How Indoor Air Quality Affects Your Property
Updated: Sep 14, 2022
Though public concerns surrounding COVID-19 have diminished significantly since its peak between 2020-2021, the pandemic brought up many property management concerns that may not have had the same weight in previous years. Indoor air quality (IAQ), for example, has become a hot-button issue for property managers; poor IAQ has been proven to be a key factor in the spread of COVID-19, and while less people may be actively cautious about COVID, more people have begun paying attention to the quality of their air. According to a study conducted by Panasonic, 39% of homeowners view their IAQ as unhealthy, while a staggering 62% of homebuilders said likewise.
Photo by Athena
Moreover, while the pandemic led more people to reflect on the quality of the air they breathe on a daily basis, it also had adverse impacts on how we choose to safeguard ourselves against poor air quality. Thanks to the increased use of disinfectants and cleaners, there are now more airborne chemicals floating around compared to previous years - while our surfaces are cleaner, the air quality around them is not. According to a report by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, air pollutants such as pollen, dust, pathogens, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are 2-5 times higher indoors, often stemming from HVAC systems, cleaning supplies, building materials, people, animals, and the outdoors. Breathing in these harmful elements can lead to minor issues like sneezing, dizziness, coughing, and fever, but it can also lead to more serious diseases and potential damage to the central nervous system, not to mention the increased risk of infection from viruses and pathogens.
In addition, properties with poor air quality often suffer from high rates of Sick Building Syndrome (yes it's a real thing), which describes the negative health impacts linked to how long a person spends inside a building. For commercial and office buildings, this can lead to tenants and workers taking more sick days as well as higher asthma rates.
If you’re looking after a commercial, industrial, institutional, or multi-residential property and want to take active steps to improve your IAQ, here are some quick tips to ensure you do so efficiently and effectively – and, as always, EAMA’s team of seasoned experts is on hand to provide solutions to any HVAC concerns you may have along the way.
Find the Source of Polluted Air
Air pollution can come from a wide range of sources depending on the type of property. Warehouses, for example, often suffer from air pollution via idling truck exhausts, which can waft through open docking stations doors and into the facility. Multi-residential apartments and condos, conversely, suffer from a litany of potential air quality hazards, such as poor pressurization, damaged or missing smoke seals, and air movement through elevator shafts. These factors can spread cigarette smoke, garbage, and food odours all around a building, impacting both air quality and tenant satisfaction.
You can imagine the smell.
Photo by Jill Burrow
Some of these issues have simple solutions. Always make sure that pollutants are kept away from natural airflow channels – for example, warehouse docking doors should remain shut while trucks are idling to avoid exhaust fumes entering the facility. The doors can also be kept open when there are no trucks docked, allowing the indoor air to filter out of the facility and be replaced by fresh outdoor air.
Furthermore, within commercial and multi-residential properties, always ensure that all seals and make-up air units are in working order to prevent pressure imbalances and leaks. Remember, hallway air should always be more pressurized than unit air, so that fresh air from the hallway can be pushed into each unit, instead of the other way around.
Additionally, wherever possible, try to limit the number of people in each space. Social distancing was one of the primary methods of stopping the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic, with many institutions still adhering to social distancing rules even without the mandate for masks. According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the minimum level of acceptable ventilation for office spaces is 17 cubic feet per minute; by limiting the occupancy of a space, it is easier for property managers to meet this standard and ensure that their tenants and employees are happy and healthy.
Find the Right Hardware
Of course, the simplest way to ensure that your property is being adequately ventilated is to install an effective HVAC filtration system. The HVAC industry has blossomed over the course of the pandemic, having been valued at an estimated $3.5 billion USD in 2021 with a projected compound annual growth rate of 5.0%, rising to approximately $4.5 billion by 2026. The success and market saturation of this industry means that property owners have a wide range of HVAC solutions depending on their budget, industry, and commitment to sustainability.
Photo by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez
The largest segment of this industry is HEPA technology, which uses a filter that forces air through a mesh, trapping harmful pollens, moulds, bacteria, and dust mite debris from entering an environment. To meet the HEPA standard, a filter must trap at least 99.97% of dust particles that are 0.3 microns or larger. These filters have seen wide adoption among residential properties, pharmaceutical production, food and beverage facilities, and a host of other environments. The main disadvantage of HEPA filters, however, is that their technology creates a barrier for smooth airflow, which can negatively impact the performance of HVAC systems.
An alternative to HEPA filters that is quickly gaining traction in the market is synthetic polymer filters, which can be made through either spun-bond or melt-blown manufacturing and are available in both pleated and stretched films. These filters can be more efficient and cost-effective compared to HEPA filters, in addition to being washable and reusable. They also have lesser airflow resistance and are quieter, making them an ideal option for property managers aiming to stay ahead of the curve.
In short, ensuring your air quality meets standards requires a combination of diligence, planning, and preparation. Be sure to pay close attention to the airflow channels within your property and mitigate any potential pollutants by introducing fresh outdoor air into your unit, controlling the flow using proper seals and filters, and installing effective HVAC systems to filter air properly. By keeping all these factors in mind, you can guarantee the health and safety of both your property and your tenants.