Yesterday was Earth Day, and here at Arista we work hard to be environmental leaders in the HVAC&R industry, both in our offices and in the field. We created our Blue Sky Initiative to inform our community about currently available clean and green practices. We believe that we can all be comfortable without sacrificing air quality or overtaxing our natural resources. In honor of Earth Day, this post is dedicated to one of the key ways regular HVAC maintenance can actually help promote a healthy environment!
Poor air quality not only has an impact on the environment, it also has an impact on your environment, and often presents itself as Sick Building Syndrome. It is every building owner’s nightmare. It starts slowly: you get a few complaints from occupants about strange symptoms they experience while in your building. Next you hear about increasing numbers of employees calling in sick. When you start to get worried, you consult with medical professionals, who fail to find a connection between the different symptoms people are experiencing. As things get worse, you worry about what happens next. Will the CDC come knocking on your door? Will the situation get reported in the media? Will you have to shut down the building to get to the bottom of this?
Don’t panic! Unfortunately, it’s an all too common scenario, but surprisingly easy to fix, and better yet, prevent in the first place. One of the main causes of Sick Building Syndrome is, as you might have guessed, poor indoor air quality caused by an improperly maintained HVAC system. By contracting with HVAC professionals to perform regular scheduled inspections and service for your air conditioning, heating, and ventilation equipment, you can keep your building occupants healthy and productive. The most surprising part? You can even save on energy costs in the process.
What is Sick Building Syndrome?
Sick Building Syndrome was first identified following a building boom in the 1980’s, when people began reporting a variety of symptoms after spending time in newly constructed or renovated buildings. Officially, the term is used to describe situations where a large number of people complain about varying adverse health effects for which no specific illness can be identified. Today we know that Sick Building Syndrome is caused by a variety of factors that all contribute to poor indoor air quality, including:
- The release of noxious chemicals from many modern building materials
- Mold growth due to humid conditions
- Exposure to airborne chemicals, bacteria and viruses due to inadequate ventilation and lack of fresh air in sealed buildings
- Dirty HVAC systems that are not regularly serviced
A report by the World Health Organization suggests that up to 30% of new and remodeled buildings may be the subject of significant complaints about indoor air quality.
What kinds of symptoms do people suffer from?
The mysterious thing about Sick Building Syndrome is that it produces such a wide variety of symptoms in different people. This is why it often takes months or even years for building owners and managers to realize that a problem exists, and to figure out what to do about it.
These are some of the most common symptoms that people report from exposure to poor indoor air quality:
- Upper and lower respiratory symptoms such as sinusitis, coughing, sneezing and sore throats
- Increase in allergies and asthma attacks
- Burning and itching eyes
- Dry skin and rashes
- Chest tightness
- Fatigue and difficulty concentrating
Obviously, there are many possible causes for each of these symptoms, which is why Sick Building Syndrome can be so difficult to diagnose. Anytime there seems to be an increase in the number of people who complain about feeling ill or uncomfortable while in your building, your first thought should be about your HVAC system. When was the last time you had it maintained?
It’s easy to keep your building healthy.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), one of the most common causes of poor indoor air quality is poor upkeep of ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems.
Most causes of Sick Building Syndrome can be remediated and prevented by making sure your HVAC system is properly designed for your space, correctly controlled and functioning efficiently, and regularly inspected and cleaned.
As building uses and occupants change, the insides are often reconfigured in ways that decrease the effectiveness of the HVAC system. This is especially true of large open office spaces with cubicles. A qualified HVAC contractor can perform an analysis of your equipment and ventilation system using ASHRAE guidelines to make sure the design is adequate for the space and building occupants. Sometimes minor changes in design can make a big difference in air quality and comfort levels.
Temperature and Humidity Settings
For optimal air quality, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends maintaining temperatures between 68°F to 78°F and 40 to 60% relative humidity. To keep levels where they should be, your thermostats and other controls need to be working correctly and equipment and ductwork need to be clean and functioning well.
Regular Inspections, Cleaning and Maintenance
Particularly in the spring and fall when air conditioners and heaters are turned on and off, your systems need to be cleaned and serviced to keep them working as designed. Filters and belts need to be cleaned or replaced, condensor and evaporator coils need to be cleaned, parts need to be lubricated, and electrical connections tested. Clearing any standing water, checking air flow, testing humidity levels, checking refrigerant levels and checking for leaks will keep your system working well and prevent air quality issues.
Regular maintenance helps you breathe easier and save money.
It’s critical to have regular inspections and preventative maintenance done by an expert to keep your system in good working order and to maintain good air quality. You’ll be breathing a sigh of relief when you no longer have to worry about the CDC or negative publicity driving away your customers.
However, you may not realize that good system maintenance can also save you money on your energy bills. Dirty vents and air filters, clogged condensate lines, leaking vents and poor drainage all decrease the performance of your system. Your equipment has to work harder and use more energy to keep your building comfortable. Preventative maintenance helps your system run efficiently and reduces energy consumption. To keep your building healthy, consider implementing a Preventative Maintenance Service Contract with an industry-leading HVAC company like Arista.
Interested in learning more about how a preventative maintenance plan can improve air quality in your building AND save you money? Download our white paper on HVAC Preventative Maintenance Contracts: How to Find the Right One for Your HVAC Infrastructure.