From Outdoor Air Intake to Ion Count, Learn Why Volume Matters in IAQ
Indoor air quality (IAQ) has always been a health concern, but the pandemic has put it even more in the forefront of people’s minds. Managing the health and safety of your indoor air isn’t often intuitive, though. Here’s a breakdown of what factors you need to take into account, why they matter, and why a multilayered approach is so important.
Why Does Indoor Air Quality Matter?
You might have stumbled across this indoor air quality statistic before, but it’s worth hearing again.
The EPA asserts that indoor air is often two to fives times more polluted than outdoor air. They also note that people spend, on average, 90 percent of their time indoors.
Our indoor air can potentially contain any number of contaminants, pollutants, and harmful particulate matter . This includes all the following:
All this taken together, it becomes clear that indoor air quality is a relevant and pressing health concern. This applies to private homeowners, as well as commercial spaces and communal area like hospitals and schools.
4 Strategies You Need to Achieve Optimal Indoor Air Quality
Ensuring the breathable air in an occupied space is acceptable, by ASHRAE standards, requires all the following factors:
The proper introduction and distribution of outdoor air
A maintenance of recommended humidity and temperature levels
A way to control airborne pollutants within the space
A monitoring system to ensure everything is operating correctly and efficiently
Let’s explore each of these four topics and its relative role in achieving safe indoor air quality.
Introducing and Distributing Outdoor Air
Outdoor air plays a vital role in the state of your indoor air quality. As stated, outdoor air is typically cleaner and more free of airborne pollutants than indoor air. Therefore, the introduction of that air into your occupied space is an effective means to dilute any pollutants that are present indoors.
To be maximally effective with this tactic, though, you can’t just allow in an arbitrary amount of outdoor air. Doing so could lead to under-ventilation or over-ventilation.
Impacts of Under-Ventilation
If you are not introducing or distributing enough outdoor air into your indoor space, you won’t effectively dilute any contaminants or pollutants that are present.
The health effects of this will range widely based on the individual breathing the air and the types of pollutants that are present. Generally speaking, though, you’ll see anything from a mild reduction of occupant comfort to more overt health concerns. This includes any of the following:
Upper respiratory irritation
If many occupants experience these symptoms, it could be attributed to sick building syndrome.
The health of each individual will directly impact how he or she reacts to the indoor air quality. Anyone with a preexisting heart or lung condition, for example, will be more susceptible to having a reaction, and that reaction is more likely to be severe. Age can also contribute to this. Both the elderly and the very young are especially prone to adverse effects from indoor air quality.
Impacts of Over-Ventilation
Because of the health concerns associated with under-ventilation, you might think it’s best to simply hedge your bets and to over-ventilate. This isn’t ideal from a financial standpoint.
All the outdoor air that’s introduced into a space must be treated by your HVAC system before being distributed.
Treated for humidity
Treated for temperature (warm air must be cooled, and cold air must be heated)
All this treatment requires energy, and it puts wear and tear and strain on your HVAC equipment. Done over a long enough period of time, you can end up greatly reducing the life span of your costly HVAC system. Month to month, you will also be incurring larger-than-necessary utility bills.
Maintaining the Right Levels of Temperature and Humidity
Both temperature and humidity play significant roles in the comfort and health of a building’s occupants.
It’s recommended to keep humidity between 30 and 50 percent. Higher levels of humidity, particularly those above 60 percent, can create an overly moist environment that contributes to mold or mildew growth. Conversely, keeping humidity too low can irritate the eyes, nose, and skin. By drying out mucous membranes, it also reduces your resistance to upper respiratory conditions.
In terms of temperature, aim to be between 66 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Lower temperatures can dry out nasal passages and increase susceptibility to virus transmission.
Filtration is one important treatment of outdoor air before it’s distributed throughout a space, but don’t neglect the importance of humidity and temperature as well. These are of particular importance during a global pandemic.
Controlling Airborne Pollutants
To keep your indoor air optimally clean, utilize two tactics in tandem: introduction of outdoor air and an indoor air quality improvement system.
There are many options for these kinds of systems, one being a device that produces ions and then distributes those ions via the HVAC system. Introduction of ions into an indoor space has been shown to significantly reduce airborne particulate matter.
Just as with outdoor air, though, the amount of ion production matters here. When it comes to ions, the more the better. The greater the number of ions, the greater the likelihood they will react with the potentially hazardous particulate matter that’s present in your indoor air.
Air on a mountaintop, near a crashing waterfall, or along a large body of water is typically thought of as some of the cleanest natural air around. It’s not a coincidence this aligns to high levels of ion production. In these kinds of spaces, ion production can be anywhere from 3,000 to 21,000 ions per cubic centimeter. For comparison, indoor air is routinely only a few hundred ions per cubic centimeter.
The goal of these ion production devices is to make your indoor air more closely replicate the state of that clean natural outside air.
Monitoring Your Indoor Air Quality System
In a new building, the HVAC unit is designed and calibrated using some initial assumptions. This has to do with anticipated occupancy rates, intended use of the building, current building codes, and recommended operating conditions.
There’s a problem, though. None of those factors are forever static. Building codes are constantly being reevaluated and upgraded. Occupancy rates can vary wildly. HVAC equipment degrades. As COVID-19 has shown, even day-to-day operating conditions can change significantly.
This is why a monitoring system for your indoor air quality and your HVAC equipment is so vital. It’ll give you real-time insight into how everything is performing and operating given these always-shifting assumptions.
The other reason monitoring is such a critical component of this equation is that it’s not always obvious when your indoor air quality is less than ideal. You often have to wait until you either see adverse health effects or unnecessary and costly utility and energy bills.
A monitoring system lets you see if everything is going well—without having to wait for those medical or financial symptoms to arise.
To effectively monitor your whole system, make sure you’re assessing all the relevant pieces. This includes how many ions your indoor air quality improvement device is generating, if that’s the solution you choose. It also includes all the relevant data on your HVAC system, its operations, amount of outside air intake, and more. Be aware this might necessitate several different monitoring devices.
Indoor Air Quality Is More Important Than Ever
The COVID-19 global pandemic makes issues of indoor air quality all the more pressing, important, and relevant. Given the heightened stakes, everyone from private homeowners to commercial spaces should be adequately addressing the state of their indoor air. They should ensure they’re doing everything possible to keep their occupants maximally safe and comfortable, while also minimizing needless financial spend and energy use.
Actively removing particulate matter from your indoor space and monitoring your overall system are both essential steps, but these are the two that are often overlooked in a global IAQ plan. Make sure you’re accounting for both to keep your air as clean and free of hazards as possible.
Have Any Questions?
Want to learn more about maintaining indoor air quality? Have questions about how to maximize safety while minimizing operational expenses? Reach out. We’re always happy to answer questions!
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