IAQ has been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as one of the five most urgent environmental risks to public health. In fact, more lives are lost to indoor air pollution issues than alcohol-related car accidents in the United States each year. The National Cancer Institute estimates that radon gas was the cause of between 15,000 and 22,000 lung cancer deaths in 2010.

Globally, it is estimated that indoor air pollution is the cause of 1.6 million deaths each year.

Many factors affect IAQ. These factors include poor ventilation, problems controlling temperature, high or low humidity, remodeling, and other activities in or near a building that can affect the fresh air coming into the building. Specific contaminants from construction dust, mold, cleaning supplies, pesticides, or other airborne chemicals are leading causes of poor IAQ. Inadequate IAQ has been tied to symptoms including headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs.

Research Trends

Sales in the U.S. IAQ market, according to Wellesley, Mass.-based BCC Research, reached $7.7 billion in 2008 and are expected to hit $8.5 billion in 2014. The five-year anticipated compound annual growth sales rate is estimated to continue to grow at 3.5 percent annually.

San Antonio-based consulting firm, Frost & Sullivan, recently released research that states the IAQ consulting field is expected to experience an 8 percent average annual growth rate over the next several years.

“With half of all illnesses attributed to indoor airborne contaminants, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared IAQ a public health priority,” said Jorge Moreno, research analyst, Frost & Sullivan. “Energy recovery ventilation is a growing segment within the HVAC market, particularly in northern tier winter heating zones and areas with warmer and high humidity climatic conditions. The focus on IAQ is another key trend benefiting energy recovery ventilation, as people become increasingly conscious of the importance to maintain air quality through properly designed and managed HVAC systems.”

Manufacturing a Solution

HVACR manufacturers, distributors, and contractors are waging war against indoor air pollution through the manufacture and installation of numerous indoor environmental products.

Commercial business owners are taking notice that IAQ plays a large role in tenant health and performance, said Tony Fedel, market manager, Kimberly-Clark Professional Filtration.

“One important trend is the increasing focus on the importance of removing the smallest of airborne particles — or submicron particles — from the breathing air. These are the particles, that when breathed in, can lodge deep in the lungs and cause or exacerbate health and medical problems such as asthma and other respiratory illnesses,” he said. “Air filtration media technology is designed to provide superior submicron particle capture without sacrificing good energy efficiency.”

Fedel said that economic conditions remain soft and there is a tremendous focus on health care and related costs. As a result, building owners and managers are seeking smarter solutions to these concerns on behalf of their tenants.

“Owners and managers of commercial and institutional facilities are becoming increasingly aware of the negative impact these health issues have on their occupants’ or tenants’ bottom line, for example, loss of productivity among employees or difficulty with learning and concentration for students in school,” he said. “As these key decision makers gain a deeper understanding of the broader impact of their air filtration choices, they are realizing that they don’t necessarily need to give up good energy performance to get good filtration efficiencies and vice-versa.”

Marc Zipfel, director of product marketing, Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating, said he’s noticed that building owners are increasingly interested in tightening a building’s thermal envelope to cut energy costs. However, as these buildings tighten, decreased infiltration of air may cause a reduction in IAQ. He believes Mitsubishi Electric’s Dedicated Outdoor Air System (DOAS) provides an adequate solution to this issue.

“These new, tighter buildings must be equipped with proper ventilation systems, following ASHRAE Standard 62.1, to maintain healthy indoor air quality while conserving energy,” Zipfel said. “The Mitsubishi Electric Dedicated Outdoor Air System supplies tempered outside ventilation air to a building, and lessens the load on HVAC systems, further saving energy.”

Patrick Nielsen, marketing manager, Broan-NuTone, said IAQ equipment currently on assembly lines not only offers cleaner air, but greater efficiency as well.

“Contractors are starting to incorporate a number of ventilation options that can make a big impact on the overall air quality in clients’ homes, such as bath fans, range hoods, make-up air dampers, and central vacuum systems,” said Nielsen. “Because utility rates are heading upward, and most installed bath fans are in place for at least 10 years, installing an Energy Star-rated fan will be of continued importance in years to come. Furthermore, Energy Star-rated fans play an important role in whole-house ventilation when fans are on constantly.”

Nielsen said products such as Broan’s Ultra Series of ventilation fan/lights increase air quality in an environmentally friendly way.

“One of the easiest ways to improve indoor air quality is through ventilation fans. But, because homeowners don’t always remember to turn fans on while showering or bathing, models that turn on automatically when they sense a rise in humidity, such as NuTone’s Humidity Sensing Recessed Fan/Lights, are the best at helping prevent the growth of mold and mildew, as well as other problems caused by excess moisture.”

Rob Hawk, brand manager, Partners Choice, Nordyne, said that while his company hasn’t noticed too many recent changes in whole-house humidification devices, the company has recognized advances in how the units are controlled.

“Many humidifiers now use a controller that works in conjunction with an outdoor sensor to automatically adjust the humidity level based on outdoor temperature,” he said. “This is a major improvement over older models that needed to be manually adjusted as it reduces the likelihood of over humidification and the resulting condensation buildup on windows, skylights, and exterior walls, as well as a breeding ground for mold.”

Hawk predicted that dehumidification products will continue to grow in popularity.

“Homeowners worry about mold and mildew growth and the associated odors. Plus, with less humidity in the home, the homeowner can turn up the temperature on the thermostat and save some energy,” he said. “Dehumidification really is a win-win situation, for the integrity of the home, the comfort of the homeowner, and the contractor who sells it.”

Sidebar: National Consensus Standards

ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 62.1-2010, “Ventilation for Acceptable Air Quality,” is the most widely accepted standard for indoor air quality for commercial buildings. The 2010 revision adds new minimum filtration/air-cleaning requirements, minimum requirements for when ventilation systems must be operated, and a natural ventilation procedure. Other revisions include a more robust IAQ procedure, demand-controlled ventilation system design requirements, requirements for separation of intakes and exhausts, and ventilation rates and occupancy categories. The recommended outdoor ventilation rates are based on olfactory studies and acceptable indoor air quality is met when 80 percent or more of the exposed people do not express dissatisfaction.

ASHRAE 55-2010, “Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy” specifies temperatures that approximately 80 percent of building occupants should find acceptable.

American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) E1971-05, “Standard Guide for Stewardship for the Cleaning of Commercial and Institutional Buildings” provides additional guidance regarding IAQ in large facilities.

Publication date: 7/16/2012