Maintaining indoor air quality is a huge challenge for maintenance professionals. Renovation, construction, and other daily building operation duties can present a variety of scenarios that may release pollutants and contaminants into the air, impacting the IAQ of the building.
These contaminants and pollutants may penetrate other areas through your HVAC systems, and eventually, end up affecting the population of your entire building. Therefore, you must do some planning, such as material reviews, selection processes, and efficient control strategies. Additionally, proactive communication between the HVAC team can help control the contaminants and maintain a comfortable indoor environment for the occupants of the building.
Maintaining Indoor Air Quality: A Brief Guide
When dealing with the IAQ in a commercial building, you must first learn to identify the primary sources of contaminants, pollutants, and other health hazards.
Sources of Hazards and Contaminants
The sources of pollutants and contaminants vary because of numerous circumstances, such as the outdoor environment and the nature of work or activities within the building. However, here is a list of the most common sources of indoor air pollution and contamination.
VOC – Volatile Organic Compound
VOCs are compounds released in gaseous form from various sources. For example, if construction work is going on within your building, it may introduce various volatile organic compounds into the air. At higher levels, these emissions can start affecting the central nervous system of a building’s occupants. They may experience drowsiness, nausea, and headaches, along with many other symptoms like itchy noses, eyes, and throats.
Dust and Fiber Particles
Non-toxic dust can come from various activities, such as cleaning dirty areas, installation or remodeling, and the sanding or cutting of walls. Although they may not cause any long-term health concerns, they can increase discomfort for the occupants, and can sometimes be mistaken for asbestos. Other materials, such as mineral wool and fiberglass, can irritate the respiratory tract, eyes, and skin.
You must ensure that the building follows regulations for hazardous material such as carcinogens like asbestos and lead paint dust, which are toxic to the human nervous system.
If there are areas in a building with generators, vehicles, and space heaters, they can contaminate the air with chemicals. Activities such as welding can also introduce contaminants or ozone. These gases can irritate the nose, throat, eyes, and respiratory system. Building occupants with asthma may experience a severe reaction if exposed to these gases, and high levels of exposure can be fatal.
Biological and Physical Agents
Biological pollutants include dust mites, fungi, insects, and other airborne microorganisms caused by stagnant water, animals, and bird droppings. Physical agents include vibrations, noise, and uncomfortable indoor temperatures. Vibrations may also cause chemical material to spill from the structure of the building, causing other forms of pollution.
IAQ Maintenance Strategies
Here are some of the indoor air quality control and maintenance strategies that you must apply in commercial buildings to ensure hygienic IAQ.
You must already be aware of any existing building hazards to eliminate recurring IAQ issues. Conduct a thorough inspection of your premises, especially during the renovation and construction project planning phases.
You must be proficient at identifying sources of microbial and dust contamination. If you are not sure, consult professionals such as Tate Engineering to perform a survey and analyze your commercial premises. You can also implement a source management strategy by opting for one of the following:
Identify the source of pollutants and relocate them to a place where it does not affect the IAQ. For example, if you have a generator, move it away from the air intake of the building.
You must identify materials that are more likely to affect indoor air quality. Next, you must select a substitute if possible. For example, you can advise building owners to choose latex over oil-based paint, replace pressed wood with hardwood, etc.
You can also create a barrier to cover the source of the contaminant and isolate it. For example, you can cover the maintenance section using barriers and polyethylene sheets, isolating it from the rest of your building’s ventilation system. This will prevent the pollutants from passing throughout the building. You can also keep the doors closed and seal any staircases so they don’t end up being conduits for the pollutants.
You must utilize local exhaust or dilution ventilation with isolation techniques to reduce or prevent the spread of contaminants. Dilution ventilation will increase the outside airflow in the affected area, flushing out the pollutants and reducing their levels. If the HVAC system of the building can get affected by the work, you must change all filters at the end of the project. When higher contamination levels and strong odors are inevitable, you must encapsulate the affected area and place it under negative pressure.
It is probably unrealistic to believe you can eliminate airborne pollutants entirely. However, you can always minimize exposure for the occupants of the building. For example, always schedule construction and fumigation for times when you expect the lowest occupancy in your building - such as evenings, weekends, and holidays. Beware that some occupants are sensitive to the slightest levels of pollutants, so they may need to be relocated. For this, you will need to have better communication with all the stakeholders.
Always advise the housekeeping staff to use filtered vacuum cleaners to rectify the recirculation of pollutants. They must suppress dust using wet methods and quickly act to clean any spill, liquid or material.
Advance notifications and proactive communication will help you prevent IAQ issues. For projects such as roofing, fumigation, painting, and flooring, you must always have a list of departmental contacts in order to notify them in advance. Provide them with project dates, as well as any expected discomforts such as strong odors, noise, vibration, dust, or other disruptions they may face. If you feel confident, you can also advise them to relocate temporarily to a different section of the building.
Consult the Experts
If you need advice on IAQ maintenance, and what measures you must take, consult professional HVAC experts such as Tate/Site Support Engineering. We can organize a survey with you to analyze your needs and advise a solution that fits your indoor air quality requirements.