Indoor air quality (IAQ) has been a buzzword in the HVAC industry ever since the onset of the pandemic. While many manufacturers have been focused on producing the right equipment to improve IAQ, such as air purifiers and UV lamps, end users have been focused on purchasing the right products for their indoor environments, such as hypoallergenic air filters. But without proper cleaning and maintenance, many products that have been designed to improve the quality of air within a building or home will start to falter. What happens when all of these investments fail to work the way that they are supposed to? That’s where contractors come in.
Inspect and Measure
When it comes to preventive maintenance and repairs, David Richardson, director of training at National Comfort Institute (NCI), said the best thing to start off with is a thorough visual inspection of the system.
“Really look at the actual system components to see where they're at — you can do a lot just through a visual inspection. See where the equipment’s at and then kind of gauge the scope of work from there,” he said.
Richardson added that taking different measurements before a repair is recommended because doing so will give the technician a more accurate picture of the equipment’s efficiency before and after servicing it. Taking measurements — or even photos before and after a cleaning — also gives homeowners an extra bit of assurance that they will be getting what they paid for, he said.
When it comes to maintenance for residential applications, he said there is always an opportunity for contractors to not only upgrade their customers’ filters, but also their ventilation systems. On the flipside, for the commercial market, he noted that one of the things building owners did during COVID was install filtration systems in spaces that were not equipped for it.
“They didn't consider the side effects of those filters. They can be very restricted if they don't take into account the filter sizing and media type together. So they actually unintentionally created some issues by putting high-efficiency hyper filters that the blowers in those systems simply couldn't handle,” Richardson explained.
Find the Source
Richardson said that oftentimes when a contractor goes in and looks at a dirty system, they tend to clean it and forget to question why or how the equipment got dirty in the first place. He said that when different components begin to get dirty, it is usually a sign that other things might be going wrong within the system. Many of these hidden issues could be resolved early on, which would actually reduce the need for maintenance in the first place, he explained. He added that while some repairs are inevitable, sometimes the way a system is designed or installed can accelerate the need for maintenance.
In order to improve IAQ, Marissa Kocaman, senior product specialist at Resideo, said contractors should make sure to identify the source or cause of indoor air contaminants. She noted that particles from combustion appliances, tobacco products, furniture, or even certain cleaning products can all cause poor IAQ. She added that bad ventilation or a lack of duct cleaning could also lead to contaminated indoor air, especially when dust or other pollutants gather in ductwork following a home remodel or renovation.
Senior product specialist, Resideo
Remember the Basics
Sometimes, the most basic solutions are the ones that might be overlooked. According to Kocaman, many homeowners who have IAQ equipment at home tend to forget that these systems need regular maintenance in order to work effectively. While technicians can make these simple adjustments for their customers, she recommended that they also inform homeowners about the different ways they could maintain their equipment themselves, such as cleaning the energy recovery core in an energy recovery ventilator (ERV). She said that frequently, homeowners are unaware of the maintenance needs for IAQ equipment, so proper education on the subject is important.
“Skipping maintenance on IAQ equipment can decrease the efficiency and effectiveness of the equipment,” she explained. “[For example,] in dehumidifiers, failure to change the filter can dramatically reduce the airflow through the unit and impact the dehumidification performance.”
The type of filter used on an HVAC system can also affect the quality of one’s air. Ted Puzio, owner of Southern Trust Home Services, said he likes to inform homeowners about the options they might have when it comes to filters. He explained that different homes have different needs, and it’s important to figure out whether a basic or more advanced filter would be needed for a particular living situation. Homeowners with heavy air problems or pets, he said, are going to want a better filter.
“The filter system can get a typical basic filter if you want 1-inch filters or you can go up to a media filter, which is like a 5-inch filter. Biggest thing of difference between them is if you open [the 1-inch] up, you're only going to have so much squeezed into that one edge, whereas the 5-inch opens up and goes much further,” Puzio said.
Nice and Clean
Keeping HVAC equipment clean can go a long way when it comes to improving indoor air quality. Puzio said sometimes, if a homeowner pulls the cover off their unit in a room or closet, they will be able to see particles of dust or fuzz on it. At that point, he said the consumer would need a professional to come in and do a complete scrubbing of the inside wall, ductwork, filters, coils, and any other component that needs attention. He noted that whenever the temperature changes, depending on the season, bacteria growth will either slow down or speed up. He said if homeowners were to compare IAQ system maintenance to the masks they had to wear during the pandemic, they would be more inclined to clean them regularly.
“If you got particles building up on [the mask] or if it got dirty, you'll notice that when you put it back on and smell it or see it. Your systems the same way,” Puzio explained.
Daniel Fisher, sales director at Modine Coatings, said that focusing on the cleanliness of the heat exchanger within a system can play a big role in maintaining the design efficiency of a product. He said coil coating can be an added measure of protection, especially if the HVAC system is in a corrosive environment. When a system is corroded, its efficiencies go down and the cost to operate the unit goes up, he noted.
PROTECTION: Coil coatings can help protect an HVAC system from corrosion and bacteria. (Courtesy of Coil Coatings)
“We hear a lot of stories where a contractor will say, ‘I clean them once a year and I just use a garden hose.’ But you need to go in there and use some chemistry,” Fisher said.
He also warned that if a coil is coated, certain methods of cleaning can actually strip the coating right off — a contractor should inspect the equipment thoroughly before getting to work. Using a good cleanser can effectively get rid of microbes or odors on HVAC equipment, which will then contribute to better indoor air quality, Fisher said.