June 2, 2017
Are your building occupants complaining of symptoms like itchy eyes, coughs, allergies, and headaches? Have you noticed a persistent and unusual odor in your building lately? You’d be surprised at how common it is to have poor indoor air quality—and how often it is caused by a distinct source with an easy fix. In our 30 years of air quality testing, we’ve seen all kinds of problems due to poor air handling maintenance: from HVAC filters that haven’t been changed in years to pigeons roosting near the air intake and leaving feathers and droppings to forgotten insulation and trash inside the AHU after a contracting job. These problems are not unusual, and they’re not going away.
Air quality concerns and problems aren’t going away either. In fact, they seem to be on the rise, especially with growing reports of poor outdoor air quality across the globe.
To mitigate these growing concerns, we’ve compiled 6 important air quality tips that we recommend all property managers consider when building issues arise:
#1: Confirm adequate ventilation and airflow. When evaluating operations and activities in the building, are functions and spaces properly located and ventilated? For example, printers can often give off fire particulates, and kitchenettes and bathroom exhausts can create unpleasant odors. Making sure adequate ventilation and airflow are present relative to the purpose of the space can go a long way toward staving off complaints.
#2: Revisit your building’s cleaning services. Are the building cleaning schedules adequate? How frequently are you preventing dirt from entering the building at the doors and windows? Does the housekeeping schedule provide adequate removal of dust and particulates? Do they vacuum the carpets and dust the shelves with regularity? Simple spot checks on these services can often provide clues as to the efficacy of cleaning services.
#3: Create a water intrusion policy. Do you have a formal policy or procedure for responding to water intrusion? Timely and appropriate response (within 24-48 hours) can eliminate the potential for mold. Be specific in your plan and consider differences in policies, procedures, and timing regarding the source of the water intrusion (e.g., rainwater vs. toilet backup.)
#4: Develop a procedure for complaints. Do you have a standard operating procedure for responding to complaints? When a complaint occurs from a building occupant or a visitor, do you have a standard operating procedure for investigating and responding to the complaint? Often when complaints are ignored, there can be the perception that building air quality has worsened because no one is actively managing it…so make sure that you are proactively managing it!
#5: Maintain your HVAC filters. Have the HVAC filters been regularly and properly maintained? Filters must be changed on an appropriate schedule. We have found that even filters that have been changed quarterly create the potential for dust-related allergies and/or bacterial and fungal growth, which can aggressively impact building occupants. And remember – not all filters are the same so it is important you use filters that are of good quality.
#6: Visit the air handler. When was the last time you visited the air handler? Beyond filters, consider checking that water and dust are not accumulating inside the air handler. The entire AHU from outdoor air intake to discharge into the building, supply ducts, and return ducts all warrant inspection to identify problems.
So what do you do if you find you have a more serious air quality problem? Indoor air quality should always be evaluated relative to outdoor air quality. If outdoor air quality is good, increasing ventilation may be sufficient. However, when outdoor air quality is an issue, active management of air inside the building envelope is critical.
In an age where air quality is increasingly challenging to manage, proactive measurement and maintenance of indoor air quality – as suggested in our 6 tips above – can be critical to maintaining employee health and wellness.