3 ways to improve air quality

3 ways to improve air quality

Improving indoor air quality, using a combination of source control, increased ventilation and air filtration makes eliminating contaminants before they are inhaled a reality. A few simple, proactive measures allow facility managers to get buildings cleaner by reducing allergens, airborne viruses and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Though most of these pollutants are invisible, they affect cleanliness and can significantly impact health. In fact, indoor air is often two to five times more polluted than outdoor air, according to an article in the November/December edition of FMJ magazine, which is published by the International Facility Managers Association.

Since the average person spends 90 percent of his or her time indoors, air quality in buildings is of the utmost importance, especially in high-occupancy places such as schools, offices, health care environments and senior living facilities. By taking buildings to the next level of cleanliness, facility managers have the opportunity to deliver the benefits of clean air including increased productivity, patron loyalty and general well-being.

Improving indoor air quality is a solution to some of a building’s most common pain points and provides facility managers with an integrated solution.

Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) is a much more common, and much more expensive, problem than many facility managers may realize. Contaminated air impacts building occupants’ health and may make poor impressions.

One reason IAQ suffers is because many buildings are designed to be airtight in order to cut down on energy costs and be more sustainable. The “tightness” often leads to inadequate ventilation, for which there’s not always a quick fix.

A lack of ventilation can also cause other problems, such as moisture buildup and mold growth. This is sometimes exacerbated in older buildings because they may contain hazardous building materials such as formaldehyde, lead or asbestos, adding to the cocktail of unsafe contaminants that linger in limited airspace.

While architects and builders are constantly adapting to create greener, healthier buildings, facility managers need to develop an IAQ action plan.

Here are three ways to improve indoor air quality, based on recommendations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

  • Control sources of contaminants
  • Improve ventilation
  • Use air cleaners

The source control aspect of this three-pronged approach is often the most accessible and affordable. Facility managers can test for hazardous contaminants and effectively remove them from the building or seal them off if it is more cost effective.

Another form of source control is simply avoiding the use of certain cleaning products, which can create a problem by releasing VOCs into the air. These products can trigger headaches and dizziness, as well as asthma or allergy attacks.

Improving ventilation is a more complex problem. If an HVAC system hasn’t been properly maintained, or in cases where older spaces are repurposed for a different use than originally planned, ventilation systems may be insufficient for the current needs of building occupants.

Remedying an outdated or inefficient HVAC system can quickly become expensive. More importantly, these larger systems are not intended to address higher-contaminant areas effectively. While HVAC systems can be adjusted for temperature control, a more targeted solution, such as commercial-grade air purifiers, is necessary for eliminating odors, germs and other contaminants in common areas.

The EPA’s third recommendation is installing air cleaners. Facility managers can make a few easy changes to reduce airborne contaminants, but air cleaners are the simplest solution for removing them almost entirely. These devices are a targeted solution that take facilities to the next level of cleanliness and provide infection control against airborne pathogens.

Commercial-grade air purifiers with HEPA filters effectively reduce allergens, VOCs, odors and even viruses such as influenza. In the U.S., true HEPA filters must reach the standard efficiency of removing 99.97 percent of particles that are 0.3 microns in size, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Air cleaners are particularly beneficial in problem areas that are prone to higher levels of contaminants. Bathrooms, locker rooms and conference rooms are common places in which germs, viruses and odor can quickly accumulate and create unhealthy air quality. By installing air purifiers, facility managers can minimize contaminants in the rooms that are the biggest perpetrators.

By tackling indoor air quality proactively, facility managers can save time and money and deliver a cleaner facility. Improving indoor air quality is universally beneficial, creating healthier outcomes for building occupants and facility managers alike. Occupants and workers can rest assured that they are working or living in a healthy environment, and facility managers won’t lose time dealing with complaints or trying to constantly spot-check problem areas.


Topics: Building Owners and Managers, Cleaning, Consulting - Green & Sustainable Strategies and Solutions, HVAC - Heating, Cooling, and Ventilation, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), Office Buildings, Paint - Low & No VOC, Sustainable Trends and Statistics, Ventilation

Companies: U.S. EPA, U.S. Department of Energy

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