Now more than ever, indoor air quality is of the utmost importance in our facilities. The U.S. EPA defines indoor air quality as “the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants.” Many common pollutants can impact the air quality and the health and safety of your workforce.
Last year, a Harvard Business Review survey reported that the number one workplace wellness perk that employees most desired was air quality. Air quality received 58 percent of the survey vote, with the option for an on-site gym receiving only 16 percent. Keep in mind, this was before the COVID-19 pandemic, so I imagine this stat has drastically increased in favor of air quality in the workplace.
Fortunately, ensuring you have an effective indoor air circulation system can save you money and keep workers safe. It’s possible to prioritize your workforce’s health while reducing your operating costs. Let’s look at the three key components of creating this ideal air system.
Heating and cooling systems
A variety of HVAC units are used in large-scale or smaller commercial spaces. Rooftop units are standard funnels that push the conditioned air into a defined area of the facility. The units need to accommodate all types of weather and are often referred to as “packaged air conditioners” because they have everything needed all in one unit.
Similarly, many larger buildings have air handling units that target different regions to pump air from outside over a cooling or heating coil before releasing it into the designated areas. These units can be placed on the roof, in the basement, or on the floors.
No matter the type of system, they all have a similar purpose of bringing conditioned air into a facility to keep occupants comfortable. However, HVAC units can contribute to more than 50 percent of a building’s energy consumption. According to leading energy supplier Constellation, there are three ways to make your HVAC system more efficient:
- Install a programmable thermostat (which can reduce consumption by as much as 15 percent).
- Invest in a demand-controlled ventilation (DCV) system, which regulates outdoor air intake based on a facility’s concentration of carbon dioxide due to the number of staff inside.
- In some cases, the simple repair and insulation of ducting is enough to reduce HVAC energy consumption by 30 percent.
Another component to a healthy indoor air circulation system is ventilation, the “V” in your HVAC unit. The National Institute of Health (NIH) describes Sick Building Syndrome as “a situation in which the occupants of a building experience acute health- or comfort-related effects that seem to be linked directly to the time spent in the building.” Proper ventilation produces fresh air through your HVAC unit and helps prevent comfort issues, potential health problems, and sick building syndrome.
The NIH cites ventilation and air distribution as the number one way to maintain acceptable air quality, reducing the chance that your employees’ health could be compromised. And while employee health is of the highest importance, not staying ahead of sick building syndrome’s negative effects can quickly move beyond health concerns. The results can also impact your bottom line through employee absences, reduced productivity, and increased operating expenses.
From improving air circulation and keeping harmful contaminants at bay to replacing internal air with fresh air from the outside, avoiding stale and stagnant air quality is a key element in keeping your building healthy. Dampers and louvers are parts of the ventilation system that control airflow to a designated area. A damper is a valve or plate that stops or regulates airflow inside a duct, chimney, VAV box, air handler, or another air-handling equipment. While dampers control the airflow, louvers are a shutter or blind angled to allow space for light and air while keeping sunshine or moisture out.
Aside from your typical HVAC issues (lack of maintenance, dirty or clogged filters), using an HVAC system alone for temperature control can be considerably costly, inefficient, and hazardous for your employees. To better control your facility’s climate, consider using high-volume, low-speed (HVLS) fans combined with an HVAC system. While not a part of the HVAC unit, an HVLS fan works in conjunction with the system to move the air faster and broader. The HVAC unit pumps the air into the room, and the industrial ceiling fans spread the air more efficiently, helping the HVAC unit work less.
Most buildings require more than just an HVAC system to properly circulate the air as stratification can pose a significant challenge. Stratification means that hot air rises because it’s less dense than cooler air. Because of this imbalance, the thermostat to your HVAC system at ground level is inaccurately reading a different temperature than what exists. To destratify the air and achieve a more uniform temperature throughout a large space, you can install industrial HVLS ceiling fans to successfully mix the amount of air top to bottom necessary for complete air temperature control.
If your facility doesn’t have HVLS fans and is relying on an HVAC system alone to heat or cool your building, your HVAC system will have to work harder, leading to various HVAC issues. When HVAC systems are combined with HVLS fans, you can decrease energy costs and increase employee and even customer satisfaction. HVLS fans are proven to save as much as 30 percent on heating and cooling bills.
Reevaluating your space
From creating a healthy and safe work environment to reducing energy costs, your air circulation system has the potential to work in your favor. If you haven’t recently, schedule a servicing and evaluation appointment with an HVAC technician. Also, consider installing an HVLS fan to work in conjunction with your HVAC unit.
This article is part of our monthly Tactics and Practices column. Read more Tactics and Practices.