HVAC Hygiene is a Huge Unmanaged IAQ Risk for Hotels and Resorts
Importance of HVAC Hygiene
HVAC hygiene and the IAQ risk it can pose is often overlooked or not even thought about in hotel management. There is likely not a single reader of this article who has never stayed in a hotel before. Even in the most reputable of hospitality properties the first thing you do upon checking in is check the cleanliness of the room. Has the room been dusted, is the bathroom clean, or how does the room smell? These are all in our internal checklist when surveying our home away from home for the first time. But what about HVAC and ducts? Out of sight, out of mind, right? Wrong.
The greatest IAQ risk to comfort, as well as health is HVAC hygiene. The HVAC fan coil unit is a cool, damp place that can collect dust (human skin cells and other fibers) which serves as fuel for microbes such as bacteria and fungi (mold) to flourish. Even with the best filter. If left untreated this can be uncomfortable or even harmful to guests.
Dirty HVAC and ducts is an issue that is found in even the most luxurious hotels. In most cases, the maintenance department for the property will periodically open up the system to clean it and hopefully replaces filters on a more regular basis. However, if the cleaning is not properly conducted then a host of HVAC hygiene issues will begin to occur that can pose an IAQ risk.
The first tell-tale sign of an HVAC hygiene problem is the smell of the room. A mentioned earlier dust that gets through the filter builds up on the fan coil unit and becomes a food source for microbes. As bacteria begins to grow, one of the by-products of consuming dust is ammonia gas. These urine or body odor type of smell can build up in the unit and then be constantly redistributed into the room. If a room smells “stale” or like a locker room, then it likely has an HVAC hygiene issue. Likewise, if the room has an overabundance of “air-freshener” fragrance the management is likely trying to mask an underlying odor. Both scenarios can make staying in the room uncomfortable, if not unhealthy. Especially if the guest has allergies or is sensitive.
Microbes commonly found in fouled HVAC systems often act as allergen triggers. This is especially true of molds and dust found post filter that are blown back out into the room. In fact, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 6 people suffer from allergic reactions due the HVAC system in a building. These effects range from headaches, stuffy noses, and burning/watery eyes to debilitating asthma attacks or worse. Complaints like these offered by word of mouth or in online reviews can quickly ruin a hospitality property’s reputation, or any property’s reputation for matter.
Serious Health Concerns
If the HVAC system is not properly disinfected then much more serious health problems can occur. Bacteria, left unchecked, will develop complex bio-films on the surfaces of the fan coil unit components, including drain pans, which then become thriving colonies that can be spread into the room when the HVAC is in use. One such bacteria is Legionella. Legionella can quickly proliferate to outbreak levels to cause Legionnaires’ Disease, Pontiac Fever and Humidifier Fever, all of which can be potentially fatal.
Conventional Cleaning vs. Hygienic Cleaning
The hospitality business often sees quick turn-around in vacancy especially in peak tourist areas/seasons. In reality there is not enough time to clean the HVAC between guests, or the property does not have staff experienced enough mechanical engineering to thoroughly clean each unit on a periodic basis. Also, while regularly changing the filter is essential to proper maintenance and performance it is not the end all, be all of HVAC hygiene. Nor do filter changes eliminate IAQ risk alone. The hotel’s HVAC maintenance staff (not housekeeping) is tasked with keeping the HVAC clean and running. In most cases, if at all, they dry vacuum the ductwork and components, then use either alkaline or acidic based chemicals to clean the fan coil unit. These chemicals can actually be worse for guests than the microbes they are trying to kill and can decrease the lifespan of the equipment when the parts begin to corrode leading to costly replacement. There is a better way.
A combination of Green Clean Institute PURE-Steam HVAC/Coil Cleaning, antimicrobial enzyme treatments and PURE-Duct hygienic cleaning is much more thorough and safe. Not only is this process 99.9% effective in disinfecting the system to reduce odors and health risks, it also optimizes the performance of the system for better cooling, which leads to energy savings.
Hospitality Case Study
A recent case study from the cleaning of a 650 room AAA Four-Diamond award winning resort demonstrated average improvements of 167 cubic feet per minute in airflow, 56.5% in temperature differential at the coil and 121.3% in cooling capacity per room. In all it was estimated that an additional 310 tons of cooling capacity was added back to the resort without the need of any new equipment. The preventative maintenance plan for such a program would see the hotel closely monitoring rooms for complaints, simple DIY IAQ risk tests, regular filter changes, and some combination of deep cleaning on an annual or bi-annual basis.
Plus, PURE-Steam and PURE-Duct are methods that are synergistic with the most stringent hotel CSR and hypoallergenic programs that require the use of eco-friendly products.
Keeping your HVAC systems clean is integral for the comfort and health of your hotel’s guests, as well as bottom line energy savings. It is not only a job that requires a commitment towards regular maintenance, but also one that is performed properly, with the right expertise and equipment. If your staff is only being reactive or just quickly cleaning the units every so often, then maybe it’s time for a closer look at methods that are not only effective but can pay for themselves through energy savings.
For more information on PURE-Steam hygienic HVAC/Coil cleaning and PURE-Duct services please contact Alan Wozniak at 1-800-422-7873, extension 802 or by email.