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You may be able to fix or work around some indoor air quality issues depending on the severity of the problem. Your discovery of a blocked vent in the building may coincide with complaints of other air quality problems from short-term remodeling or painting projects, new carpet installation, and other situations.
If you are able to fix a circulation problem, you can go a step further to improve air quality during any remodeling, repainting, or other building improvement phases by simply rescheduling the work to be done at off-peak hours, so that the minimum number of people are affected. You should also allow time for the building to be ventilated with fresh outside air before employees or residents being coming in during high-traffic times. Always warn tenants and employees in advance before such work is to be done. This allows sensitive individuals to make plans accordingly to purchase portable air filters, schedule time off, or other measures that may help them cope.
There are many ways to improve the air flow in a large building. If you are the building manager or in a position of responsibility where indoor air quality is a concern, consider the following:
1. Installation of ceiling fans to circulate fresh air and dissipate fumes.
2. A complete inspection of your HVAC or central air system for blockages.
3. A check of all vents to insure that dampers are open.
4. A check to see if your system needs re-balancing in order to restore even air flow to all areas.
5. A look behind cabinets, desks, partitions and other possible obstructions to vents and air shafts.
6. Installation of air cleaners, whether "in-system" or portable.
7. Begin a regular indoor air quality inspection and reporting program where employees, tenants, or other affected people can report any changes in the quality of the air.
All of these areas can contribute to a much better breathing environment. Sometimes the opening of a single blocked or closed vent is enough to drastically improve air quality.
Did you know that summer weather can affect your indoor air quality? Heat increases chemical reactions in many cases, doubling those reactions for every 18-degree increase in temperature. If you have new carpets, certain kinds of untreated woods, or new tile flooring, an increase in temperature may also bring increase the fumes associated with these new products. If you are considering indoor air testing to find the source of your air quality problems, you may be able to identify at least part of your problem if you have areas where climate control is not applied 24 hours a day, or where it may be disabled to accommodate remodeling, repairs, or other maintenance work. If your air quality problems are located around high-heat areas such as industrial kitchens, kiln ovens, glass workshop furnaces and etc, you should identify these areas for additional climate control where possible, and increase air ventilation to help dissipate fumes and bring a literal breath of fresh air.
Indoor air quality can be affected by outdoor air pollution. The EPA calculates outdoor air pollution with a measuring tool called the Air Quality Index. This takes into account five major pollutants, the level of those pollutants in the air, and how your health could be damaged or affected by breathing that level of polluted air.
The Air Quality Index is a sort of yardstick, measured in levels from zero to 500, with corresponding colors for each level from "good" to "very unhealthy". A measurement of 50 is thought to be good, with few pollutants. Pollutant levels under 100 are generally considered to be "satisfactory". Anything beyond 100 begins to enter the danger zone, first to those with sensitivities, then to the general public.
The EPA calculates the health quality of the nation's air by measuring five pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act. These chemicals are air particles in general, plus carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, ground-level ozone, and nitrogen dioxide. All these are connected with national air quality standards set in the Clean Air Act. Of this group of pollutants, particles and ozone are considered the two biggest dangers to health in America.
Paying attention to the Air Quality Index in your area may raise serious concerns about your health. Fortunately, the EPA publishes tips on how you can contribute to the quality of air in your city. The website can be a major help when trying to reduce emissions and create a healthier atmosphere
If you are getting indoor air quality complaints in your role as a building owner, property manager, maintenance supervisor, or other responsible party, there are some questions to ask yourself:
1. Have you had an HVAC or central air system expert evaluate the building's system recently? What were the results? Is work pending or needing to be scheduled?
2. Has anyone in the building seen a doctor about symptoms related to indoor air quality complaints? What were the results?
3. What complicating factors are at work? Is there remodeling, new carpet, or another situation that could be contributing to the problem?
Ask questions of tenants, employees, and contractors, and evaluate the situation. Doing nothing leaves you open to litigation and potential liability. Taking an active role in finding the problem will go a long way toward building trust and establishing a healthier environment to live and work.
If you want to hire someone for a professional air analysis, there are some important steps you should take before agreeing to pay for their services. Avoid any so-called expert who can't provide references. Also beware of anyone who can't or won't provide hazmat or other required certification in the case of asbestos, radon, or lead contamination issues. Don't hire anyone who won't answer direct questions about their credentials, expertise, or experience.
If you believe your building needs air testing, there are a few guidelines to consider. Sometimes you can diagnose the problem yourself, but you may need outside help in some or all of the following situations.
1. There is an antagonistic or mistrustful relationship between you and the owner or property manager of the building.
2. A lawsuit could arise from unsafe conditions related to poor indoor air quality.
3. You have already attempted to solve the air quality problem, but to no avail.
4. There is immediate danger.
If any of these conditions apply, it is best to seek an indoor air consultant to assist you.
Professional air testing may be needed to determine the extent of a building's indoor air quality problems. An indoor air consultant may recommend a carbon dioxide test as an initial indicator of sick building syndrome. Note that this is not a carbon monoxide test, but rather a test for the natural by-product of breathing, carbon dioxide.
The reason this test can indicate sick building syndrome? An excess of CO2 indicates that there is a definite lack of fresh outside air coming into the building. The exhaled air remains trapped inside, the result being stale or even stagnant air. A Carbon dioxide test may reveal a further investigation is needed, depending on the results.
You don't need to be an HVAC expert or trained building maintenance person to diagnose some causes of sick building syndrome. A malfunctioning, broken-down, compromised, or infested central air or HVAC system can be considered a direct cause of some indoor air quality problems.
Some areas of your building may not be getting the same level or volume of air circulation as others. Blocked vents, dirty ventilation shafts, bad building design, and other problems can prevent a central air system from doing the job properly. Excessive humidity, moisture, and other conditions indoors can also contribute to air quality issues. If your visual inspection reveals any of these, initiate a plan to control, fix, or mitigate them as quickly as possible.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|