By Katherine Schwartz
Demand Generation Specialist
Businesses are doing everything they can to create safe work environments as the COVID-19 pandemic remains at the forefront of every employee’s mind. From surface sanitization, to mask mandates, to a complete restructure of the office floor plan, everything is subject to scrutiny through the lens of employee health and wellness—even air quality. How to improve air quality in the office is something many facilities managers are stuck on.
While it’s easy to wipe down a hot desk or sterilize shared office equipment, it’s not as easy to address recirculated air concerns. How do you address air quality when people breathe it in and out every second of every day?
There are more opportunities to improve office air quality than are first apparent. Through proper assessment, routine maintenance, proper filtration, and a clear focus on HVAC, businesses can enhance their buildings’ forced air to the benefit of everyone—even amidst a pandemic that’s primarily spread through airborne droplets.
Why is office air quality important?
Think of how good a breath of fresh air feels as you step outside, into a crisp morning scene. Consider the difference in how you feel after traipsing around in a musty attic, then coming back down into a clean home. These are just two examples of the dramatic impact air quality has on how we feel—and how fast it can change.
Science attributes everything from allergies to lethargy and more sinister health conditions to poor indoor air quality. There’s even an umbrella term to describe the effects poor commercial air quality has on a person: Sick Building Syndrome. Now, with COVID-19 and its proven spread through the air, conversations about how to improve workplace air quality are front and center in many workplaces—even if air quality hasn’t been a problem.
Bottom line, indoor air quality has a direct correlation to health and wellness. At a time when public health is of paramount concern, indoor air quality is the key to minimizing risk of everything from allergies to the coronavirus pandemic in the workplace.
Start with maintenance and service
The simplest tips to improve workplace air quality start with routine maintenance and service. Especially if the aggregate age of your forced air system is less than 15 years old, there’s a lot you can do to improve air quality by adhering to manufacturer standards.
Call up a commercial HVAC specialist or schedule comprehensive service through your current service provider. Tell them you want a thorough inspection and cleaning of your entire forced air system, and ask for a detailed breakdown of tasks and costs associated with it. If routine cleaning is part of your current service level agreement (SLA), your building may not be due for cleaning or may only require select services.
In addition to a thorough cleaning, observe these common maintenance tasks. Make sure they’re either recently completed or action items for an impending HVAC service call:
- Replace air filters and other consumable filtration equipment
- Clean indoor and outdoor HVAC units and critical components
- Check and clear condensate drains and inspect for mold growth
- Examine registers and exchangers, and clean where appropriate
The older the system or the units, the more thorough and discerning your HVAC professional should be. Get a scope of work and cost estimates, and examine these costs against your building maintenance budget. In many cases, a one-time thorough servicing of the building’s HVAC system makes sense—especially during COVID-19, when it has the potential to mitigate virus transmission and assuage employee fears.
Supplement with filtration and upgrades
After you set a baseline for good air quality through routine maintenance and service, set your eyes on improving office air quality. There are three methods to achieve this. In ascending order of cost:
- Invest in new filter technologies. Replace old fiber filters with high-grade HEPA filters to improve the filtration efficiency and effectiveness of the building’s forced air system. Enterprise companies with massive air handling may even consider UV disinfection filters—the gold standard in particle neutralization.
- Upgrade to smart tech. Smart thermostats and air handling sensors not only offer better control over office air quality—they also save money and improve HVAC efficiency. While there is a cost associated with the IoT buildout required for smart HVAC systems, the cost benefit may be worth it to many organizations with high forced air overhead.
- Upgrade the system. Commercial HVAC units typically last 15 years, with some reaching 20+. Businesses may choose to make a capital expenditure to retrofit an inefficient unit at the tail end of its lifespan, to enjoy not only another one to two decades of reliability, but also the improved air handling standards that come with modern units.
Consider these options not only in the context of COVID-19, but over the next five to 10 years and beyond. What’s your plan for the building? Is air quality a known concern? Will it be in the foreseeable future? Investments in filtration and system upgrades will dictate office air quality long beyond the pandemic.
Make HVAC an independent focus
HVAC is likely part of your business’ broader building maintenance plan. During COVID-19, it’s time to break it out as an independent focus, so forced air gets the attention it needs. Align with an HVAC professional for service and maintenance, and do appropriate research into upgrades and other capital expenditures that may bring lasting relief and protection to your workforce.
COVID-19 won’t last forever, but it’s not the only reason to examine forced air quality. Sick Building Syndrome, annual cold and flu germs, allergens, and a slew of other pathogens are worth the time, effort, and expenditure that come from better forced air management.
Keep reading: 10 Tips for a Safe Return to the Workplace