By Nicole Attias
To successfully achieve and maintain healthy buildings, facility mangers and building owners must monitor the elements that impact occupant health. Air quality is a huge part of this. Why do buildings have poor air quality to begin with? Three major reasons for poor air quality in office towers include the presence of indoor air pollution sources; poorly designed, maintained, or operated ventilation systems; and uses that were not planned for when the building was designed.
As COVID-19 restrictions are starting to ease and employees are gradually returning to the workplace, people are concerned for their overall wellbeing. Consequently, facility managers and landlords must have a strong focus on making their tenants feel protected, manage space effectively, clean and disinfect their premises regularly, and maintain proper air quality.
According to David Butt, area service manager at Automated Logic Corporation, “Most building owners are taking the initiative and preparing their facilities for a return to work and, as such, are heeding the advice of their partners in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), building automation systems (BAS), and engineering. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has core recommendations specifically published and can help guide owners in the right direction based on their facilities’ operating conditions. Also, the Green Buildings on Cognitive Function studies (COGFX) study provides great insight into indoor air quality and building environment impact on employees.”
The question of whether workers will be safe continues. David Cooper, a mechanical engineer and president of global property and buildings at WSP, stated, “Instead of the virus dropping out of the air within the 1.8 m (6 ft) social distancing guideline, it may well travel 3 m (10 ft) or even 6 m (20 ft) or more before coming to rest on a surface.” Thus, sitting the recommended distance away from someone else might not provide the expected level of protection, even if buildings have enhanced filtration.
So, how can viruses be cleaned from the air? Fan coil units contain filters to catch dust and particles, but these must be maintained. “Over time, the filters get clogged and need to be cleaned or replaced. This often doesn’t get done properly,” said Justin Turnpenny, who leads WSP’s fit-out team in London, Ont. “Good maintenance is a key thing we need to manage going forward. Improving filtration can improve the general quality of the air, but higher grades of filtration add resistance to the system–the finer the mesh, the more energy it takes to push the air through–which increases the energy consumption of the building.”
What can you do to improve the indoor air in your office?
Water office plants properly, do not block vents, dispose of garbage in a timely fashion,
store food properly, avoid bringing products into the building that could release offensive or harmful odors, and follow the office building smoking policy.
In summary, if you manage an office, be mindful of air circulation, temperature control, and pollutant removal functions of the HVAC system when placing office furniture and equipment. It would also be a good idea to coordinate with building management in instances when responsibility for design, operation, and maintenance of the ventilation system is shared. Lastly, maintain a great relationship with building management on indoor environmental issues.
“One of the key factors over the coming months is to stay vigilant. We are almost through this crisis,” added Butt.
Follow Nicole Attias, Prospect2Win, on YouTube for regular sales and presentation tips. David Butt can be reached at: David.firstname.lastname@example.org.