Are high indoor CO2 levels making us stupid?

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High indoor CO2 levels affect our brain power and physical health. We discuss 3 key reasons why it’s a smart idea to monitor CO2 levels in the spaces we live and work.

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You’ve probably heard of Carbon Dioxide or CO2.

CO2 is naturally occurring, but it’s also created when we burn fossil fuels (and we all know we’re doing more than enough of that). It warms the planet, traps heat from escaping the ozone layer and contributes to global warming. You’ll often find it under the umbrella term of ‘Greenhouse Gasses’, which carries a negative connotation.

The thing is, in small quantities, it’s perfectly harmless. In fact, we need CO2. It’s extremely important because plants use it for photosynthesis to produce carbohydrates, which in turn becomes fuel for humans and animals on our planet. So CO2 is necessary for our survival…but you know what they say about too much of a good thing. 

What levels are normal?

Earth’s atmosphere contains around 0.04% CO2 (400 parts per million or ppm). But day to day we wind up breathing air with concentrations of over 1000 ppm. For perspective, 600 ppm is where things start to feel ‘stuffy’, 1000ppm is bad for us, and higher levels can even be toxic. 

The catch is CO2 indoors is most commonly produced by the air we exhale and we can’t really stop ourselves from exhaling. The air we exhale contains about 40,000 ppm (4%), 10 times more than the air we breathe in!

Just by existing we’re raising CO2 levels wherever we go.

CO2 levels whats normal

Unfortunately we can’t always control the number of people or time spent in a space. But what we can do is monitor CO2 levels and ensure good ventilation to make sure it doesn’t hit dangerous levels.

3 reasons we should be monitoring indoor CO2 levels.

First, think about our cities, offices, schools, buses and trains where there are densely packed groups of people. And think about the amount of time we spend indoors (especially in the colder, wetter climates of the world).

Add to that, the drive towards energy efficiency ratings in houses and workspaces means they’ve become more airtight. This means less fresh air and an increase in indoor CO2 levels.

1. Rapid build-up of CO2

These indoor levels increase alarmingly quickly. A classroom without proper ventilation will exceed 800ppm in 10-15 minutes. A single person in a car with the windows up will hit 800 ppm in just 6 minutes. Overexposure to higher levels of CO2 can lead to cognitive decline (but more on this later).

2. Too close for comfort

Carbon Dioxide levels on public transport

Secondly, high levels of CO2 and poor ventilation can aid the airborne/aerosol spread of viruses. The obvious example being the spread of Covid-19 indoors versus outdoors, but also, you can look at how flu season didn’t happen last year because we were all at home and not mixing in tight spaces.

3. Knowledge is power

Last but not least, we need guidance! These figures and information may come as news to you, so how are we supposed to know dangerous levels when we’re so used to it? We won’t always know when levels are high and intervention is necessary. This is where CO2 monitors become our new best friends.

CO2 ppm table

3 Benefits of lower CO2 levels

1. A better nights sleep

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We’re all already quite aware of what effects CO2 has on our atmosphere and environment. What you may not know is that day to day CO2 can mess with our physical and mental capabilities. The physical process is that when we breathe air with high CO2 levels, the CO2 levels in our blood rise, meaning less oxygen reaching our brains.

This means we’re less productive, our REM sleep is affected (important for memory and learning), and in extreme cases, we can experience headaches, dizziness, higher heart rate and blood pressure, difficulty breathing, restlessness.

Take a simple example – Do you sleep better with the window or door open? Well, that’s because you’ve got a lesser concentration of CO2 which reduces restlessness and benefits your REM sleep cycle.

2. Firing on all synapses

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According to Airthings, studies have shown that people have a much harder time learning and performing simple and complex tasks, and making decisions, as CO2 levels rise.

A Berkeley Lab study showed just how potent long term high-level exposure can be. William Fisk’s study showed that 1000ppm increases in indoor CO2 levels were associated with a 10-20% relative increase in student absences. 

Similarly, a 2000 study found a 50% reduction in office ventilation (with corresponding increases in CO2 levels) was linked to a 50% increase in short term absences of workers. And even if you do make it to school or the office, you could experience the aforementioned ill effects.

3. Less stress more success

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Other studies have shown that we may experience increased sleepiness and anxiety when CO2 levels are high.

This point about anxiety and restlessness is particularly interesting when you consider some of the struggles people were having during the pandemic.

With working from home being thrust upon us so suddenly last year not only were we dealing with the worries of a global pandemic and stressful improvised workspaces, but the actual air we were breathing could’ve been adding to our feelings of stress, restlessness and anxiety. 

So all in all we can say that lower indoor CO2 levels curb the spread of many airborne illnesses, improves concentration and cognitive function and negates the symptoms caused by an excess of CO2. It generally helps us function better.

When you think about it, it’s pretty simple. The better the quality of air passing through our bodies, the better we work. You wouldn’t put the wrong fuel in your car, so why put bad air through your body.

So we hope you can agree that this is an issue and one which is important to monitor. That’s where we come in!

Start monitoring your indoor CO2 levels today

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Safecility’s® CO2 sensor is a small wireless nondispersive infrared sensor (NDIR). NDIR is the most accurate type of sensor available on the market with automatic calibration. The sensor also records temperature and humidity with optional volatile organic compounds (VOC) monitoring.

In terms of security our sensors connect directly to the cloud. Local internet access isn’t required making it easy and simple to set up. This in turn makes the system more secure because it doesn’t need to connect to the local network.

Key Benefit: You won’t need someone in a busy office or classroom setting to be responsible for constantly checking the CO2 levels. They can focus on their work and only be called into action when the LED changes colour or the buzzer sounds. 

Above all else is simplicity! Our sensors are wireless and run off easily replaceable AA batteries. All you need to do is place them on the wall, desk or other surfaces. The sensors have LED traffic light alerts as well as an acoustic buzzer to let you know when CO2 levels are too high. 

This works particularly well because you won’t need someone in a busy office or classroom setting to be responsible for constantly checking the CO2 levels. They can focus on their work and only be called into action when the LED changes colour or the buzzer sounds. Simplicity really is key.

Safecility CO2 Traffic Light

Cloud monitoring makes it a fully smart and end-to-end system. Realtime and historical air quality readings for all sensors within the building can be viewed on the dashboard, where patterns and trends can be identified and rectified.

Click here to find our more about the Safecility® CO2 monitor

And to top it all off our sensors are completely mobile and can be installed anywhere including on moving vehicles like busses and trains.

That’s our rundown on CO2 and how it affects you. So next time you blurt out something silly in a stuffy meeting, you can blame it on the CO2 and tell your colleagues that the best solution is Safecility’s® CO2 monitor.

Ready to monitor CO2 levels in your workplace?

Talk to us today www.safecility.com/contact

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