Many previously held notions about public health and safety — especially ones regarding the workplace — were challenged in 2020. We’ve learned that a clean facility simply isn’t enough to protect the health of the people inside. Just as critical, if not even more so, is the quality of the air within the building.
With these new and evolving standards in mind, any attempts to further improve IAQ in a facility will require a new set of tools and practices. If you really want to make air quality a priority, you will need to adopt these four practices.
Perform Regular Maintenance on Your HVAC Systems
Like any piece of technology or equipment, your HVAC systems need regular maintenance. A well-maintained HVAC system is especially crucial in the wake of current global events, as occupants will be more aware of the IAQ they’re exposed to.
Different parts of an HVAC system will require different kinds of maintenance. Here is a brief overview of the areas in an HVAC system that require regular maintenance:
- The coils and tubes are responsible for transferring heat during colder and warmer seasons. Dirty or outdated equipment is prone to clogging, which will inhibit its ability to transfer heat.
- HVAC controls tend to drift gradually over time, so regular calibration will be necessary. This will help ensure that the temperature and air filtration systems are producing the desired quality.
- Fans are a chief component of HVAC equipment, which means they need to be maintained at least once a quarter. This means checking that the wheels, belts (and belt tension), and bearings are all working as designed.
- The filters in your HVAC system are similarly important, as clogged filters can force the equipment to work harder (which increases energy costs) to maintain the kind of airflow you’ve requested. While quarterly maintenance is standard for HVAC filters, you may need to check on them more frequently if you want to improve IAQ.
Invest in Air Quality Sensors
“Most of the things that cause problems are odorless,” said Dr. Nicholas BuSaba, an associate professor at Harvard-Medical School, to Harvard Health Publishing. This means that your facility’s IAQ could be lacking, and you wouldn’t be able to tell until occupants started exhibiting symptoms (i.e., respiratory problems or even fatigue and sleepiness).
One of the most effective ways to improve IAQ is to install a series of air quality sensors that can tell you exactly what your IAQ looks like, where it can be improved, and how you can improve it. Some of the best sensors to invest in include:
- CO2 sensors;
- Volatile organic compounds (VOC) sensors;
- Temperature sensors;
- Pressure sensors; and
- Humidity sensors.
Maintain a Consistent Level of Humidity throughout the Facility
Any efforts to improve IAQ must involve some form of humidity control. According to an HVAC.com report, too much humidity in an indoor environment can lead to mold and mildew, which can cause a variety of health and respiratory concerns. Too little humidity, meanwhile, can create an environment where various bacteria and viruses can thrive.
The United States Department of Labor says the ideal humidity level in a facility is 20%-60%, but you can’t maintain those levels without the proper equipment. This is where humidity sensors come into play, as they can detect humidity levels in a space and alert you (or an HVAC engineer) of any discrepancies.
The more consistent your facility’s humidity levels are, the better the IAQ will be. And, the better a facility’s IAQ is, the more comfortable (and healthy) your occupants will be.
Install Air Cleaners and Purifiers
Once you have visibility into your facility’s performance against IAQ standards, you can start taking the steps needed to improve IAQ. This typically means installing air cleaners and purifiers throughout the building.
Air cleaners and purifiers improve IAQ by collecting pollutants as they move through the air filter.
“Using a portable air cleaner and/or upgrading the air filter in your furnace or central HVAC system can help to improve indoor air quality,” the EPA explains.
Start Improving Your Facility’s IAQ
Dr. Junfen Zhang, professor of global and environmental health at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment, recommends diligently monitoring and improving IAQ through regular testing and making adjustments to our daily habits.
There’s never been a better time to start investing in your facility’s IAQ, and we hope this article will help building managers better understand the tools and strategies they need to do so.