Human beings are creatures of habit. We all have certain likes and dislikes. One thing most folks can agree on is the preference to be comfortable while at work or leisure when indoors. Temperature and ventilation certainly play big roles in making the indoor environment comfortable. It’s common to notice changes in temperature and adjust the thermostat to maintain comfort. But detecting humidity, oxygen levels, and indoor air quality issues isn’t always as easy. Headaches, stuffy sinuses and feeling tired might very well be related to the air you breathe. What’s in your building’s air?
Studies conducted by the EPA and Harvard among others have found that humans spend 90% of their time indoors within shared spaces. Some studies have even shown that indoor environments can have higher levels of pollutants than what can be found outside. Many of the indoor pollutants either originate in or can be picked up and redistributed by the building HVAC system.
Under normal operating and maintenance conditions the HVAC system can monitor and correct for a multitude of IAQ conditions in your building’s air. But as maintenance is deferred, the air handing unit can become fouled, foster microbial growth, and begin to under perform, eventually breaking down. It is estimated that a little as 3/16 of an inch of dirt lodged in between the fins across an evaporator coil can decrease the efficiency of the unit by 21%!
Other factors, besides the HVAC system, like new office equipment, furniture, renovations and even additional employees can have a negative impact on IAQ as well.
Luckily, the EPA provides a guide to better understand indoor air quality and what can be done to maintain and improve it. “An Office Building Occupant’s Guide to Indoor Air Quality can be viewed here.
A closer look at indoor pollutants.
When examining the pollutants that can affect indoor air quality there are three main categories to consider: biological contaminants, chemicals/gases and particles.
Biological contaminants such as bacteria, fungi (including molds), dust mites, animal dander and pollen can all affect building health. A properly maintained and cleaned HVAC is key to minimizing the growth and distribution of biological contaminants throughout the building. Bacteria and mold can flourish inside of a cool and damp air handling unit. Typically, a musty odor is associated with microbial growth. If excessive concentrations are left unchecked an entire host of health related issues including asthma and allergies can occur.
Chemicals and Gases
Emissions from products used in the building can also contribute to indoor air quality issues. Everything from cleaning products to office equipment like copy machines can put harmful compounds into air, this includes gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Monitoring ventilation rates and controls is important. It is crucial to have a healthy mix of fresh outdoor air exchanged with the indoor air to maintain optimal quality.
Particulates like dust, dirt, paper fibers or other substances can be brought into a building from outside or produced by activities, like printing, that happen inside of the facility. Good housekeeping and proper filtration can alleviate most particulate issues. Remember, filtration should be designed to fit the specific environment and building use.
OSHA goes into detail about these categories and IAQ management in their guide located here.
Be Proactive and Vigilant
Always stay on top of HVAC maintenance and cleaning. Regular hygienic cleaning, like Pure Air Control Service’s PURE-Steam, can prevent IAQ issues emanating from the HVAC system. PURE-Steam is a high temperature, low pressure, cleaning service that kills microbial growth and flushes dirt from deep within the evaporator coils. It can improve overall system performance and cleanliness. Beyond the HVAC system, Pure Air Control Services also provides PURE-Decon room disinfection, that utilizes a hydrogen peroxide and silver mist to get rid of bacteria, fungi and viruses.
If you have never cleaned your HVAC system then IAQ testing would be a good first step to determining any potential issues. Even a simple HVAC Hygienic Assessment can be helpful in looking at the cleanliness and performance of the system regarding building health and energy efficiency.
Finally, be in-tune with your building’s occupants. Pay attention to common health complaints and where they are concentrated. These complaints are often the frontline in the IAQ battle, and provide early detection to get out in front of any issues before they get worse.
Understanding how IAQ is connected to your HVAC system is a critical step in developing a maintenance plan for the optimal health, comfort and energy efficiency of your building.