More and more employees are returning to the office as COVID-19 numbers continue to trend downward and vaccination numbers trend up. Utilizing shared indoor spaces also means sharing air, and as the colder months and flu season approach, it is important to be aware of the risks posed by office building HVAC systems that aren’t monitored and treated correctly.
According to the US. Environmental Protection Agency, the concentration of some pollutants indoors is 2 to 5 times higher than outside. In addition to pollutants, infectious diseases such as influenza, tuberculosis and even COVID-19 can be spread through HVAC systems that are not configured or monitored properly.
Here are the top 7 contaminants of office building air:
- Fire and combustion. Burning materials indoors—such as tobacco, wood coal, or even candles—can release combustion byproducts such as carbon monoxide and tiny pieces of particulate matter into the air.
- Chemicals. Commonly used chemicals, such as cleaning supplies, paints, and insecticides, can release irritating or even toxic fumes into the air.
- Building materials. Depending on a building’s construction materials and its age, various degrading materials may introduce pollutants into the indoor environment. These include asbestos fibers and chemical off-gassing from pressed wood products.
- Pets. Some offices allow employees to bring their pets to work. Unfortunately, furry friends can be a cause of indoor air pollutants through releasing dander and allergens into the indoor air.
- Airborne bacteria and viruses. It’s no secret that office workers can quickly spread illness to one another. Certain bacteria and viruses, such as those that lead to the flu, can be easily transmitted to those breathing recirculated air or spending a lot of time in close proximity to one another.
- Mold spores. Office buildings with high humidity (above 60%) may be at a higher risk for mold growth. Airborne mold spores may irritate the lungs and nasal passages of those with allergies or sensitivities to mold.
- Outdoor sources. If air is not filtered or exchanged properly, outdoor air pollutants can enter a building through ventilation systems or open doors and windows. These contaminants include smoke, pollen, dust and soils.
Life Balance Technologies helps hospitals and other companies easily analyze air quality conditions and effectively manage their HVAC systems. By streamlining the process for compliance, auditing, and reporting, we help reduce costs and save lives.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic rages on in the United States with over 24 million cases to date, some businesses are asking employees to return to the office with the understanding that extra precautions will be taken to prevent the spread of the contagious virus.
Companies that are unable to conduct business remotely and are operating in person are attempting to protect the health of their employees through measures such as social distancing and mask wearing.
There are many factors that can affect the quality of indoor air, such as ventilation. Ideally, a commercial building is circulating and ventilating enough fresh air through each room to whisk away many of the indoor air pollutants.
Here are three ways to improve the indoor air quality in an office building:
- Increase ventilation. Regularly testing HVAC components can ensure air is being filtered properly and is flowing appropriately. If enough fresh air isn’t being circulated into a room or building, pollutants can linger and lead to odor; stuffy air; irritation of the eyes, nose and throat; and even respiratory conditions.
- Use an air purifier. High-efficiency portable air purifiers can be temporarily placed in the central areas of a building and help filter air during times of increased indoor activity. Note that some air purifiers are built to capture small pathogens like bacteria and viruses, while others only filter larger particulate matter.
- Maintain HVAC and filters. It is important to replace air filters and maintain HVAC systems, especially during the winter months. Proper ventilation and air exchange through a building’s HVAC system is one of the best ways to maintain healthy indoor air quality.