There is particulate matter in the air that we breathe. This is in the form of dander, pollen odors, dust, smoke, and pathogens among other things. There are several air purifying technologies that are in use in various commercial buildings. One of the more recent additions is the patented needlepoint bipolar ionization (NPBI) technology which cleans the air using ventilation and charged ions.
The technology provides clean indoor air, which is free from ozone and harmful byproducts. NPBI-based equipment can effectively reduce pathogens, odors, and other airborne particulates. This guide will discuss the most up to date air filtration systems inside a building.
Definition of Indoor Air Quality
Indoor air quality refers to the way air within a facility or building affects a person’s comfort, health and ability to work. IAQ is a major concern for employees, business owners, and rental managers among others because of its huge impact on the productivity and well-being of employees.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has carried out several studies regarding the effects of indoor air pollution on employee productivity and health. It is a fact that most commercial buildings don’t have a major issue. However, there are several well-maintained buildings that have poor indoor air.
Poor indoor air quality can result in increased absences of employees and productivity problems as per the EPA. They have estimated that the health consequences of poor indoor air quality costs the US government billions each in productivity loss and medical bills.
First Things First: How Clean Is Your Air?
An increasing number of facility managers are getting concerned with how clean or dirty the air in their house is. Indoor air quality can be 2 – 5 times dirtier or more polluted as compared to outdoor air. This is a major deal since 90% of the time of an average American adult is spent indoors (work, home and shopping or recreational centers).
Poor air quality can threaten the health of your employees and other stakeholders which makes it important to identify the sources of pollutants. Different buildings have different indoor air quality levels depending on:
- Amount of human traffic
- Scale of natural ventilation
- Type of cleaning solutions used
- Frequency of deep cleaning in the workplace
- Whether pets are allowed in the facility
You should know that on an average every office building and household is a potential source of toxic pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, hydrocarbons, sulfur dioxide, radon, and asbestos among others. Paints, pesticides, floor cleaner, furniture and fixture polish, lamps cleaner, laundry aids, glue, polish, and air fresheners are the primary source of pollutants.
How Is Air Quality Changing?
A growing body of scientific evidence, in the last few years, has indicated that air within a commercial facility can be more polluted as compared to outdoor air. This is true for metropolitans and large industrialized cities as well. Sources of indoor pollution contribute to particles or gases into the air causing breathing difficulties and other health related concerns.
Inadequate ventilation is one of the primary reasons for the change of air quality. Facility managers, in an effort to reduce energy bills and increase HVAC efficiency, invest in superior insulation. This increases indoor air pollutants which get circulated throughout the building. High relative humidity levels and temperature because of climate change is another contributing factor to poor indoor air quality.
There are several sources of indoor air pollution in a building. The way any given single source impacts the overall air quality of a building depends on how hazardous the emissions are and the amount of pollutant emitted.
Why Is Indoor Air Quality A Concern?
Air pollution is an increasing concern that is only becoming worse with climate change. Industrial plants, vehicles, and large fires among other factors produce particles and fumes that contaminate the air. Many people think that staying inside with the HVAC system running can protect them. But, this is where most business owners and facility managers go wrong.
Indoor Air Quality also affects employee productivity and leaves businesses dependent on a workforce that is not retainable, healthy or agile. Most people don’t realize that their nagging symptoms, such as a perpetual cold is because of the air they breathe in their homes and workplaces. Poor IAQ in a commercial establishment can also cause headaches, sore throats, respiratory problems, skin rashes, chronic cough, lethargy, eye irritation, memory lapses, and dizziness.
Top 10 Indoor Pollutants
Pollutant sources are one of the most significant factors influencing indoor air quality. These are a few commonly found office pollutants as per the EPA:
- Asbestos from fire-retardant and insulating building supplies
- Environmental tobacco smoke
- Formaldehyde from wood products (pressed)
- Carpet and other furnishings
- Organic compounds from building materials
- Cleaning materials and actions
- Adhesives, paints, and copying machine residue
- Restroom air fresheners
- Pesticides from pest management practices
- Biological contaminants from water-damaged ceilings, carpets and walls, and dirty ventilation systems
What Are the Signs of Poor Air Quality in Office Buildings?
The general public has recognized the importance of a comfortable, healthy and productive indoor environment. The demand and awareness of delightful indoor air quality (IAQ) has increased. There has been a spike in building-related illnesses. These are one of the primary signs of poor air quality in office buildings:
- Legionnaires disease
- Humidifier fever
- Hypersensitivity pneumonitis
Most of these are treatable diseases, but they involve prolonged recovery times, which can affect business productivity and employee morale. It is possible for building occupants to experience symptoms which may not fit the pattern of a particular illness. These are a few other signs that indicate poor air quality in commercial establishments:
- Burning or dry mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, and throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Lethargy or fatigue
It is possible for these symptoms to be because of thermal discomfort, vibration, noise, poor lighting, and psychological stress. There is no single pattern for signs and symptoms of dirty air to become visible. They may be localized in a particular zone or room or widespread throughout the building.
Few World Health Organization experts are of the opinion that 30% of remodeled or new buildings on a global scale are subject to excessive complaints owing to poor indoor air quality.
What Exactly Can Be Improved in Office Buildings?
Indoor air is increasingly becoming a lot worse than outdoor air. Workers are suffering several health problems because of poor IAQ. This makes it important for building owners and facility managers to promote a clean and safe environment. This doesn’t just promote comfort, but also protects visitor and employee health.
These are a few ways to improve the air quality in office buildings:
- Reduce Air Borne Contaminants Inside Buildings
Clean workplaces have lower levels of dust, mold, contaminants, and allergens which may spread throughout the air. You should ensure your commercial cleaning service providers use eco-friendly products that don’t release harmful chemical compounds in the air.
You can maintain good IAQ levels by installing commercial-grade equipment, such as needlepoint bipolar ionization air sterilization system, dehumidifiers, air scrubbers, and air purifiers. According to the University of Colorado, investing in air purification equipment can prevent the need for hiring professionals.
- Consider Filter Upgrades
You should clean your HVAC systems on a regular basis as per the CDC guidance. It is important to change the filters to prevent air pollutants and dust from circulating back inside. You should also consider upgrading to a higher MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating filter within your HVAC system.
- Maintain Proper Ventilation
Allow outdoor air to enter the facility by leaving the windows open or through other methods. It is important that you always keep air vents unblocked. Air circulation can get disrupted when you place storage boxes, furniture, cabinets or chairs in front of the air vents. This can cause the entire office to feel stuffy. Indoor air plants are a great way of improving indoor air quality. They absorb carbon dioxide while releasing oxygen.
- Carry Out Regular Air Testing
You can get the right insights and information about the air quality by performing indoor air testing. This will allow you to create a comprehensive plan for keeping contaminants, such as dust, pollen, dander, bacteria, and viruses to a minimum. Air quality tests check airflow, humidity levels, ventilation, odors, mold growth, and water damage.
Ten Tips for Improving the Indoor Environment
These are 10 useful tips for improving indoor environment and air quality:
- Allow Natural Air In
Whenever humidity levels and temperature permits, you should open windows and doors. Natural sunlight and open air will ensure the inside air is rotating and fresh. Natural ventilation reduces indoor pollutants and prevents recirculation of contaminants.
- Make Use of Air Purifiers
HEPA filter air purifiers carry out an excellent job of removing contaminants from the air. Activated carbon filters are useful in removing chemicals and gas along with particulate matter.
- Frequently Replace Air Filters
Replace or clean your air filters as per manufacturer instructions. This will prevent pollutants from getting back inside the ductwork. Clean air filters will also prevent mold spores and mildew contaminants.
- Place Indoor Plants
There are several benefits of getting indoor plants. They enhance the overall décor and are refreshing to the eyes. They also purify the air. Facility managers should consider getting golden pothos (Scindapsus aures) and spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) among others. These plants are effective in absorbing carbon monoxide, benzene, formaldehyde, and xylene from the air.
- Check Building Furnishings and Materials
Carpeting, insulation, furniture, and cabinetry made of pressed wood and paint release tiny amount of chemicals in the air. This is a secret type of pollutant that can cause a lot of damage. It is recommended not to get such furniture or furnishings in an office space.
- Make Designated Smoking Spots
Cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and formaldehyde among thousands of other chemicals. Exposure to secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer, asthma cancer and various other infections. You should create a designated smoking spot in an open area somewhere. Indoor smoking can cause the air filters to become dirtier before their time.
- Sanitize and Clean the Air Ducts
HVAC systems are responsible for circulating hot and cold air throughout the office. Over a period of time, debris, dust, bacteria, and mold may accumulate within the air ducts. These contaminants can quickly spread throughout the office and cause air borne infections. They may also spread bad odor.
- Install the Right Solution
You should find solutions that can tackle your particular IAQ concern. High carbon dioxide levels can be fixed with demand-controlled ventilation. PM levels can be reduced with HEPA filters and air ventilation. Carbon and UV filters can help reduce VOCs, bacteria and viruses, such as coronavirus. NPBI air sterilization systems can reduce the impact of odors, mold, bacteria, viruses, and particulate matter.
- Keep the Office Clean
You can reduce the build-up of bioaerosols and allergens from speaking, coughing and sneezing by keeping surfaces clean. These contaminants can quickly adhere to surfaces and cause infection or illness spreads. Shared surfaces and desks should be daily wiped down for reducing the build-up of bacteria and dust.
- Keep Certain Equipment Separate
Photocopiers, printers, and mold, bacteria, viruses and other pathogens can emit indoor air pollutants, such as VOCs, particulate matter, ozone. These are linked with fatigue, tight chest, headaches, and other SBS symptoms. Keep this machinery in a separate room with increased ventilation for reducing air changes.
Why Clean the Office’s Air Anyway?
Dirty air can create several health problems in humans. However, when it comes to an office environment, poor air quality can affect employee productivity, decision making, and other skills, which eventually reduces the overall profit. These are 4 ways in which businesses are impacted by indoor air quality:
- Increased Absenteeism
Workforce is the greatest expenditure for any organization. Absenteeism and sick leaves mean that the organization just doesn’t lose productivity, but also suffer huge losses in paying for sick leaves. Air pollution is closely related to more sick leaves. It can worsen existing medical conditions or cause new ones. New studies show that air pollution can affect every cell and organ in the human body.
- Decreased Productivity
Evidence suggests that poor IAQ can make employees sick and less productive. Research indicates that job performance is negatively impacted when employees breathe dirty air. This is true for labor-intensive as well as indoor desk jobs where employees sit at their workstations the whole day.
- Limited Decision-making
An increasing number of studies are being conducted on the impact of indoor air pollution on decision making skills. A study performed by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health reports that there is a direct relation between risk aversion and pollution. Risk taking behavior affects stock returns. Another study by Harvard Chan School of Public Health found a negative and direct impact of carbon dioxide on decision-making and cognition skills.
- Challenges in Employee Retention
Poor indoor air quality adds to unhappiness and dissatisfaction among employees. It adds to the challenges of employee retention. Almost 93% employees stayed longer at a company that provided a healthier workspace as per a recent survey of employees in the tech industry. People are motivated to produce results for an organization that cares about their well-being and invests in their health.
Anatomy Of Building Ventilation
Ventilation moves and distributes outdoor air into a room or a building. It serves a general purpose of providing healthy air for breathing by diluting contaminants that originate in the building and by removing the pollutants.
There are three core elements of building ventilation:
- Ventilation rate or clean air delivery rate refers to the amount of outdoor air infused in a particular space
- Airflow direction is the basic direction of flow of air in a building. Airflow should only be from clean to dirty zones.
- Airflow pattern refers to the way in which external air is delivered to every part of the indoor space.
There are three types of ventilation that can be used for ventilating a building – natural, mechanical and hybrid.
Natural Ventilation – How It Works
Natural forces, such as thermal buoyancy and winds force outdoor air into interior spaces. This is through building envelope openings or purpose-built openings, such as solar chimneys, windows, doors, trickle ventilators, and wind towers. Natural ventilation depends on building design, climate, and human behavior.
It makes use of environmentally friendly systems that don’t require mechanical or automated solutions. Additionally, natural ventilation is more ecological and cost-efficient.
Enhanced Ventilation – Why and How It Is Used?
Enhanced ventilation is possible through mechanical systems. These systems make use of fans that are installed directly in walls, windows, or air ducts. The fans remove polluted air from a particular space and supply clean air. There are various types of mechanical ventilation available. They work by extracting stale air and infusing the space with fresh air.
The Outside Air – Entry, Return, And Extraction Points
Outdoor air can leave and enter a building through natural ventilation, mechanical ventilation, and infiltration. Air temperature differences cause natural air to move into an office building in case of infusion and natural ventilation. Mechanical ventilation devices can expel air in a better manner using extraction points. For instance, an exhaust fan or a chimney is useful in removing stale air and allowing fresh air to take its place. Air exchange rate is the rate at which indoor air is replaced by outdoor air.
Importance of an Air Filter?
Building operators and facility managers are aware of the importance of changing or cleaning an HVAC system’s air filter. They play an important role in maintaining air quality. Commercial air filters may require changing 3 – 4 times in a year. However, there are other units installed in high-traffic areas that need replacing every month.
Air filters serve the primary purpose of cleaning indoor air. They trap particulates and prevent them from circulating back in the HVAC system. Air filters also prolong the life of an HVAC unit by keeping dust, pollen, dander, and other contaminants away from the evaporator and condenser coils.
These are a few contaminants that are picked up by air filters and prevented from recirculating in a facility:
- Mold spores
- Other particulate matter
Without having a clean air filter, you place the health of all employees, vendors, suppliers and visitors at risk. Pollutants will get recirculated through the ductwork. Dirty air filters allow mold and bacteria to get into the unit. This can cause greater problems as per leading air-conditioning engineers.
What Influences Indoor Air Quality?
These are a few factors that affect the indoor environment and well-being of employees:
Particles, such as PM10, PM2.5, fine particles, and ultrafine particles can cause several adverse health effects, including cardiovascular and respiratory issues.
Microbial agents are known to play a significant role in allergic reactions and asthma among other diseases. Poor indoor air quality can be due to mold growth, viruses, and other allergens.
- Pets and pests
Rodents, cockroaches and other pests are a common problem in commercial establishments. You may have a bigger problem if your office allows employees to bring their pets to work. Animals contribute to dander and other allergens which can significantly reduce indoor air quality.
Humidity in an indoor space needs to be at optimal level to contribute to the air quality. Low humidity can result in dryness, rash, nasal dryness, eye irritation and other things. Excessive humidity can cause water to condense on cold surfaces, causing mold problems and water damage. High humidity also results in dust mites.
Ventilation is an important contributing factor to IAQ. Poor ventilation can cause excess concentrations of carbon dioxide. Building tightness because of thermal insulation may prevent adequate ventilation. In this case, building owners should consider installing controlled ventilation outlets.
Having a proper temperature is the most basic requirement of indoor air. Extreme temperatures pose a serious health hazard and are perceived to be more than just unpleasant. High temperature can contribute to excessive humidity resulting in growth of mold spores.
Air Filters in The Workplace
Air pollution and its harmful effects is not a secret. There are a lot of studies confirming the health risks associated with poor indoor air quality. In 2003, European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) published a study that connected poor air quality with an increase in the number of people infected with SARS. Covid-19 patients are 84% more likely to die if kept in a polluted environment. This is one of the reasons why facility managers should consider improving the air quality.
Why Air Filtration Is Necessary?
Most of the time spent by an adult American is indoors. This makes it important to ensure that indoor air is of good quality. Every commercial facility makes use of chemicals or chemical-based cleaning agents. Ventilation cannot take care of droplets secreted while sneezing or coughing. This makes air filtration necessary.
How Air Filtration Works?
An air filtration system prevents air contaminants and pollutants from entering the establishment. It captures particulate matter before they enter the air ducts and occupied spaces. There are different models and types of air filtration systems. Air purifiers, essentially, make use of internal fans for pulling air into a space. This air is moved through a number of air filters to catch airborne particles and pollutants. The air is circulated through the rooms of a property and the process is repeated over time.
There are many types of commercial air filtration units. Some of them are portable while others are not. Portable HEPA air purifiers can also be called air cleaners or air cleaning device. Both devices make use of powerful fans for circulating the air within a building through a filter.
How to Choose an Air Filter?
These are a few steps that can help you choose the right air filter:
Implementation cost is a major factor when it comes to installing an air filter in a commercial facility. You should evaluate total system costs when considering an enhanced filtration upgrade. You should conduct life cycle cost analysis as well. Typically, higher efficiency filters have higher initial cost. However, they also work in filtering out more particulate matter.
- Particulate Air Filtration
You should evaluate the level and type of contamination while choosing an air filtration system. You can identify contaminants and then use the ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 52.2-1999 for choosing the right MERV filter. ANSI/ASHRAE standard helps in selecting an air filter that can remove contaminants as per particle size.
- New Technologies
Higher efficiency filtration system can cause pressure drops. There are several new technologies that are being created and used by innovative leaders. For instance, the NPBI air sterilization system manufactured by Global Plasma Solutions (GPS) can save up to 30% energy consumption while effectively removing odors, VOCs and other particulate matter.
Air Filtration Inside the Building Against Covid19
HVAC filters and air cleaners are designed to filter contaminants and pollutants out of the air passing through them. Air filtration and cleaning can reduce airborne contaminants, including viruses. However, for the air filtration system to be effective against coronavirus, you would need the filter to be able to remove small airborne particles sized 0.1-1 um.
Bipolar ionization is an advanced technology being used in portable air cleaners and HVAC systems. They generate negatively and positively charged particles. The technology can be used for removing coronavirus from the air and preventing airborne transmission of disease transmission. It can also be used for facilitating surface disinfection.
The 3 Air Filtration Technologies Inside Buildings
Good IAQ results in increased productivity and better health. These are 5 popular air filtration technologies:
- HEPA Technology
HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air and has been in use for many years. These filters are supposed to trap at least 99.97% particulate matter that is larger than 0.3 microns in size. Particles, such as viruses, mold and bacteria cannot be seen in the air filter since they are smaller than 10 microns (smallest a human eye can see).
- UV Technology
This is usually used in combination with particulate filter systems. The air filters get rid of most airborne particles and these kill germs, such as bacteria.
- Negative Ion
These purifiers inject negative ions to attract airborne particles, such as dust and pollen. The newly formed particle becomes too heavy to be airborne. It drops and attaches to another solid item, such as a wall or window. This allows for cleaner air without aerosols.
Ozone is released by these air purifiers for improving IAQ. Health professionals have time and again refuted the claims of these air purifiers being effective or safe.
- Activated Carbon Technology
This is a type of carbon which has been processed for the purpose of making it extremely porous. Activated carbon filters have a larger surface area that makes them highly absorbent. It gives them chemical bonding ability, which makes them an effective tool for trapping chemical emissions, tobacco smoke, gases, and odors among other pollutants.
Breathing Safe Air with Servi-Tek
You should schedule an air quality test soon to assess the situation if you believe your office space has poor IAQ. You can proactively keep your team healthy and happy by testing for general environment conditions, mold spores, and toxic gases.
Servi-Tek is a leading commercial facility engineering services firm that recently installed a needlepoint bipolar ionization system in the Davies Pacific Center in Hawaii. Bipolar ionization systems work by sending positive and negative ions through the air conditioning duct where they get attached to viruses, bacteria, mold, dust, odor, and other pathogens or particulate matter.
Give us a call today at 866-454-6185 or use our online form if you are concerned with the air quality in your facility.
Multi-Clean welcomes guest blog posts from companies like Servi-Tek that align with our mission to support facilities efforts to clean better, faster, and safer.