Total Climate Control Air Conditioning Heating New Hampshire
Total Climate Control Air Conditioning and Heating

Indoor Air Quality - New Hampshire

 

Why is Indoor Air Quality Important?

Indoor air quality is a major concern to NH businesses, building managers, tenants, and employees because it can impact the health, comfort, well being, and productivity of building occupants.

Most Americans spend up to 90% of their time indoors and many spend most of their working hours in an office environment. Studies conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and others show that indoor environments sometimes can have levels of pollutants that are actually higher than levels found outside.

Pollutants in our indoor environment can increase the risk of illness. Several studies by the EPA, states, and independent scientific panels have consistently ranked indoor air pollution as an important environmental health problem. While most buildings and homes do not have severe indoor air quality problems, even well-run buildings and homes can sometimes experience episodes of poor indoor air quality.

A 1989 EPA Report to Congress concluded that improved indoor air quality can result in higher productivity and fewer lost work days. EPA estimates that poor indoor air may cost the nation tens of billions of dollars each year in lost productivity and medical care.

 

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Factors that Contribute to Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality is not a simple, easily defined concept like a desk or a leaky faucet. It is a constantly changing interaction of complex factors that affect the types, levels, and importance of pollutants in indoor environments. These factors include: sources of pollutants or odors; design, maintenance and operation of building ventilation systems; moisture and humidity; and occupant perceptions and susceptibilities. In addition, there are many other factors that affect comfort or perception of indoor air quality.

Controlling indoor air quality involves integrating three main strategies. First, manage the sources of pollutants either by removing them from the building or isolating them from people through physical barriers, air pressure relationships, or by controlling the timing of their use. Second, dilute pollutants and remove them from the building through ventilation. Third, use filtration to clean the air of pollutants.

Management of Pollutant Sources, both Inside and Outside the Building

Pollutants can be generated by outdoor or indoor sources, including building maintenance activities, pest control, housekeeping, renovation or remodeling, new furnishings or finishes, and building occupant activities.  [Read more about pollutants and sources.]

One important goal of an indoor air quality program is to minimize people's exposure to pollutants from these sources. Some of the key pollutant categories include:

Biological contaminants. Excessive concentrations of bacteria, viruses, fungi (including molds), dust mite allergen, animal dander, and pollen may result from inadequate maintenance and housekeeping, water spills, inadequate humidity control, condensation, or may be brought into the building by occupants, infiltration, or ventilation air. Allergic responses to indoor biological pollutant exposures cause symptoms in allergic individuals and also play a key role in triggering asthma episodes for an estimated 15 million Americans.

Chemical pollutants. Sources of chemical pollutants include tobacco smoke, emissions from products used in the building (e.g., office equipment; furniture, wall and floor coverings; and cleaning and consumer products) accidental spill of chemicals, and gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, which are products of combustion.

Particles. Particles are solid or liquid substances which are light enough to be suspended in the air, the largest of which may be visible in sunbeams streaming into a room. However, smaller particles that you cannot see are likely to be more harmful to health. Particles of dust, dirt, or other substances may be drawn into the building from outside and can also be produced by activities that occur in buildings, like sanding wood or drywall, printing, copying, operating equipment, and smoking.

Type of Pollutant

Many different factors influence how indoor air pollutants impact occupants. Some pollutants, like radon, are of concern because exposure to high levels of the pollutant over long periods of time increases risk of serious, life threatening illnesses, such as lung cancer. Other contaminants, such as carbon monoxide at very high levels, can cause death within minutes. Some pollutants can cause both short and long term health problems. Prolonged exposure to environmental tobacco smoke can cause lung cancer, and short term exposures can result in irritation and significant respiratory problems for some people, particularly young children.

People can react very differently when exposed to the same contaminants at similar concentrations. For example, some people can develop severe allergic reactions to biological contaminants to which other people will not react. Similarly, exposure to very low levels of chemicals may be irritating to some people but not others. For people with asthma and other pre-existing conditions, exposure to irritants like environmental tobacco smoke or gases or particles from various indoor sources may cause more severe reactions than the same exposure would in others.

Moisture and Humidity

It is important to control moisture and relative humidity in occupied spaces. The presence of moisture and dirt can cause molds and other biological contaminants to thrive. Relative humidity levels that are too high can contribute to the growth and spread of unhealthy biological pollutants, as can failure to dry water-damaged materials promptly (usually within 24 hours) or to properly maintain equipment with water reservoirs or drain pans (e.g., humidifiers, refrigerators, and ventilation equipment). Humidity levels that are too low, however, may contribute to irritated mucous membranes, dry eyes, and sinus discomfort.

Design, Maintenance and Operation of Building Ventilation Systems

Maintaining good indoor air quality requires attention to the building's heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system; the design and layout of the space; and pollutant source management. HVAC systems include all of the equipment used to ventilate, heat, and cool the building; to move the air around the building (ductwork); and to filter and clean the air. These systems can have a significant impact on how pollutants are distributed and removed. HVAC systems can even act as sources of pollutants in some cases, such as when ventilation air filters become contaminated with dirt and/or moisture and when microbial growth results from stagnant water in drip pans or from uncontrolled moisture inside of air ducts. Because of the HVAC system's importance, good indoor air quality management includes attention to:

Ventilation system design. The air delivery capacity of an HVAC system is based in part on the projected number of people and amount of equipment in a building. When areas in a building are used differently than their original purpose, the HVAC system may require modification to accommodate these changes. For example, if a storage area is converted into space occupied by people, the HVAC system may require alteration to deliver enough conditioned air to the space.

Outside air supply. Adequate supply of outside air, typically delivered through the HVAC system, is necessary in any office environment to dilute pollutants that are released by equipment, building materials, furnishings, products, and people. Distribution of ventilation air to occupied spaces is essential for comfort.

Outdoor air quality. When present, outdoor air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, pollen, and dust may affect indoor conditions when outside air is taken into the building's ventilation system. Properly installed and maintained filters can trap many of the particles in this outdoor supply air. Controlling gaseous or chemical pollutants may require more specialized filtration equipment.

Space planning. The use and placement of furniture and equipment may affect the delivery of air to an occupied space. For instance, the placement of heat generating equipment, like a computer, directly under an HVAC control device such as a thermostat may cause the HVAC system to deliver too much cool air, because the thermostat senses that the area is too warm. Furniture or partitions that block supply or return air registers can affect IAQ as well, and need to be positioned with attention to air flow.

Equipment maintenance. Diligent maintenance of HVAC equipment is essential for the adequate delivery and quality of building air. All well-run buildings have preventive maintenance programs that help ensure the proper functioning of HVAC systems.

Controlling other pollutant pathways. Pollutants can spread throughout a building by moving through stairwells, elevator shafts, wall spaces, and utility chases. Special ventilation or other control measures may be needed for some sources.

The Good News...

Even though the factors that affect the quality of the indoor environment are numerous, the good news is that most indoor environmental problems can be prevented or corrected easily and inexpensively through the application of common sense and vigilance on the part of everyone in the building. Success depends on cooperative actions taken by building management and occupants to improve and maintain indoor air quality. By becoming knowledgeable about indoor air quality, tenants and occupants are in a good position to help building managers maintain a comfortable and healthy building environment.

Total Climate Control can:

  • Identify or suspect an indoor air problem
  • Clean and maintain your HVAC systems
  • Plan the installation of new HVAC equipment
  • Plan for renovations and/or remodeling with a professional interior designer and/or an architect
  • Find system leaks

Please do not hesitate to contact us by phone at 603.753.2728 or email us!

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