Smoking & HVAC Systems: A Cloudy Future?

October 23, 2006
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These are interesting times for system designers and contractors. Interesting when one ponders what is being currently considered, proposed, and bandied about in regard to dealing with smoke, smoking, and appropriate/healthy ventilation rates inside public buildings, casinos, and bars.

In truth, one could describe this HVAC landscape as chaotic. And, it appears two totally different scenarios are surfacing.

On one side of the cigarette- and cigar-smoking debate, a strong society-driven movement is in place looking to ban smoking in public buildings period. Some states, including New York and California, have already banned smoking entirely from public buildings, and more states are expected to follow through in the not-so-distant future or are currently considering following suit.

Of course, with a full smoking ban, system design engineers and contractors can breathe a collective sigh of relief, of sorts. After all, for years and years authorities and standards writers have been wrestling with how to allow smoking - and then how to properly vent it in a healthful way - in public buildings. (But, more on that dilemma later.)

Still, while that movement is in full swing, the other side of the cigar- and cigarette-smoking debate centers on the use and allowing of it in casinos and bars. Lobbyists are here, there, and everywhere around the United States, attempting to keep smoking alive and flowing in these two specific business venues. After all, a majority of customers to these two specific establishments want to smoke away while consuming an adult beverage or betting at a poker table. And many - if not, most - bar and casino owners want to accommodate and keep this tradition alive and well, but in an economical way.

Still, to meet the ventilation requirements of a bar and/or casino can be frustrating, maddening, and downright troubling for those who are hired to make it happen - which includes the services of design engineers and installing contractors. Let's just say the current landscape in regard to codes and standards for these respective institutions are somewhat cloudy, at best. (And, more on this side of the smoking gun later in this article.)

As stated earlier, yes, these are interesting times. The NEWS explores what is possibly on the horizon for systems designers and contractors.

SHEDDING LIGHT ON THE SMOKING BAN MOVEMENT

If the current ban-all-smoking-from-public-buildings movement rolls on, designing and installing healthy systems should not be difficult. Think about it. If one does not have to factor in tobacco smoke entering a building, then ductwork and ventilation rates, etc., should be pretty straightforward.

Of course, that's not always been the case - nor may it be the case in the future. Just ask any committee member from ASHRAE Standard 62.1-2004 ("Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality"), or those involved in ASHRAE Standard 62.2-2004 ("Ventilation and Acceptable Indoor Air Quality in Low-Rise Residential Buildings"). Both committees continue to face ventilation issues - commercial and residential - head on. And, those issues have surfaced, in part, due to the question: What does a system designer do when smoking is involved?

From the commercial side, for instance, there's addendum i, which is currently open for public comment until Nov. 6. Should the current proposed addendum to Standard 62.1-2004 pass as written, then expect building owners to have but two options:

  • Ban smoking entirely from their building and/or buildings; or

  • Fight the system, so to speak, and create a code-approved area - or areas - inside their public building that will allow smoking at "an acceptable level of risk."

    Of course, designing such a system to an acceptable level of risk is currently open for debate. It's one of the reasons why the folks at Standard 62.1 just had to produce addendum i, which removes the existing requirement for an increase to the ventilation rates for smoking areas. It also strikes informative language explaining why specific rates for smoking areas cannot be prescribed.

    "The proposed changes, based in part on recent position statements issued by World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Surgeon General, reflect the opinion of cognizant authorities that no safe level of environmental tobacco smoke [ETS] exists and that none need be established," expressed Dennis Stanke of Trane, who is chair of the 62.1 committee. "Whether the proposed changes also reflect the opinions of Standard 62.1 stakeholders will be determined during the public review process. The eventual content of the standard depends on the valuable participation of all interested parties."

    In short, the addendum would change the standard so that it would no longer address ventilation in smoking areas. Dilip Vyavaharkar, district manager of technical services at Carrier and a fellow 62.1 committee member, said the committee had no choice in producing such an addendum as the proposed changes had to be made based, in part, on the recent position statements by WHO and the U.S. Surgeon General.

    "It is a public health issue," said Vyavaharkar. "We had to do what was right. We could not bury our heads in the sand."

    Like many other committee members, Vyavaharkar is certain tobacco lobbyists and the Philip Morrises of the world will vehemently object to the passing of addendum i. All expect those who support smoking will pass along their comments to ASHRAE during this review period. But because the public is now more antismoking than not, Vyavaharkar believes the onslaught from the smoking community will not be as strong as it has been in the past.

    "They will object to it," assured Vyavaharkar, "but I'm not sure how hard they will try to get this changed."

    Like Vyavaharkar, Stanke is just happy that the previously proposed addenda to Standard 62.1-2004 - addenda a, b, c, d, and g - are in the record books. As Stanke is quick to point out, contractors should be generally aware of the importance of these five addenda, too.

    "He specifically needs to know that compared to earlier versions of the standard, the engineers have to go through more intense analysis before specifying and designing a system," said Vyavaharkar. "If the contractor elects to submit a bid with an alternate system, the proposed system must meet the same design criteria as the original specification. He should pay attention to dehumidification capabilities of the alternate system, and if the ductwork is being redesigned, that all the air pathways and pollutant sources are considered."

    THE BARS, CASINOS "CONTROVERSY"

    On the other hand, if you think there is confusion regarding how smoking is being handled in public buildings, one should refrain from exploring the casino and bar scenes, respectively. Talk about confusion and chaos.

    Most states are wrestling now - or will be soon - with how a system should handle ETS in bars and casinos. Most bar and casino owners will tell you that they desire to allow smoking in their respective establishments, mainly because their customers like to light up in a bar or a casino. Patrons believe they go hand-in-hand. Simply put, bar and casino owners do not want a blanket "no smoking allowed - period" in their respective places.

    How to accommodate these smoking establishments into the HVACR mix is still being debated. Arizona, for one, is just one state tussling over how to handle systems in bars and casinos so that one and all are satisfied.

    To be precise, Arizona is examining Proposition 206 and 201, each to be to decided on the Nov. 7 ballot. In a nutshell, Proposition 201 would ban indoor workplace smoking statewide, including bars, but allow exemptions for tobacco shops, private clubs, and a percentage of hotel rooms. It is being backed by a coalition of health groups, including the American Lung Association of Arizona, American Heart Association, and American Cancer Society.

    Meanwhile, Proposition 206 also proposes a statewide ban, but most significantly would exempt bars. Primarily R.J. Reynolds, a tobacco company, and the liquor providers' statewide organization, the Arizona Licensed Beverage Association, are bankrolling it. In other words, let the fighting begin.

    In Arizona's case, state voters will determine the fate of such proposals. The trouble is that the language in Proposition 206 is unclear about what "a separate ventilation system" means. It's not spelled out, and that could create a loophole big enough to let in a lot of smoke-filled air.

    The question remains: Does a separate ventilation system mean providing separate a/c ventilation and return ducts? Answer: Even the spokespeople for Proposition 206 are not clear.

    In this case, campaign spokeswoman Camilla Strongin is not tipping her hand. She informed the Arizona Republic in mid-August that the intent of the proposition is to follow the lead of Chandler, Ariz., which has a smoking ban similar to Proposition 206. It allows smoking in bars as long as the area is walled off and separately ventilated from an adjoining business.

    Plus, she told the Arizona newspaper, the reference to "separately ventilated" is identical to the language used by the Arizona Smoke-Free Act , which has its own smoking ban proposal in November.

    "I'm not sure they can throw a lot of stories at us, since it's in their own initiative," Strongin told the Arizona Republic.

    As noted in that state's newspaper, Troy Corder, a spokesperson for the Smoke-Free campaign, acknowledged that his group, just like the competing measure, lacks a clear definition of "separately ventilated." And, Corder informed the newspaper, the lack of definition in his group's measure would be ironed out when rules are made for the Arizona Department of Health Services to enforce the smoking ban.

    That being said, Proposition 206 does not spell out any enforcement agency, leaving it to local police, who may not enforce the law evenly, much less write rules, noted Corder.

    And, these are just a few examples of the fuzziness in just one state's smoking (and nonsmoking) proposals. "It's the typical language in their initiative that leaves it open to interpretation," Corder told the Arizona Republic.

    To throw out another monkey wrench, of sorts, into the smoking arena, Pineapple Hospitality, an EPA Energy Starâ„¢ partner that is headquartered in St. Charles, Mo., is spearheading a movement to ban smoking in the hospitality industry. (See related story "Movement Is on to Ban Smoking in Hotels" in this issue.)

    In a nutshell, the company has started an online directory (called FreshStay®) of smoke-free lodging facilities worldwide. The number of completely smoke-free hotels in the United States has grown 2,700 percent during the first eight months of 2006 alone, according to Ray Burger, operator of FreshStay.

    Whether this movement continues remains to be seen, but Burger, FreshStay, and Pineapple Hospitality will continue to push for smoke-free rooms and totally smoke-free hotels/motels.

    INTERESTING TIMES, INDEED

    Simply put, designing and installing an HVACR system that can deal/handle smoking "legally" in any building - be it residential, commercial, or public - is an interesting task anywhere in the United States in this day and age, to say the least. Not only is the current landscape controversial, the debate as to how to handle smoking from an HVAC standpoint marches on.

    Sidebar: Addenda to Ventilation Standard

    In the eyes of Dennis Stanke, contractors should be interested in the impact of addendum g to ASHRAE Standard 62.1-2004, "Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality."

    "For buildings with smoking and no-smoking areas, it requires designers to identify, pressurize, separate, ensure transfer to, prevent recirculation from, exhaust from, and post signage in smoking-permitted spaces," said Stanke, who works for Trane and also chairs the Standard 62.1 committee. "These design requirements are likely to result in more complicated jobs for contractors who construct these types of buildings."

    That being the case, Stanke, along with the rest of the 62.1 committee members, are thankful addendum g, as well as addenda a, b, c, and d, are on the books, approved, and now a part of Standard 62.1. Another committee member, Dilip Vyavaharkar, believes a contractor should be generally aware of these changes to the standard - period.

    "He specifically needs to know that compared to earlier versions of the standard, the engineers have to go through more intense analysis before specifying and designing a system," said Vyavaharkar, who is district manager of technical services at Carrier Corp. "If the contractor elects to submit a bid with an alternate system, the proposed system must meet the same design criteria as the original specification.

    "He should pay attention to dehumidification capabilities of the alternate system, and if the ductwork is being redesigned that all the air pathways and pollutant sources are considered."

    Here is a rundown of the recently approved addenda to Standard 62.1.

    Addendum A
    According to Stanke, addendum a clarifies design requirements for systems that dehumidify building air.

    "It helps tell designers the minimum required level of dehumidification system performance," explained Stanke. "Impact on contractors is likely to be negligible, except in those cases where designers choose to include active humidity controls using zone-mounted humidistats or other dehumidification enhancements in the ventilation system."

    In Vyavaharkar's opinion, the best development in the approved addendum a is the new requirement for analysis of the system performance with outdoor air at the dehumidification design condition.

    "This requirement represents a better and realistic model for the true conditions that the system is supposed to perform at in the real world," he said.

    Addendum B
    The biggest change comes in regard to Table 6-1 in the addendum, "Minimum Ventilation Rates In Breathing Zone." According to Stanke, the changes to Table 6.1 (minimum ventilation rates) and Table 6-4 (minimum exhaust rates) are, as he put it, "housekeeping" changes, to correct inaccuracies, to add previously overlooked occupancy categories, and to correct inconsistencies among published tables.

    As Vyavaharkar put it, the new table is "more concise and consolidates all the information in one place."

    "The classification of air is probably the most important change in this table from a contractor's perspective," said Vyavaharkar. "He needs to be aware that the return air has to be treated with proper consideration, and is as important as the amount of outside air that is being brought into the building."

    Addendum C
    This addendum updates the references in and makes minor corrections to informative Appendix B, according to Stanke.

    "It is valuable to have accurate, up-to-date information in the standard," he said, "to guide ventilation systems engineers."

    Vyavaharkar said the change is good, too.

    "The body of the standard specifies requirements that must be met in order to claim compliance to the standard," said Vyavaharkar. "Table 6-1, for instance, specifies minimum ventilation rates for various occupancy categories. These are general categories that consider pollutant levels that are normally found in those occupancy types."

    According to the committee member, it is possible that a designer has to specify a system for a space type that is unique or that is not defined in the table.

    "In that case," he said, "the designer has to use his engineering judgment in order to come up with the ventilation rates. Addendum c provides the designer a list of regulations and guidelines that have been developed by various bodies about acceptability of pollutant levels.

    "The engineer can refer to this body of data to come up with the appropriate information for his needs. This is an extremely important compilation of information that can be used by the designer in appropriate cases."

    Addendum D
    In short, this addendum updates Table 4-1 so that it matches the current National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) pollutant listing, rather than the previous NAAQS pollutant listing. In other words, the new Table 4-1 incorporates the latest "National Primary Ambient Air Quality Standards for Outdoor Air as set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency."

    "This table was republished in 2004 and the committee is just updating the information to be consistent with the latest publication," explained Vyavaharkar. "I agree with the final outcome as the standard needs to use the latest information available."

    Added Stanke, "The information in Table 4-1 was developed and published by the EPA, so ASHRAE changed Standard 62.1 to match. ASHRAE has no authority to alter the entries in the table. They are a matter of federal legislation."

    Addendum G
    This addendum establishes requirements for separating ETS areas from ETS-free areas.

    "Contractors should be aware that buildings with both smoking and nonsmoking areas may include more labor and more material to construct in accordance with design specifications," said Stanke.

    Vyavaharkar had a somewhat different spin on the addendum. "The biggest questions that engineers may have is this: ‘Do I have to meet all the requirements or can I just meet some of the requirements of this addenda?' The answer is ‘No,' " he said. "There are eight specific sets of requirements that must be met. They are classified as: classification, pressurization, separation, transfer air, recirculation, exhaust systems, signage, and reclassification. They all must be met."

    To read and review the content of addenda a, b, c, d, and g to Standard 62.1-2004, go to www.ashrae.org/doclib/20060815_200652210714_347.pdf.

    - Mark Skaer

    Publication date: 10/23/2006

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