The trend to improve the indoor environment in commercial spaces is growing, according to experts in the field. Yet health and safety may not always be foremost in discussions between HVAC contractors and commercial clients. So understanding the needs of different commercial applications can aid contractors in serving the commercial market.

According to Aaron Engel, vice president, marketing, Sanuvox Technologies Inc., “Hospitals are looking to reduce hospital-acquired infections, schools look to reduce absenteeism and improve student concentration, and offices look to solve generic sick-building-syndrome issues while reducing absenteeism as well.”

Acknowledging these different needs and researching the many solutions available to help consumers achieve a clean, safe indoor environment will be vital as contractors move forward in this arena.

Healthier Hospitals

Hospitals and all types of health care facilities have long been focused on making their indoor environments safer for occupants. According to Carl Redner, president, General Filters Inc., “Health care facilities are the leader in this group.”

Redner explained, “They require higher MERV ratings on the filtration devices that serve these locations. They also invest in better humidification and dehumidification units that not only protect their extremely expensive equipment, but also deliver healthy comfort zones for their staff.”

Tony Fedel, P.E., associate marketing director, Kimberly-Clark Professional Filtration, noted, “In addition to providing for good IAQ in general, health care facilities have an additional need to reduce the spread of hospital-acquired infections. Infections can spread by air when bacteria or viruses travel on dust particles or small respiratory droplets become aerosolized. Airborne diseases are thought to account for up to 33 percent of all hospital-acquired infections.”

Fred Perfetto, vice president, commercial and consumer IAQ products, RGF Environmental Group, pointed out that there are a range of health care facilities that are interested in eliminating bacteria, viruses, and odors, including not only hospitals, but also nursing homes, daycare facilities, and doctor’s offices.

For example, Perfetto said, after installing an RGF air purification system, “Long-term health care facilities have noted an increase in revenue due to family members selecting their facility because of the clean-smelling environment.”

Forrest Fencl, president, UV Resources, noted that coil irradiation with ultraviolet (UV) light is another solution that hospitals are employing.

“This is most prevalent in hospitals,” he said. “Each time the air recirculates through the air handler, the benefit to reduced nosocomial infections cannot be ignored.”

Safer Schools

In the school market, the safety and health of children are paramount. “Children are especially at risk to health impacts of poor IAQ because their bodies are still developing,” explained Lane Jeffryes, CEO and president, Rotobrush Intl. LLC. “Improving IAQ has been shown to improve student health, productivity, attendance, and test scores.”

Currently, the growing number of children with asthma is of heightened concern for schools.

According to Fedel, “Nearly one in 13 children of school age has asthma, and indoor environmental exposure to allergens commonly found in schools, such as dust mites, pests, and molds, plays a role in triggering asthma symptoms.”

Fedel also noted a few other factors that affect the school market.

“Schools have unique requirements because you’re dealing with child health and safety issues as well as public funds,” he said. “It is also important to note that in many school systems, individual schools are paid only for students that are actually in attendance each day. Therefore, schools would be wise not to overlook the attendance-boosting benefits of maintaining good IAQ.”

Redner summed it up, stating, “Clearly the goal of any school is to provide a healthy, clean, and safe learning environment for children. IAQ is an important component to providing a safe indoor environment. … Studies show that student absenteeism tends to rise for those whose health is most impacted by poor IAQ.”

Productive, Profitable Workplaces

But absenteeism isn’t just a problem in schools — it’s also a problem for employers.

“Ensuring a safe and healthy environment reduces absenteeism in the workplace as well,” Redner said. “Primarily, business owners are learning more about how poor IAQ affects workplace productivity and good business. For years we’ve known that outdoor air pollution can cause adverse effects on one’s health. Over the last several years, people have come to recognize that providing a healthy indoor air environment in the workplace can have a significant impact on productivity and job satisfaction. Asking people to smoke outdoors is just one of the more obvious indicators of this new focus.”

He noted that asthma is of great concern for this older demographic, too. “The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reports that asthma (where triggers can be caused by poor IAQ) represents 15 million missed or less-productive workdays each year,” he said.

Fedel agreed that business owners are becoming more aware of the impact that IAQ has on their workers. “Commercial building owners and managers are becoming more attuned to the importance of good IAQ in terms of the health and productivity of building occupants. The economic value of improved health and productivity among a building’s workforce can be substantial,” he said. “In addition, reducing the frequency of IAQ-related tenant complaints can lead up to a 20 percent savings in labor costs associated with HVAC operation and maintenance.”

For hotels, retail centers, and restaurants, the indoor environment not only affects employees but also consumers.

“Restaurants benefit by providing clean, fresh air to employees and patrons, who will have a more pleasant dining experience and will be more likely to return,” Redner said.

Similarly, Perfetto noted, “Hotels see more repeat business as a result of having clean-smelling rooms.”

According to Jeffryes, “It’s all about the consumer experience inside the store. Business owners are learning that properly controlling facility HVAC systems and monitoring and maintaining indoor environments increases customer comfort and satisfaction, leading to repeat business and an increase in sales. An investment in products and systems that optimize facility performance generates savings that boost their bottom line.”

Monitoring the Situation

Boosting the bottom line is, of course, the goal of every type of facility, and a primary driver behind improving building efficiency.

“We believe there will be an ongoing trend for more energy-efficient systems. This will drive the demand for more energy-efficient products and greater attention to better system design. The challenge is that current technology for improving IAQ, such as filtration and/or increasing outdoor air supply, also drives up the energy requirements,” said Scott Laurila, product manager, tempered air products, Greenheck Fan Corp. “The best way to offset this is with more advanced control technology to ensure the system is working to the exact requirements of the space.”

As examples of this, he pointed to variable-volume exhaust and supply systems for kitchens driven by actual cooking activity (demand-based), and variable volume for room occupancy.

Mike Wolf, product manager, fans and ventilators, Greenheck Fan Corp., cited another example of advanced control technology: “CO and VOC [volatile organic compound] sensors that can be used to control how much outdoor (fresh) air needs to be supplied to a space.”

Wolf continued, “In recent years, manufacturers have been expanding their capabilities through more advanced controls. This provides more accurate system control and makes maintaining IAQ and occupant comfort more achievable and cost-effective. As a result, building owners and consulting engineers are putting more upfront consideration into systems that can provide a high degree of thermal comfort and improved IAQ at both peak- and part-load conditions.”

Kevin Sulzer, marketing manager, Koch Filter Corp., said, “As facility managers are charged with maintaining ever tighter budgets, maintaining optimum energy efficiency becomes important. Filter change outs that were once just set up as a normal rotation are now being evaluated to increase efficiency and determine the most useful life cycle. They now weigh the energy efficiency and the efficiency of particulates captured.”

Evan Lubofsky, director of marketing communications, Onset Computer Corp., referred to the advances in IAQ monitoring as a brave new world.

“There are more standards, more rating systems, more mandates, and, in general, more transparency. It’s all coming down to the data,” he said.

Solutions for IAQ Issues

Aiding contractors in their quest to help customers achieve healthier, safer indoor environments is a range of products, including everything from air filters to UV equipment.

“The right air filter can trap microorganisms and other dangerous particles, keeping them from spreading via the breathing air,” Fedel said.

He also noted that there has been a rise in demand for high-efficiency filter media.

“Kimberly-Clark has responded to this need by offering a line of high-efficiency mechano-electret filter media,” he said.

According to Steve Rosol, president and CEO, Mars Air Systems, “The places where people work, gather, and live include a heightened awareness that clean, comfortable, fresh air is critical to the occupants’ well-being and atmosphere of a healthy environment. The equipment that helps to afford this sense of well-being should evoke a feeling of safety, both technically and aesthetically.”

He pointed to air curtains as a solution to aid commercial spaces.

“In today’s commercial world, open doors are far more inviting, giving free accessibility to those who want to come and go freely. Air curtain equipment that allows this open access needs to be environmentally friendly and founded on ever-improving energy-conserving principles. An air curtain installed over open doorways, both external and internal, does positively impact the indoor environment.”

“Products that allow better IAQ without the need for more fresh air are certainly embraced by owners and managers looking to save money and energy,” Engel said. “Systems that can improve IAQ, and at the same time improve equipment efficiency, such as UV coil cleaners, are widely accepted.”

Ken Nelson, Northwest regional sales manager, Panasonic Eco Solutions, said, “Manufacturers are doing everything in their power to satisfy material and product needs for the building owner as well as health and safety for occupants. For example, this year Panasonic Eco Solutions launched the WhisperGreen LED with a SmartAction motion sensor, providing a low-cost installation solution for meeting ASHRAE 62.2 and whole-house continuous and spot ventilation, all in one Energy Star-rated fan.”

Lubofsky noted, “It seems that low-cost/no-cost is the name of the game these days when it comes to making commercial buildings perform better from both a comfort and efficiency standpoint. So, being able to leverage simple, off-the-shelf monitoring tools like our HOBO UX Series temperature/RH and time-of-use loggers make it possible to quickly and affordably identify problem areas in buildings.”

Redner noted that the trend going forward will be to layer on multiple solutions.

“Since IAQ specialists recognize that filtration alone is not the only answer to clean indoor air, you’ll see more installations tailored to address multiple concerns.

“Photocatalytic purifiers work to kill germs, bacteria, and other harmful VOCs that filtration alone can’t; ventilation systems keep indoor air fresh and clean in tightly constructed facilities; and humid climates benefit from dehumidification. It’s a multi-tiered approach.”

SIDEBAR: Regulations and Ratings

It’s not just consumer concerns that are motivating the commercial market to improve IAQ — it’s also government regulations and certification programs like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

“Building codes and above-code programs through organizations like Energy Star, LEED, and ASHRAE are driving healthier buildings,” said Ken Nelson, Northwest regional sales manager, Panasonic Eco Solutions.

“If the building is pursuing LEED certification, credits can be earned by installing MERV 8 filters at each return air grille, if permanently installed air handlers must be used during construction. All filtration media must be replaced and the space must be flushed out prior to occupancy,” said Tony Fedel, P.E., associate marketing director, Kimberly-Clark Professional Filtration.

He added, “Building owners and managers looking to obtain LEED certification for their buildings can also look to the prerequisite points and additional credits available by implementing a robust indoor environmental quality program that includes air filtration.”

Aaron Engel, vice president, marketing, Sanuvox Technologies Inc., noted, “There is a trend to incorporate lower VOC [volatile organic compounds] emission materials into buildings and new construction.”

Another trend in IAQ regulation is targeting radon, according to Lane Jeffryes, CEO and president, Rotobrush Intl. LLC.

“Regulators are focusing on reducing exposure to lung-cancer-causing radon gas. In June of 2011, the federal government announced the Federal Radon Action Plan,” he said. “Policy changes from this initiative include the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development now requiring radon testing and mitigation on multifamily homes in areas of the country with known potential of high radon levels.”

Jeffryes continued, “Many states are also busy adding radon legislation. Illinois now requires testing of all daycare centers throughout the state. Nebraska has a similar law. Most states are also working to require radon-resistant construction in new homes. This building code is already in effect in Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Ohio, and several other states.”

Publication date: 7/15/2013 

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