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Are Indoor Odor Problems Driving Your Customers Away?

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Last Updated on December 27, 2018


Indoor Odor is Really, Really Bad for Business

Comfort is an important factor in where people choose to shop or dine. But comfort is not only about the air temperature; if your establishment has an unpleasant indoor odor, you may be driving away customers in droves.

Who wants to eat a meal in a restaurant with a lingering indoor odor of grease or even mildew? In addition to the comfort factor, customers can’t help but wonder about cleanliness and food safety. They’re also not likely to spend much time shopping in a boutique that smells like a locker room.

When customers walk out, you’re losing more than just the customers who don’t return. It’s increasingly likely that those unhappy customers will share their negative experience with your indoor odor both with friends and on Yelp or Facebook. Word of mouth and bad reviews can severely damage the reputation of your business.

Customers who feel that you’re skimping on maintaining your air quality may wonder (out loud and on social media) if you’re also cutting corners on the quality of ingredients, food storage and handling, or even the cleanliness of your kitchen. In New York City, you have competitors on every block and customers will quickly make their way somewhere where they can eat or shop in comfort.

According to the Center for Disease Control, some indoor odor problems can even be a health hazard, especially when chemicals and VOC emissions are involved.

Controlling Indoor Odor Is About Managing Air Flow

Indoor odor problems can be surprisingly difficult to solve, and the causes are not always immediately apparent. If you’ve noticed an unpleasant indoor odor, you’ve probably already tried the obvious remedies like cleaning and deodorizers. If these haven’t helped, then the culprit may be your HVAC system.

Poorly designed or maintained HVAC systems can push air in the wrong direction, spreading nasty indoor odor that can hurt your business. Getting control over your system’s air flow can make a big difference in removing odors that can spell disaster for your business.

How unbalanced air flow moves indoor odor

HVAC systems move air through your building. Heating and air conditioning equipment pushes air in, while ventilation and exhaust systems remove air from the space.

When there is more air mechanically expelled from an area than air supplied, negative pressure causes air to be drawn in from outside the room, resulting in negative air flow. If you have a negative air flow situation in your restaurant dining room, odors from your kitchen may be drawn into the dining room.

Conversely, when more air is pushed into your space than removed by exhaust, positive air flow is created. If your restroom has a positive air flow, those odors are being pushed out to other areas where customers can notice.

Negative air pressure can be used to move indoor odor in a desired direction; that is, away from your customers. A negative air flow is created by ensuring that the amount of air exhausted out of the zone is greater than the replacement air, also called makeup air, entering the zone from your clean air delivery system. When your HVAC system is properly designed and configured, you can control air flow to avoid that nasty indoor odor.

Related article: Your HVAC System Could Be The Cause of Your Smelly Building.

Humidity Can Also Cause Indoor Odor Problems

Particularly in the summer months, your air conditioner may have trouble removing the humidity from the air. That’s especially likely if you have a system that’s oversized for your space, which is surprisingly common. Oversized units tend to turn on and off frequently and never run for long enough to remove humidity from the air.

Too much moisture in the air can cause mold and mildew to grow and lead to a musty, unpleasant indoor odor. Humidity and mildew can also cause much worse issues than odors; it can make people seriously sick, so be sure to address this problem right away.

Related article: Air Conditioner Mold: Can You Get Sick from Air Conditioning?.

Strategies to Get Rid of Indoor Odor

Improve air flow

Proper air flow is one of the most critical things your air conditioner needs to remove indoor odor and do its job properly. Poor air flow can be caused by any of the following air conditioning problems:

  • Clogged filter
  • Blower motor or fan problems
  • Leaking ducts
  • Blocked registers or vents
  • Inadequate or improperly designed ventilation

Control humidity

If you suspect your indoor odor problem is caused by humidity and mildew, take the following steps:

  • Check for water leaks in your air conditioner and plumbing.
  • Remove any standing water in in humidifiers, air conditioning units, on roofs and in boiler pans.
  • Partner with an HVAC professional to make sure your system is correctly designed. A qualified HVAC contractor can perform an analysis of your ventilation system using ASHRAE guidelines to make sure the design is adequate for the space and building occupants.

Don’t neglect HVAC maintenance

Many of the causes of poor air flow and uncontrolled humidity that lead to indoor odor problems can be fixed with HVAC preventive maintenance. Here’s how:

  • Your technician will replace or clean air filters and check for any other blockages that are preventing air from flowing through the system.
  • Fan blades will be cleaned, speed adjusted if needed, and motors inspected for proper operation.
  • Coils will be cleaned to remove grime that impedes your system’s operation.
  • Your tech can check the condition of the ducts and look for leaks.
  • If you have recently replaced equipment (or even just changed the layout of your space) without updating the ventilation, ask your technician for an evaluation of your ductwork. A few small changes can sometimes make a big difference in the air flow.

Think HVAC preventative maintenance is too expensive? Think again! Besides fixing your indoor odor problem, caring for your air conditioning system makes it run more efficiently with fewer breakdowns and a longer life span. It also makes your space more comfortable, and you’ll even see your energy bills go down. It’s a win-win!

The trick is to get an agreement that’s customized for your equipment, your needs and your budget. To learn more, take a look at our helpful guide to HVAC Preventive Maintenance Contracts: How to Find The Right One For Your HVAC Infrastructure.

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