HVAC maintenance is one of the most important things you can do to support the health of your staff and employees. Good indoor air quality (IAQ) is important to both prevent negative health concerns and support a high-functioning workplace.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the level of indoor air pollutants can be two to five times higher than outdoor pollution. Some EPA studies even find indoor pollutants can be 100 times higher than outdoor levels. That’s not a good thing, especially for the 25 million Americans who have asthma, plus people suffering from other respiratory conditions.
A well-maintained HVAC system does a lot to reduce pollutant concentrations and keep staff healthy. Reducing airborne contamination in commercial buildings can also help slow the spread of respiratory diseases like COVID-19.
In this article, we’ll talk about air pollutants and cover the ASHRAE standards for air ventilation. We’ll also talk about how HVAC maintenance can directly support a healthy staff.
What Are Indoor Air Pollutants?
It’s easy to imagine outdoor air pollution like smog since it’s so visual. But indoor air pollutant levels can cause health problems, too. Here are a few common sources of indoor air pollution:
- Tobacco smoke
- Deteriorating asbestos-based insulation
- Radon, pesticides, and outdoor air pollution entering through leaks
- Moisture that promotes mold and bacterial growth
- Recirculated air that isn’t cleaned properly
- Freshly installed flooring and carpet
- Chemicals in cleaning products, paint, glue, etc.
- Combustion pollutants
- Carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide
Over time, exposure to these types of pollution sources lead to negative health effects like eye irritation, allergies, breathing problems, and other symptoms. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause weakness and dizziness while toxic amounts can lead to death. Exposure to smoke and radon can cause lung cancer and even death, as well.
Even if indoor air pollution is minimized, it’s still important to get fresh air inside the building. There are many benefits to good ventilation in the workplace. For example, healthy air is known to help people work better and be more productive. Healthy air can also reduce sick time. IAQ impacts employee health and the success of a business at the same time.
ASHRAE Standards for Indoor Air Quality
ASHRAE Standard 62.1 gives HVAC guidelines to support healthy indoor air quality for all types of buildings, including office buildings. According to the 2019 standard, an office space should receive 5 cubic feet of fresh air per minute per person (cfm/person). So, if there are 10 people in an office space, that room should receive 50 cfm/person of fresh air.
ASHRAE Standard 62.1 classifies indoor air into four categories:
|Class 1||Low levels of contaminants, irritation, and odor||Computer rooms, office rooms, physical therapy, libraries, classrooms|
|Class 2||Moderate levels of contaminants, irritation, and odors||Art classroom, daycare under age 4, wood shop, central laundry rooms, gym|
|Class 3||Air with significant contaminant concentration, irritation, or odor||Commercial kitchen, trash rooms, veterinary operating rooms, daycare sickroom|
|Class 4||Air with irritating and dangerous fumes or gasses||Spray paint booths, chemical storage rooms|
Fresh air comes in from the HVAC system, but whatever is happening in the interior space can contribute to contamination. For example, a commercial kitchen will produce things like smoke particles and odors that should be exhausted quickly and replaced with a good amount of fresh air. An office doesn’t have pollutant sources like that, so it needs less ventilation than other spaces.
ASHRAE Ventilation Requirements in Different Spaces
Here are a few examples of different types of rooms and their recommended ventilation rates (from 2019 ASHRAE 62.1):
|Area||Minimum ventilation per person|
|Veterinary exam rooms||10 cfm/person|
|Office break room||5 cfm/person|
|Office lobby||5 cfm/person|
|Office work space||5 cfm/person|
|Reception area||5 cfm/person|
|General retail||7.5 cfm/person|
|Beauty and nail salons||20 cfm/person|
|Restaurant kitchen and dining||7.5 cfm/person|
HVAC Maintenance Supports Indoor Air Quality
Practicing good HVAC maintenance has everything to do with indoor air quality and the health of your staff and employees. Without an attentive maintenance schedule, you don’t know that the system is working the way it should. You may have the right type of commercial HVAC system for optimal indoor air quality in your building, but it won’t perform to that level unless you maintain it properly.
Even simple things can affect IAQ in a negative way. For example, all air vents and grilles should be clear of obstructions. However, it’s easy for someone in the building to block a vent that’s low to the ground with a chair or desk.
Dirty filters are another common issue with an easy fix. When air filters get clogged, the system must work harder to force the same amount of air through them. At the same time, the filter loses its ability to clean the air. Ducts can become dirty and require specialized cleaning. With enough time, extra strain on the system can burn out your air handler blower motor and cause system failure.
Without proper maintenance, it’s also possible that spaces in your building aren’t meeting the ASHRAE Standard 62.1 for ventilation. On the other hand, when you support your staff with enough fresh outdoor air and good ventilation, they will be healthier and more comfortable overall.
A well-running HVAC also controls humidity levels to stop mold and bacterial growth and support healthy respiratory systems. Finally, maintenance can also lower HVAC energy consumption since it saves energy from being wasted on inefficiencies like leaks and dirty filters.
Support Staff Health with a Well-Maintained HVAC System
HVAC maintenance is essential to reducing pollutant levels indoors and keeping your staff healthy. It’s a good idea to have annual or seasonal HVAC inspections to make sure everything is running properly. If you suspect your building might have air quality problems, reach out to our HVAC team at Spaeder to perform a thorough inspection, test the indoor air, and maintain your system.