their own alarm points, but this can also be simply connected to other integrated safety symptoms. If the device is to be placed in an area that is easy to access, it can be password protected to reduce any deliberate or accidental changes of the settings, so the device is always reliable.

Containing an incredibly precise (≤ 2% of full scale) sensor and the ability to carry out measurements in conditions between 0 – 95% humidity, the Guardian NG is a robust and beneficial solution for simple installation and monitoring in residential, industrial, or office buildings. The IP54 enclosure also reduces any build ups of particulates or water that may impact the precision of measurements.

All customers receive one-to-one technical support and customer service during the process, from their purchase through to the final installation of the device.

More options include the GasCheck16 and IRgasKIT17 which each have distinct benefits. If you are searching for a trustworthy, robust device with high precision, that is designed to help and prevent SBS syndrome, then Edinburgh Sensors customer service can help you to discover a device that best suits your needs.

References and Further Reading

  1. WHO on Sick Building Syndrome,, (accessed March 2019)
  2. Canadian Health Report,, (accessed March 2019)
  3. J. Wang, J. Li and C. Zhao, Proc. Indoor Air 2002, 2002, 490–493.
  4. C. Erdmann, K. Steiner and M. Apte, Proc. Indoor Air 2002, 2002, 443–448.
  5. VOCs in SBS,, (accessed March 2019)
  6. J. Luiz, D. M. Rios, J. Laerte, A. Gioda, C. Yara, F. Radler, D. A. Neto and J. Roberto, Environ. Int., 2009, 35, 1136–1141.
  7. HSE on SBS,, (accessed March 2019)
  8. HSE on Carbon Dioxide,, (accessed March 2019)
  9. NIOSH Guidelines,, (accessed March 2019)
  10. ASHRAE CO2 Guidelines,, (accessed March 2019)
  11. Gas Monitors Catalogue,, (accessed March 2019)
  12. About Edinburgh Sensors,, (accessed March 2019)
  13. Gascard NG,, (accessed March 2019)
  14. Boxed GasCard,, (accessed March 2019)
  15. Guardian NG,, (accessed March 2019)
  16. Gascheck,, (accessed March 2019)
  17. IRGasKit,, (accessed March 2019)

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Edinburgh Sensors.

For more information on this source, please visit Edinburgh Sensors.


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