During the winter heating months, maintaining good Indoor Air Quality can be especially challenging. Cold weather encourages more time indoors with less fresh air, which in turn can lead to the spread of viruses and influenza as well as plain discomfort. Today on the JK Blog, we discuss the importance of good indoor air quality for commercial facilities, and how facility managers, builders, and owners can help maintain the best environment possible for their occupants.
Why is Indoor Air Quality important?
At JK Mechanical, one of our Core Values is “Valuing People.” To us, that means prioritizing the health, safety, and general well-being of those we serve including our team members, business partners, and their clients. Simply put, we feel that protecting building occupants by providing high-quality indoor air is the right thing to do.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the air inside our homes, offices, and other commercial spaces can have three to five times more pollutants than the outdoors. These pollutants—ranging from mold, bacteria, viruses, and environmental contaminants such as cleaning chemicals and industrial debris—bear a significant impact on occupant safety and efficiency as well as comfort and long-term health.
A 1989 EPA Report to Congress concluded that improved indoor air quality can result in higher productivity and fewer lost work days. As a whole, the EPA estimates that poor indoor air may cost the nation tens of billions of dollars each year in lost productivity and medical care during normal circumstances, to say nothing of the effect of COVID-related shutdowns, absences, and loss of productivity.
How to Improve IAQ?
Make Purification Part of the Plan
Air cleaning devices capture and kill contaminants such as mold, bacteria, viruses, pollen, smoke, and can eliminate up to 99.9% of airborne particles. There are several types of air filtration and purification options available that are installed as part of your building’s HVAC system from the NASA-certified Air Scrubber Plus, Carrier UV Lamp, iWave cleaner, and more.
In a recent study from Cambridge University, researchers found that using in-room HEPA air purifiers in hospital COVID wards removed “almost all traces of airborne SARS-COV-2” as well as other bacterial, fungal, and viral aerosols. In this case, in-room air purifiers were essential to deal directly with COVID ICU patients. In more typical applications (i.e., not in an active COVID ward), in-unit air purification that works directly with your building’s HVAC system is a more convenient, holistic solution for air purification. As every facility and application is different, we recommend talking to your service technician or contacting our commercial team for recommendations on best practices for your building’s specific needs.
Schedule Regular Planned Maintenance
Not only does regular, professional planned maintenance extend the life of your system and reduce operating costs, but a clean, well-maintained system (and, in particular, a clean/regularly changed air filter) is the first line of defense for indoor air quality. OSHA ‘s indoor air quality guidelines recommend a preventive maintenance program established based on the system’s recommended maintenance schedule outlined by the architect or engineer, the manufacturer, or an HVAC professional.
Manage Humidity Levels
According to a 2004 study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences commissioned by the US Centers for Disease Control, there is a demonstrated or suggested association between exposure to “damp” indoor environments and adverse health effects such as coughing, wheezing, and asthma and allergy symptoms. Experts recommend a relative indoor humidity level between 40 and 60 percent for optimum occupant and structural wellness. Additionally, new studies have shown that indoor air with ideal humidity levels (between 40 and 60%) can potentially curb the spread of viruses such as SARS-COV-2.
So how to keep humidity at the right level? Depending on the needs of your facility, this could require humidification, dehumidification, ventilation, or all of the above! Read more about the benefits of proactive moisture control here.
Balance Fresh Air
Both OSHA and local municipalities build ventilation and fresh air requirements into their codes. Bringing in fresh, filtered air while ventilating the space is an essential aspect of ensuring safe indoor air. While opening a window might seem like a sufficient low-tech solution, the reality is that you don’t want to bring in outdoor contaminants, or create unwanted drafts. (Plus, it doesn’t help during heating or cooling season, unless you want to “cool the whole neighborhood,” as your Dad might say.) A safer, more efficient solution is to plan for fresh air intake, exhaust, and ventilation that complements your HVAC system.
An ERV, or “Energy Recovery Ventilator,” recovers energy from the airstream discharged from the building and transfers this energy to the incoming air used for ventilation. In other words, an ERV can provide the benefits of fresh air while still offering filtration and control. Our commercial team also frequently works with Makeup Air Units, or MAUs, which are equipment specifically designed to provide needed ventilation while also conditioning the air before introducing it to the building, thus providing the benefits of fresh air while also improving building efficiency.
Don’t Block the Airflow
Limited space? Take care that the supply and return venting and registers in your facility are not obstructed by furniture and storage in order to keep your HVAC system performing as designed. After investing in quality ventilation, you want to make sure your occupants are actually getting and enjoying the airflow! Educate your team– including cleaning and maintenance staff– on the importance of leaving vents and equipment unobstructed.
At JK Mechanical, we understand that there are hundreds if not thousands of decisions that go facility design, construction, and maintenance. Talk to our service team to learn more about indoor air quality and how we can help.