The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new awareness to improving indoor air quality (IAQ) in commercial buildings. To provide safe working environments during the COVID pandemic and beyond, facility managers (FMs) need to consider how they can improve indoor air quality in their buildings. Air is typically filtered through a ventilation system. Improvements to the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system can improve air quality, but they can also be costly. Luckily, there are several affordable air quality improvements available for commercial buildings. Before we get into the cost-effective ways to improve air quality, we’ll also discuss the legal responsibilities FMs have for air quality management.
One of the primary responsibilities of building maintenance is air quality and monitoring HVAC systems, although sometimes the cost might be split between the property owner and building management. Typically, however, FMs are responsible for maintaining IAQ, thermal comfort, relative humidity, and adequate air changes per hour based on occupancy. They are also accountable for HVAC system inspections, maintenance, and necessary upgrades. These regular system checks will ensure that the system is up to date and per the appropriate building codes and regulations, including EPA, OHSA, ASHRAE regulations.
These checks have become even more critical considering the rise in air quality concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. The EPA recommended several building upgrades like improved HVAC, ventilation, and air cleaning to mitigate the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. FMs are primarily required to implement these changes for ongoing building operations. Outside of new regulations, regular checks for commercial air filtration and HVAC systems will ensure that the system functions correctly and within the appropriate carbon emissions outputs. Regular maintenance will also extend the system’s life, saving the company money long- and short-term.
There are several ways to improve commercial air quality, but some are expensive, as we will get into below. If you need your air quality improved while on a budget or quickly, consider these affordable air quality improvements:
If you have a small to medium-sized building, air cleaning devices are the best, most affordable air quality improvements. Portable and affordable air purifiers are extremely powerful. The Beyond Guardian Air, for example, has 5 of the most powerful air purifier technologies in one device:
As you can see, there are several different air cleaning filters, and each will capture another type of contaminant. Luckily, high-quality air purifier devices will have multi-stage filtration included in a compact device. A machine like the Hydroxyl Blaster, for example, would be able to target VOCs with its ActivePure® technology. It would also remove the SARS-CoV-2 virus particles from the air and smoke, mold, fungi, bacteria, viruses, odors, and allergens.
These devices are easy to use. Plugin the air cleaner, and it will get to work right away. That’s it—no fancy set-up or installation is required. You can get a unit for any size space and scale up multiple systems to cover entire facilities. Using the compact and portable air cleaning device, your company will provide clean environments for its workers. Clean the air faster, more efficiently, and cost-effectively without the need to upgrade their entire HVAC system.
Building’s HVAC systems are responsible for venting in outdoor air and filtering it so that each room gets an adequate amount of air changes per hour. Therefore, cleaning and properly maintaining your HVAC’s filter will help your building’s air quality. You’ll also want to monitor for the relative humidity to keep mold spores down.
Your commercial HVAC system should be filtering air through a HEPA filter. By ensuring that your HVAC’s filter is True HEPA, you will capture 99.97% of airborne contaminants as small as 0.1 microns in size and eliminate dust, pollen, pet dander, and more. You can also catch the most penetrating particle size (MPPS), which is 0.3 microns.
True HEPA filters are long-lasting as well, so you will have a filter performing efficiently for longer, with the ability to withstand 24-hour usage for a year. MERV 13 has been recommended for improving poor indoor air quality and reducing exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. However, MERV 13 filters have been known to hinder HVAC system performance. Consider implementing portable air purifiers to reach adequate IAQ.
Sanitization devices are another great way to remove surface and air pollutants in your commercial building. The UVD robot, which provides hospital-grade air quality at roughly 1/10th of the cost of other preventative measures, is a highly cost-effective way to improve indoor air pollutants in larger buildings.
The UVD robot uses PCO technology to clean spaces, eliminating the need to upgrade the entire HVAC ductwork and cleaning far more efficiently than the HEPA filter alone. The cost and maintenance of air-cleaning devices in larger buildings would quickly add up, making the UVD robot a better choice overall.
These devices can also operate autonomously in the building overnight, cleaning both the air and surfaces while your workers are sleeping. If your crew works around the clock, the UVD robot could be scheduled to clean rooms at certain times or controlled remotely.
The indoor air quality improvements that a facility needs will depend on several things. While FMs have to consider all these factors, there are other steps to take for good indoor air quality in commercial settings:
You might need to upgrade your HVAC unit to a model that is new and improved. This will allow for greater energy efficiency and cost savings. For example, it may also give you the chance to put in a better filter if your current HVAC is not compatible with higher-rated MERV filters. If you live in an area with poor outside air pollution, like in a room with large amounts of wildfire smoke and particulate matter, then you may find that your HVAC unit is not operating well enough. You might have more indoor air pollutants than usual because the system is not built for it. Consider upgrading your HVAC unit. At this time, you can also consider splitting your HVAC system for improved ventilation rate, zoning your HVAC, and upgrading to innovative technology for monitoring energy consumption.
Another way to improve IAQ is through HVAC ductwork upgrades. Upgraded ducts can give you proper ventilation, better energy efficiency, and a more balanced HVAC system. Your ducts may be old, susceptible to mold growth, dust mites, or inadequate for your building’s design. If you upgrade your HVAC unit, be sure to assess for HVAC load. The load calculation will be done on existing HVAC ducts when the HVAC unit replacement to ensure that the ducts will manage the changes in airflow load, ventilation rate, and pressure designed in the new HVAC unit.
If you don’t get a new HVAC unit, consider upgrading your ductwork with HVAC Induct air purifier systems. The ActivePure® Induct is one of the best products on the market, capable of providing safe and continuous protection against airborne pollutants. Tested in both 3rd party labs and real-world settings, ActivePure® Technology has proven effective in reducing over 99.99% of common viruses and pathogens (including the Flu, RNA, DNA, MRSA, and SARS-CoV-2).
Managing the occupancy load is another way to improve air quality in a commercial building. Unfortunately, this one is tough to comply with. Most facilities rely on their building occupants for normal operations. By restricting the number of people allowed in your facility, you may be limiting your facility’s operations. Other facilities rely on occupancy for sales. If you must restrict customers, this could also be detrimental to cost savings.
Indoor air pollutants can affect the indoor environmental quality in commercial buildings. Personal perfumes, aerosols, cooking materials, machines, and cleaning supplies all produce particulate matter in various ways. FMs need a multi-pronged approach to stay on top of IAQ. Whether it is chemical pollutants, like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), bacteria, viruses, or smoke, poor IAQ can be hazardous to the building occupants’ health. You may notice an indoor air quality problem if there is an increase in sick building syndrome or building-related illness individuals.
Therefore, FMs will need to perform air quality monitoring for health and safety reasons. The guidance for indoor air quality in your commercial building will depend on several factors, like the country your building is located in, the state/province, the city or municipality, World Health Organization (WHO) regulations, and emergency protocols. For example, the EPA provided FMs with ventilation recommendations to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Examples included using portable and Induct air purifiers. Other factors, like the number of occupants allowed in the building, air changes per hour, mask requirements, and hand sanitization schedules, were also recommended.
As an FM, you must consider these recommendations and engineering factors to find the best path forward. It is up to the building’s filtration and ventilation system to keep the air clean and minimize the percentage of particulates in the air at a given time, thus minimizing illnesses. But your HVAC alone cannot eliminate indoor severe air pollution, especially in areas where pollutant sources are exceptionally high. Additionally, increased ventilation will help to disperse the SARS-VoC-2 virus particles. If your building is in a room with lots of wildfire smoke, for example, then you can’t vent using outside air.
It cannot be easy to maintain this balance. Luckily, air purifiers can drastically improve IAQ cost-effectively and without compromising your building occupants’ health. Use air purifiers to clean areas with indoor air pollution and limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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