When was the last time you changed the air filter in your home? Was it dirty? Disgusting I know. Do you ever wonder how your house…your home could be so infected with air pollutants? Embarrassing as it may be you are not alone.
After replacing my own filters, I found myself wondering; where in the world does all this dirt come from? “There are only three people living in my home and I just changed these things 45 days ago.” Sound familiar? Now sitting in your office, look up at the supply air grille above you. How clean do you suppose the air is…that cool, refreshing perk that you take for granted? Hmmmm?
According to a study by the National Sleep Foundation, the average employed American works a 46-hour work week; 38% of the respondents in their study worked more than 50 hours per week. My math tells me that we spend an average of 9-10 hours a day at the office. Are you concerned about the indoor air quality in your building yet? Well, you should be so keep reading.
Side Note: “IAQ (indoor air quality) can impact the health, comfort and productivity of building occupants. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rand IAQ among the most serious environmental problems in the country. With most Americans spending up to 90% of their time indoors, IAQ has become a major concern.” Source: Kimberly Clark.
IAQ has been written about so many times that when researching this topic, Google went into search engine overload. From the EPA, to U.S. Senators, to Green Peace and inspiring authors such as myself, IAQ has always been a hot topic. This month’s edition of Mechanical Matters® is dedicated to IAQ and why proper air filtration program is important. I will discuss the effects of IAQ, and what precautions building owners and managers alike can do to keep their investment healthy. But first let’s learn a little about IAQ and the definition as presented in the world’s free encyclopedia, Wikipedia.
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) deals with the content of interior air that could affect health and comfort of building occupants. The IAQ may be compromised by microbial contaminants (mold, bacteria), chemicals (such as carbon monoxide, radon), allergens, or any mass or energy stressor that can induce health effects. Recent findings have demonstrated that indoor air is often more polluted than outdoor air (albeit with different pollutants) although this has not changed the common understanding of air pollution. In fact, indoor air is often a greater health hazard than the corresponding outdoor setting. Using ventilation to dilute contaminants, filtration, and source control are the primary methods for improving indoor air quality in most buildings.
Source: Wikipedia (Indoor Air Quality).
What potential pollutants exist throughout a building? Below is a list of harmful bacteria’s, gases, and other pollutants that can exist in a building’s air system, again provided by Wikipedia:
2. Molds and other Allergen
3. Carbon Monoxide
4. Legionella, Legionellosis or Legionnaire’s Disease
5. Asbestos Fibers
Now, are you a little concerned? Before you get too excited please know that these repulsive contaminants can be defeated with proper air filtration and ventilation. Remember how dirty the air filter in your home was the last time you replaced it? It’s that disgusting because it’s doing its job. Air filtration is one of the most important weapons in our fight against poor IAQ, followed closely by ventilation and humidity control. While Asbestos and Radon are still a threat to older buildings, stricter building codes enforced by the both the U.S. Federal Government and State legislation have prevented their uses in new buildings. However, Molds, Allergens, Bacteria, Carbon Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide can creep in no matter how old or new your building is.
Entire books have been written about IAQ. So, before I turn this article into a book, I will direct my focus on the most commonly method of IAQ maintenance, air filtration. I will however, provide a list of links to various websites that I used for my research on IAQ. These links can be found at bottom of this article for your review.
While researching air filtration, I decided to turn the professionals for help. Lynn Stage of Commercial Filter Maintenance (CFM) is who I choose for all my clients air filtration needs. Lynn’s company not only manufacturer’s air filters, but his dedicated service team provides filter service to thousands of buildings in the Mid-South. Filter service may not be a glamorous job, or maybe that is your job. Regardless, this service could very well be the life or death of your building if not taking seriously. In my interview, I asked Lynn about his air filters and how his filters meet the requirements needed to prevent poor IAQ.
During my research on IAQ and learning about all the potential contaminants as listed above, the thought crossed my mind about the type of filters we provide for my clients. As I stated earlier, I use CFM for all my filter services. So in my interview with Lynn Stage, he explained to me that his 2″ Pro Pleat filters are manufactured to a MERV 8 rating or higher. MERV, what’s that? MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, and take its name from the ASHRAE standard 52.5 which addresses indoor air quality. If you are not familiar with ASHRAE, just think of them as the authors of our ‘HVAC Bible’, or go to their web site http://www.ashrae.org.
“Ok. So we are using the right filter in most applications, but how many times should they be replaced?” Again I turned to the professionals for the answer. Commercial Filter Maintenance, Company recommends that most commercial buildings have there filters replaced at least 4 times per year. For even better systems efficiency they would recommend 6 times per year or monthly depending on the buildings indoor environment.
Side Note: Because poor IAQ can negatively effect the health of a building’s occupants, it can become very costly to employers. Studies have shown how poor IAQ can significantly influence the occurrence of respiratory illnesses, allergy & asthma symptoms, worker productivity, motivation and performance. In my research I even read one study that said, “For every 10 workers, poor IAQ caused an additional 6 sick days per year. A filter upgrade is one of the least expensive alternatives to improve IAQ.
In my experience with building owners I have seen very poor indoor air quality. The common denominator shared was that while they may have been using the right filter, they weren’t being replaced enough. Filtering Particulate matter from the air is not a difficult thing to do. However, building owners and managers alike struggle with this task…a lot! In manufacturing facilities, the maintenance department, whose number priority is the production equipment, sometimes are asked to take on the responsibility of HVAC systems. However, when the production equipment fails, as it normally does, the HVAC maintenance/filter program often plays second fiddle, and is eventually forgotten.
Once I interviewed a Chief Engineer at a very large manufacturing facility whose name I will not mention. They employee over 1,000 people and their fully air conditioned, 630,000 square foot facility was in dire need of a better air filtration program. The engineer explained to me that because of the fumes, ink and other particle matter the production equipment produced, his filters needed to be replaced twice per month. Unbeknownst of the current condition of his systems and IAQ, he bragged on how efficient his maintenance department was at replacing the filters. After my survey I was convinced that the filter schedule wasn’t up to par so I discretely wrote my initials on one of the filters. Eight months later I went back to this plant and to the particular unit where I left my mark. Yep, you guessed it. My initials were still there. According to the engineer his maintenance department had missed 16 scheduled filter replacements. According to the maintenance men, they don’t have time to take care of the HVAC equipment. That is where a filter company such as CFM can help.
If you were wondering about the condition of the Indoor Air Quality at this particular plant, it was bad. So, bad that quite frequently people went home with headaches and drowsiness. The EPA and OSHA have made an appearance at this facility and their findings were just as I expected. I wasn’t the first to bring their IAQ issues to the table. Apparently their own employees did plenty of complaining up the corporate ladder.
Writing this article was no easy task. With so much written on the topic of IAQ and air filtration it was difficult to keep this article under 2000 words. For the purpose of an online magazine I have to be careful not to inundate my readers with too much information at one time. So before I bore you to sleep, let me wrap up this edition and review what we have learned:
o IAQ should not be taking lightly.
o There are many harmful pollutants that can enter your buildings indoor air environment.
o Air filtration is one of the best practices in the fight against poor indoor air.
o For most commercial buildings, a MERV 8 Pleated Filter (or higher) is highly recommended for clean IAQ and system efficiencies.
o For most commercial buildings, it is highly recommended to schedule your filter replacements at least 4 times per year.
o Last but not least, always turn to the experts when dealing with air filtration services.
“If you lacerated your finger, would you try and sow it back together yourself, or would you let a professional doctor attend to it?” The same can be said of your HVAC systems and air filtration. Lynn Stage and his team at Commercial Filter Maintenance are the professionals. They can provide you a recommended filter service plan specifically designed for your building. Call them today, you’ll be glad you did.
Last but not least. If you were to ask me what would be the top three things you could do to improve IAQ, they would be:
1. Improved intake controls through HVAC instrumentation and ventilation design
2. Regular HVAC maintenance
3. Use of adequate high efficiency air filters
To fully comprehend IAQ dynamics, just do as I did and ‘Google’ the topic. This article is but a small glimpse at IAQ. As I stated before, many books have been written the cause and effects of poor IAQ Listed below are several organizations that are dedicated to the improvement of IAQ. Feel free to click on any of the links to learn more.
“Until next to please remember to leave the Mechanical Matters® to us!”
James “Jimmy V” Veteto
Solutions Provider, S.M. Lawrence Company, Inc.
Author and Web Designer of Mechanical Matters®