What is Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)?
As the cold weather sets in, we tend to spend a vast majority of our time indoors. This has never been truer than right now as we shelter in place to protect ourselves and our families from the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that keeping our home environment and indoor air quality (IAQ) clean and comfortable is more important than ever. Indoor air quality refers to condition of the air within the buildings we work, live, and spend any time in, and it is known to greatly affect the health, comfort and well-being of its building occupants.
Why IAQ matters and what causes poor IAQ?
According to the Government of Canada, air contaminants and pollutants such as gasses, bacteria, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) present in the air can lead to serious health concerns. Pollutants of concern including mold, ozone, and VOCs emitted as gases from household products like paints and aerosols. Other particles can reduce the quality of the air we breathe including fungi, bacteria, dust mites, pollen, and the COVID 19 virus.
How to improve the air you breathe
The Government of Canada and organizations such as ASHRAE have published articles and guidelines for sustaining indoor air quality. These guidelines are likely to be adopted into future codes and standards as a practice to ensure the health and safety of all building occupants. Here are a few effective steps you can take to significantly improve your indoor environment:
- Install an Energy Recovery Ventilator: Many contaminants found indoors are generated inside the space itself. These effects can be minimized by replacing this stale air with fresh, outdoor air. Consider adding an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) to not only supply fresh air but recover the energy and humidity from the exhaust air. ERVs use fans and heat exchangers to efficiently pull heat from outgoing indoor air and transfer it to the incoming supply air from the outdoors. They are built in such a fashion that very few pollutants are exchanged between the two air streams. Energy Recovery Ventilators are available for commercial, institutional, and residential applications.
- Filters and cleaners: Filters are an essential component to any air moving system as they are the first line of defense against pollutants. Filters are rated on a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value or MERV system. ASHRAE recommends a minimum of MERV 13 for any filter being installed which carries an effectiveness of at least 85%. If permissible, consider installing a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter which can provide 99% effectiveness against many particle sizes including the COVID-19 virus.
- Humidity control: Humidity levels between 30% and 50% are the ideal range for minimizing mold growth and air-borne bacteria. High humidity levels can promote mold growth and low humidity can cause sore throat, coughs, and other cold-like symptoms. Installing a humidifier in your primary air system can keep humidity levels to an acceptable level. If the building is too humid, a dehumidifier or an efficient air conditioner could help in the summer months.
- Opening windows: Opening windows can help to bring fresh air into the building and remove poor IAQ. However, keep in mind that in the winter, allowing cold air to enter a building through a window can cause heating systems to be overworked. If your building is too warm, reducing the setpoints of thermostats is a more sustainable way to bring the building to the desired temperature.
If you or your organization is interested in learning more about Indoor Air Quality in your building, the VGOC team can help. Our team of HVAC experts are well versed in indoor air quality standards and best practices while keeping a keen eye on sustainable energy use. Contact us for more information.