Heating and Cooling, Maintenance and Operations, Safety

Improving IAQ Decreases Health Risks and Boosts Efficiencies

One of the biggest challenges for building owners and facility managers is maintaining healthy indoor air quality (IAQ). This is especially difficult during the winter months, as everyone spends more time indoors with the windows closed. The result is indoor pollutants having less chance of escaping through ventilation and a better chance of irritating building occupants.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates we spend at least 90% of our time indoors, whether that be in the home or office or anywhere in between. That provides us with plenty of opportunities to breathe air with potentially harmful bacteria or pollutants which can be extremely harmful to our bodies.

This challenge puts an immense strain on building owners and facility managers to ensure they proactively develop and execute a plan to help maintain the integrity of the IAQ within their buildings. Compromised IAQ not only negatively impacts the health and well-being of building occupants, but it can also be detrimental to a building’s energy efficiency, which can drastically increase operating costs and affect the bottom line.

What Can You Do to Improve IAQ and Increase Operational Efficiencies?

There are several best practices when it comes to your facility’s heating and cooling system.

Coil cleaning: When evaporator and condenser coils become dirty, the unit is forced to work harder, resulting in additional energy consumption and an increase in operating costs. Proper coil cleaning can ensure that the unit is working properly and efficiently. It also prevents coils from becoming breeding grounds for mold and mildew growth, which would create an unhealthy environment for building occupants.

Air duct cleaning: Air ducts can easily be overlooked because they are out of sight. However, they can be a common cause of indoor air pollution because they accumulate dust, pollen, mold, and more. Ducts can also recirculate these contaminants back into the air throughout a facility.

Cooling tower cleaning: Cooling towers can be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, like Legionella. When towers become infected, it can spread to indoor air through ventilation, entrances, and more. Inspecting cooling towers on a monthly basis will help identify sediment, scale, and slime buildup early. Additionally, performing preventative maintenance can help reduce the risk of harmful buildup. There are cooling tower vacuums that can help remove residue to avoid shutting down or draining the system.

Cooling tower water treatments: Water treatment can be a very important component in maintaining system efficiency and IAQ. If a tower is contaminated with pollutants, buildup may create conditions ideal for bacterial growth. As outside air is drawn in and moves through the contaminated cooling system, the pollutants are precipitated out of the water, and are dispersed into the air or adhere to chiller tube walls. Chemically treating a cooling tower’s water can help protect against these issues and control the growth of harmful bacteria.

Filter replacement and selection: Air filters act as the first line of defense in protecting IAQ from outside pollutants, so it’s important to pick the best one. Most filters have a MERV rating, which stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. This rating is measured from 1 (the lowest) to 16 (the highest) and can be a great indication of the filter quality you choose. Filters with MERV ratings between 14 and 16 are recommended.

Portable air purifiers:  Using a portable air purifier in high-occupancy areas can greatly improve air quality. Look for a unit that utilizes true HEPA-certified filters along with a pre-filter system to ensure effectiveness.

The Importance of Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting

In addition to maintaining and cleaning a facility’s heating and cooling system, overall building sanitation and disinfection is also critical in maintaining a healthy environment. As we navigate cold and flu season, it is even more important to proactively clean and sanitize surface areas.

Here are five best practices for cleaning within a facility:

  1. Clean the walls to remove residual dust and residue. Buildup on walls can reduce IAQ. Don’t forget to remove dust from the top of lighting fixtures.
  2. Clean behind storage areas, tool chests, shelving, and machinery, as these areas can develop a buildup of fluids, garbage, and other debris.
  3. Drains are an area where bacteria can collect and, therefore, should be included with a deep cleaning. The best solutions for cleaning drains include chemicals or steam solutions.
  4. All surfaces (both top and underneath) in breakrooms or high-traffic areas should be cleaned and disinfected.
  5. Any electronics that are generally not deeply cleaned or sanitized due to their sensitivity need special attention. These can be cleaned with dry steam equipment and sanitized with alcohol-based sanitizers, which are quick drying.

Following a thorough cleaning, the next step is surface disinfection, which is a task that has been top of mind for many facility managers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most sanitizers fall into one of two categories: water-based sanitizer or alcohol-based sanitizer.

  • Alcohol-based sanitizers and disinfectants work best with sensitive areas like electronic and high-touch areas where quick drying is required.
  • Water-based sanitizers and disinfectants work best for general disinfection needs when surfaces can remain wet for up to 10 minutes.

It’s important to consider the application and any specific sanitation and disinfection needs. Areas that need quick turnover, such as a healthcare environment, will be better suited with an alcohol-based sanitizer.

Water-based sanitizers generally have longer “kill” claim times; however, since the surfaces remain wet for an extended period of time, it’s ideal for applications that are less time-sensitive.

Keeping the Air Clean

In addition to cleaning and sanitation, there are also solutions available that can continually work to improve IAQ and maintain clean, fresh air. There are a variety of air purifiers that can help clean the air—removing harmful particles to enhance air quality and optimize the indoor environment.

Maintaining a safe and healthy environment has been a high priority for many facility managers, and there has been an even greater focus in recent months. Keeping it top of mind and putting a plan into place will help maintain IAQ and improve overall efficiency—both of which will have a positive impact on your bottom line.

Frank Intrieri Jr. is Vice President of Sales at Goodway Technologies, a Stamford, CT-based global provider of technology-driven maintenance cleaning and sanitation solutions.

Want to learn more about ways to help keep your facilities and occupants healthy? Please join Facilities Management Advisor for the upcoming “Healthy Buildings Week” online educational event March 21-25. More information and FREE registration are available here.