A breath of fresh air: The importance of IAQ
There’s little debate that clean environments are critical in maintaining the health and safety of occupants. And while “clean environments” can entail sterilized surfaces and waste-free spaces, it also means employing the best practices and resources to ensure high indoor air quality (IAQ).
IAQ is defined as the cleanliness of air within and around buildings, be they offices, retail outlets, multifamily assets, or any other occupied space. It is determined by the presence of harmful pollutants in the air (e.g., allergens, bacteria, mold, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), etc.), which can impact the comfort, health, and well-being of a building’s occupants.
Ways to improve IAQ
There are many ways to improve IAQ. Promoting effective ventilation and filtration, for one, ensures stale air is consistently replaced with clean, treated air. Beyond making the space more comfortable, ventilation and filtration play a key role in mitigating the transmission of harmful viruses that travel can be passed along through air via droplets, such as COVID-19. Herein, there is a push among building stakeholders to implement air-flow strategies, occupant policies, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) equipment to keep the air flowing.
From a cleaning perspective, HEPA filter vacuums also help reduce dust from being released back into the environment. Green chemicals can reduce the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – potentially dangerous gasses – and scents from the airflow. Regular carpet and upholstery cleaning can remove even more dust and dirt from the environment, and high-level cleaning on vents, duct work, etc., is also beneficial.
Every building is different, and as such, there is no cookie-cutter approach to improving IAQ by mechanical means or otherwise. The good news is there are common guidelines to point the way. ASHRAE, for example, has made numerous IAQ guides available for architects, design engineers, contractors, commissioning agents, and all other professionals concerned with indoor air quality. For COVID-19 in particularly, that guidance includes using and adequately maintaining filters with MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) of 13 ratings or higher, as they have been scientifically proven to aid in the filtration of harmful COVID particulates, as well as maintaining humidity rates between 40 and 60, among other strategies.
Similarly, HRAI has published its own whitepaper for improving IAQ in schools. Entitled Reducing the Risk of Virus Transmission via HVAC Systems in Schools, the report emphasizes the role that proper ventilation, filtration, and humidity. It also discusses some of the technologies being employed in the fight against COVID-19, such as ultraviolet lighting (UV).
“UV light is very effective at destroying viruses and bacteria, and UV lamps have been made for this purpose. UV-C wavelengths have the strongest germicidal effect, and a wavelength of approximately 254 nm is the most common,” the report offers.
Additionally, HRAI recently held a webinar with IAQ expert Dr. Jeffrey Siegel to discuss the connection between IAQ and the spread of COVID-19, and lays out the risks and potential solutions for all IAQ stakeholders.
Eliminating the source
There’s a saying by Max von Pettenkofer, noted 18th-century chemist and hygienist, that holds today: “If there is a pile of manure in a space, do not try to remove the odor by ventilation; remove the pile of manure.”
Translated to the 21st century, this means the best way to ensure a healthy IAQ is to address pollutants and poor airflow at the sources. Doing so relies on all occupants – residents, workers, visitors, or otherwise – committing to best health and safety practices to protect both themselves and the people around them.