Are you beginning to suspect that you have a sick building on your hands?
When mysterious illnesses begin to occur in your office, at first it might seem like a coincidence. For a while you might assume that stress is making everyone sick. But as the reported cases increase, and people notice that their symptoms disappear after they go home, the term “Sick Building Syndrome” starts to be whispered throughout your workplace.
It can be an alarming situation, make no mistake about it, especially if you’re in charge of your company’s facilities. You’re probably having nightmares about the CDC shutting you down. But in most cases, there’s no reason to panic. That’s because the most common causes of Sick Building Syndrome can be eliminated with air conditioner preventive maintenance.
Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome
Sick Building Syndrome is a somewhat confusing term. Is it the building that’s sick or the people occupying it? Most likely, both your employees and your building are experiencing symptoms, it’s just that the human symptoms get noticed faster.
These are some of the symptoms people may be experiencing, according to the National Institute of Health:
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
- Dry, itchy skin
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sensitivity to odors
At the same time, these are some of the building symptoms you may be noticing:
- Musty odors
- Odors from chemicals or outside sources such as exhaust fumes
- Moisture issues, such as wet ceiling tiles, walls or floors
- Stuffy air and excess humidity
- Temperature variance, with some areas too hot and others too cold
- You may even see evidence of mold growth in areas where water is present
The connection between Sick Building and air conditioner preventive maintenance
The term “Sick Building Syndrome” is commonly used to describe scenarios where many occupants of a building complain about a variety of health conditions unrelated to a specific illness.
The cause seems mysterious at first, but today experts understand that the underlying cause of these symptoms often boils down to poor indoor air quality. According to OSHA, one of the most common causes of indoor air quality issues is poor upkeep of HVAC systems. That’s why air conditioner preventive maintenance can be an important step to improving air quality and people’s health issues.
Top 5 causes of the Sick Building & how to prevent them
These are the most common causes of Sick Building Syndrome, and how air conditioner preventive maintenance can remediate as well as prevent these issues.
1. Excess humidity
Humid air is a problem to be avoided at all costs. Uncontrolled humidity in your workplace can make the conditions ripe for many air quality problems, including the growth of illness-causing microorganisms (see cause #2), and the accumulation of chemical contaminants (see cause #3).
When your office HVAC system is not working efficiently, you will often experience humidity problems. There are many wear-and-tear issues that can occur that decrease the performance of your AC and render it incapable of removing enough moisture from the air. Air conditioner preventive maintenance helps get humidity under control by keeping your system working effectively.
2. Bacteria and mold
As mentioned above, the spread of bacteria, viruses, mold and mildew spores through your AC and ventilation systems is a common cause of Sick Building Syndrome. Especially in an environment with high humidity, these contaminants can be accumulating inside your AC equipment and in your ductwork, and being circulated throughout your workplace.
When you invest in air conditioner preventive maintenance, your system is thoroughly inspected, cleaned and tuned up to remove contaminants as well as improve air flow to prevent recurrence.
TIP: If an inspection of your ductwork reveals a buildup of dust or mold, you may also need duct cleaning services.
3. Chemicals and VOCs
Another common cause of health symptoms is high levels of noxious chemicals and VOCs, including cleaning products, ozone (from copiers) and formaldehyde (released from indoor building materials). High humidity can increase the levels of these contaminants in the air.
Improving air flow with air conditioner preventive maintenance can help reduce the accumulation of these substances in the air by properly venting them out of the building.
4. Pollution from outside
This is a common issue in city environments where ozone levels, vehicle exhaust and other outdoor air pollution levels are high. If your HVAC system is not properly designed, you could be drawing pollution from the outside into your space. For example, air intakes could be located near industrial exhaust vents, or close to vehicle traffic.
An inspection of your HVAC system should be done during your air conditioner preventive maintenance visit. Especially if you are experiencing air quality issues, your technician can check to see if system design changes can make a difference in the air quality in your workplace.
5. Poor ventilation
Just about all of the causes of the Sick Building are related to poor ventilation. That’s what allows contaminant levels to build up to the point where they cause symptoms. In most cases, a properly designed and maintained ventilation system should remove the humidity, bacteria, VOCs and other sources of poor indoor air quality.
There are a number of causes for inadequate ventilation, including poor system design, location of intakes and vents (as mentioned above), clogged ducts, dirty air filters, and neglected upkeep of the system. That’s why air conditioner preventive maintenance is so important.
Related article: Top 10 Causes of HVAC Airflow Problems
Air conditioner preventive maintenance helps you breathe easier
Not only will your employees feel better, but you’ll be breathing a sigh of relief when you don’t have to be concerned about the impact of Sick Building on your business.
Air conditioner preventative maintenance is the key to keeping the source of air in your workplace in good working order, and maintaining air quality.
Here’s an important tip: all AC preventative maintenance plans are not alike. Make sure you get a plan and a contract that’s customized to the needs of your equipment, your usage and your business. Find out more from this helpful resource to HVAC Preventive Maintenance Contracts: How to Find The Right One For Your HVAC Infrastructure.