By: Robert Martin, CAFS, Associate Category Manager, Kimberly-Clark Professional Filtration |
Good indoor air quality (IAQ) can sometimes be difficult to achieve, but it’s certainly not impossible — especially if you have the right air filters…and the right people on your IAQ Team. That’s correct: Good IAQ requires a team effort to be successful and sustainable. If you’re looking to improve the IAQ in your building, here are the seven people who should be involved.
1. Building Owner/Manager: Should be the driving force behind IAQ-improvement programs. With the biggest picture overview of the facility, owners/managers should set policy and assign staff responsibilities. It may be best to designate a facility management professional to act as an IAQ representative — the main contact for all indoor environmental issues — and for that individual to take part in relevant continuing education. Formally assigning somebody to this role sends a message to everyone that IAQ is important.
In addition to making IAQ-related purchasing decisions, building owners/managers can direct space planning strategies to ensure the use and placement of furniture and equipment does not negatively affect the delivery of air to occupied spaces. Building owners/managers also have control over building maintenance protocols, such as facility cleanliness and housekeeping, giving them the opportunity to reduce or eliminate the source of some indoor air pollutants.
2. Facility/Maintenance Engineer: Responsible for ventilation system design and operation, equipment maintenance, control of pollution pathways and the amount (and quality of) outside air drawn into the building. Engineers must understand the potential trade-offs between providing good IAQ and managing energy costs, since operational changes intended to save energy can sometimes contribute to IAQ problems (and vice-versa). The HVAC unit’s air filtration system is a good example. In some cases, an air filter with good particle capture efficiency will have significant airflow resistance, requiring the HVAC system motor to work harder. However, this is not always the case, especially when the air filters are made with electret-treated media, which provides superior filtration efficiency while also not compromising energy performance thanks to low airflow resistance.
Facility and maintenance engineers should also be responsible for making sure that filters are replaced regularly to maintain proper filtration and energy performance. Engineers can work closely with HVAC contractors and filter distributors to accomplish this in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
3. Health & Safety Officer: Should work closely with building management to assess potential health hazards resulting from the current condition of indoor air and to educate building staff and tenants about their roles in maintaining good IAQ. They should also keep a record of reported health complaints to help solve IAQ problems.
Depending on the severity of the IAQ problem, it may be prudent for Health & Safety Officers to enlist the service of appropriate experts such as occupational physicians or industrial hygienists. Together, they can help to identify the type and sources of indoor air pollutants — an important pre-requisite to specifying the appropriate air filter, for example.
4. Sustainability Professional: A healthy indoor environment is a key goal of many green building programs, as is energy conservation. Sustainability professionals can help evaluate the ability of the systems and consumables a building uses to contribute to the completion of LEED credits and pre-requisites. For example, careful selection of the right HVAC air filter can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, raw material use and waste output, and actually save money in the long run — answering critics’ charges that green buildings always cost more.
5. Purchasing Department: IAQ concerns should be incorporated into overall purchasing decisions for a building — from furnishings and office equipment, to cleaning and pesticide products, to energy expenditures and HVAC-specific purchases. One of the biggest traps that commercial facilities fall into regarding budgeting for and purchasing IAQ-improving air filtration systems is the NIMB (Not In My Budget) factor. In some cases, one department (and budget) is responsible for purchasing air filters and filter service contacts while another is responsible for energy expenditures. The problem inherent in this system is that the filter purchaser can easily and innocently make a costly decision for the enterprise by choosing to buy filters without considering the energy consumption and system operating implications.
6. HVAC Contractor/Filter Distributor: HVAC contractors may be hired to do periodic preventive HVAC system maintenance. To detect and troubleshoot IAQ problems, it’s best for record-keeping requirements to be included in the service contract. The contractor hired should be well-versed in IAQ issues, including the effect of the building’s air filtration strategy on providing for healthier indoor air and on energy costs.
Filter distributors can provide needed advice on the filtration and energy performance variables associated with different types of filters, including how different filtration technologies work at capturing the submicron particles that can cause health problems in building occupants.
7. Building Occupants: Tenants would be wise to maintain good relationships with building management on indoor environmental issues, especially when/if responsibility for the design, operation and maintenance of the HVAC system is shared and when remodeling or renovation of individual office spaces is planned.
Occupant behavior should also be part of an IAQ improvement plan. Building managers and employers should stress good IAQ practices to building occupants, including:
- Not blocking air vents/grilles.
- Complying with no-smoking policies.
- Storing food properly and disposing of garbage promptly.
- Avoiding the use of products that could release harmful odors or contaminants.
- Notifying facility management immediately if an IAQ problem is suspected.
If you are one of the diligent building owners/managers who has made IAQ a priority in your building, it can be a real differentiator in the marketplace. The key is cooperation among building constituents, along with education and communication, so tenants and prospects will reward you for your investment and commitment to their well-being.