Did you know the average human breathes about 11,000 liters of air every day?
Air is essential for human life, but it’s not just about the quantity. The quality of the air we breathe has a major impact on our health. And because humans today spend 80-90% of their time inside, the indoor air quality (IAQ) in our homes, offices, and other buildings has become an increasingly important public health issue.
Building owners are required by law to provide a healthy indoor environment for their occupants, whether the facility is residential, commercial, industrial, or other. Failure to take reasonable precautions can expose the owner or manager to claims of negligence. In sectors like healthcare or certain kinds of manufacturing, the need to ensure clean air is especially great.
Part of the challenge is that the problem is mostly invisible. Many pollutants are so small that they cannot be seen with the naked eye, and a building’s air filters are typically out of sight and out of mind. Today, we’ll examine three of the biggest IAQ risk factors in Texas, and what building owners can do to ensure a clean, safe environment.
Big City Air and Insulated Buildings
Texas is home to several of the nation’s largest cities: Houston, Austin, Dallas, Ft. Worth, and San Antonio have a collective population of more than 6 million. With so many people living together in such close quarters—and driving cars, running air conditioners, etc.—air pollution is inevitable. To keep pollutants out of our homes and workplaces, we need to control the flow of air and ensure that the air coming inside is properly filtered.
However, as buildings have become more insulated to keep out heat and pollutants, maintaining good IAQ has actually become even more challenging in some ways. Reducing the amount of fresh air coming in from outside means that germs and harmful particles get stuck in the indoor air and can’t get out. As a result, indoor air is often 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Pollen and Other Natural Allergens
Not all “pollutants” are man-made. A lot of the particles we want to keep out of our indoor air are natural. Things like pollen and dust can be extremely irritating to the human respiratory system. High concentrations of these natural allergens can keep you from enjoying a good night’s sleep at home or focusing on your projects at work.
We use things like screen doors and windows to keep the big stuff from getting in, but harmful particles such as mold and bacteria are thinner than a human hair—too small to see and definitely small enough to slip in through a screen or a door crack. When you close everything up and turn on the air conditioner, you need effective filters to remove these particles from the air so they don’t just keep circulating and potentially affecting your health.
Heat, Humidity and Moisture
Another big issue in Texas specifically is the high temperatures. And in places along the coast like Houston, humidity and moisture are also major risk factors. Hot, moist air can lead to rapid growth of illness-causing mold and bacteria. The HVAC system in your building can become a hotbed for this growth if it isn’t properly cleaned and maintained on a regular basis.
What You Can Do to Improve IAQ
One of the most important things you need to do is ensure that air filters in your HVAC system are working properly and preventing air bypass. Common problems with HVAC air filters include:
- Filters are the wrong size or not installed properly
- Seals, spacers, or clips are missing or loose
- Gaps or holes allow air bypass
The efficiency of air filters is typically measured according to Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV). When unfiltered air passes through the system, it effectively decreases the MERV level of your filters. A gap as small as 1/8 inch reduces filtration efficiency by an entire MERV point. This can cause a variety of problems, such as increased energy use, filters getting bent or blown through, and accumulation of dust and grimes that can damage coils and feed mold or bacterial growth.
Fortunately, there are options for building owners, managers, and engineers to improve IAQ. Joe W. Fly Co. has been serving Texas’ IAQ needs for more than 50 years. Over that time, we’ve become the largest distributor of air filters in the state, so we’ve seen our share of filtration problems. Some of the things we commonly recommend include:
- Using higher efficiency air filters to capture more particles or optimize energy use
- Making sure filters fit and are installed properly to eliminate air bypass
- Establishing a routine preventative maintenance plan
Air filters seem like a minor thing—a line item in the operating budget that you just want to make as small as possible—but this is not an area where you want to cut corners. Skimping on filters or maintenance can actually end up being extremely costly and have negative impacts on occupant health.
When Joe W. Fly Co. sends our technicians to assess a building, they thoroughly examine the HVAC system to identify any issues that could be negatively affecting operating costs and IAQ. Then they recommend ways to save the customer money and improve their system’s overall performance. Sometimes this requires new filtration products, but in other cases it could just mean minor changes in the way filters are installed or maintained.
No matter what we recommend, the goal is always to deliver a better indoor environment in a way that’s cost-effective for you. Contact us to learn more about how we can help.