Adopting Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) solutions for your commercial property, home or any living space is one of the most essential actions you can do to secure the health and safety of occupants using your property. With good IAQ solutions, you not only protect your health and that of others, you ensure you are in the clear with regulators as well saving significant amount of money as well. Not only that, most of these solutions improve the commercial building performance and the longevity of equipment and building.
In recent times, it has been proven that the quality of air indoors is generally poor compared to what is obtainable outdoors. Poor IAQ has had detrimental effects on the health of occupants of buildings including commercial facilities. Sick building syndrome, general discomfort, headache, nausea, allergies, irritation of the eyes, nose and upper airway are just some mention of health challenges that arise due to poor IAQ.
If you are concerned about the quality of air we breathe especially in indoor spaces then you must adopt practices that ensure good Indoor Air Quality. There are lot of solutions in the marketplace that you can adopt. They range from the simple to the complex, cheap and expensive or even behavioral modifications; what you should be concerned with is their ability to meet your needs effectively.
Examples of IAQ solutions include HVAC upgrades, Air filtration, enhancing ventilation via mechanical means and so many more.
So now that you’ve decided on incorporating solutions that will promote good IAQ in your commercial facility, this post will try to highlight important information you need before you embark on this all important activity to select the best IAQ solutions.
But first, what is IAQ?
Unmasking IAQ: what you need to know and why you should care
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency of the US “refers to the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants”.
The EPA has identified four elements involved in development of IAQ problems. They are:
- Source: the origin of contamination or discomfort in an indoor environment.
- HVAC: the failure of HVAC systems to control air pollutants and maintain thermal comfort indoors.
- Pathways: this deals with what connects the source of pollutants to building occupants and also relates to the driving force that encourages the movement of pollutants along the pathway(s).
- Occupants: people present within a building.
Factors that affect IAQ include carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), radon, volatile organic compounds (VOC, particulates, and microbial contaminants (such as mold and bacteria) etc.
Because we spend most of our time indoors, the risk of poor IAQ is great. The effect of poor IAQ on health of building occupants can be noticed immediately in the short term as symptoms such a headache, irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, fatigue. Examples of long-term effects include cancer, building sickness syndrome etc. This results in great discomfort for tenants- and if you’re a building owner or manager complaints from tenants can have a negative impact on business. These are some of the reasons why IAQ should be taken seriously.
Factors to consider when choosing IAQ solutions
Selecting the right IAQ solution can be a bit of challenge. However, it shouldn’t be a hassle if you consider the factors discussed below. If you are in the market for solutions to address your IAQ problems, here are few points you need to keep in mind:
By far the most effective solution is to eliminate or minimize the emission of the incriminating pollutants.
The approach here involves both behavioral and physical adjustments. Occupants can be stopped from smoking indoors for example. Other measures include sealing or enclosing the source such as those containing asbestos, heaters can be fine-tuned to significantly lower emissions etc. Other methods include isolating the source from people through barricades and no-entry points to stall the spread of the indoor air pollutants.
2. Humidity Control
Experts recommend a relative humidity range of 30- 60% for optimum human health and comfort. Low humidity exposed to eyes, skin and nose cause irritation while high levels promote the proliferation of microbes-bacteria, viruses, dust mites, mold and fungi.
To hit the mark with humidity control, it should be incorporated during HVAC design, as doing so afterwards will incur more cost and modifications. That said; consider the use of dedicated humidifiers or air dryers to control humidity effectively in your property.
3. Mechanical ventilation
Active mechanical ventilation is essential to achieve and maintain good IAQ. Mechanical ventilation is particularly useful in eliminating air contaminants brought about by occupants, pets, heaters etc.
This can be achieved by paying attention to the design, implementation as well as ongoing maintenance of the HVAC systems. This is because HVAC systems are the main systems that help with ventilation, heating and cooling of a building as well as aid in removing air around the building as well as filtration and circulation of clean air. Hence HVAC systems have a significant impact on how pollutants are distributed and removed.
- Air Filtration, Air Cleaners and dedicated Air Extractors
High efficiency filtration and air cleaners together with ventilation and humidity controls help in fixing most IAQ problems. These tools are effective in removing pollutants from the air thus alleviating the condition of those with allergies, asthma or other respiratory problems.
When choosing air cleaners, it is important to consider the percentage efficiency rate and the amount of air it is capable of drawing through the cleaning or filtering element. An efficient air cleaner should have high air-circulation rate as well as the ability to draw air.
High Efficiency Particle Arresting (HEPA) filters can remove 99.97% of all particles with a size of 0.3 microns, making them very effective in capturing very small allergens and particles that conventional filters are unable to capture.
Use of dedicated air extractors for the parts of your building that show high pollutant concentration is recommended. Air extractors work by removing air from polluted areas of the property without circulating them through other areas of the building. This approach is particularly useful in kitchens and bathrooms.
- Ultraviolet (UV) Lights
UV lights are very good in killing microbes. ACs with UV lights eliminates nearly all microbes that pass through the unit by irradiating the evaporator coil. This prevents and arrests the growth and propagation of microbes that will hitherto thrive on the wet coil and other parts of the AC unit.
- IoT and HVAC equipment upgrades
Internet of Things (IoT) allows for the automation of your indoor environment control. Using this smart technology allows for effective pollutant monitoring, alert, and control systems. For example, sensors embedded in air monitors can pick up detrimental levels of pollutants that is beyond perception and alert decision makers for prompt intervention or automatically activate air cleaners/purifiers to remove the pollutant.
Other uses include regulating equipment function to human needs automatically. This means that HVAC systems can be programmed to automatically turn off once a room is empty or it can adjust the indoor temperature to suit the needs of the occupants automatically.
Upgrading your HVAC systems will ensure that they perform quietly and efficiently, which is an advantage for IAQ. They help in saving energy bills as well.
- Qualified Professionals
When it comes to achieving and maintaining high quality IAQ, the role of qualified professionals cannot be overemphasized. Whether it is in HVAC design and installation or servicing and maintenance, you’ll achieve better results working with an expert.
Professionals will ensure that the HVAC equipment size, make, and specification are appropriate for the size and use of the rooms/areas of the commercial building to achieve optimal indoor environment that supports the health and comfort of occupants. Conversely a misfit can result in health, comfort, and energy issues.
In conclusion, most of the points raised in this post will help you while selecting your IAQ solution. This will not only help you to avoid health risks associated with poor indoor air quality but also promote tenants comfort and reduce energy costs, which are the main goals of any commercial building.