How to Create an IAQ Strategy

By Tyler Smith, Erik Malmstrom & Sean McCrady

COVID-19 has certainly spotlighted the need for clean air in commercial buildings. However, improving indoor air quality shouldn’t begin and end with the pandemic. The importance of clean air extends beyond viruses and bacteria — common airborne particulates like mold, allergens, pollution and smoke can also negatively impact occupants’ long-term health and comfort, in turn hurting focus, productivity and satisfaction. According to the EPA, Americans spend approximately 90% of their time indoors, so organizations must reevaluate how they deliver healthy and safe indoor environments to meet the public’s rising expectations of a modern building. That starts with the HVAC contractor.

While every building needs clean air, there is no one-size-fits-all IAQ strategy that will work for every building. What works for one may be lacking for another, leaving occupants vulnerable.

Through a customized, science-based approach with a trusted partner, HVAC contractors can optimize a specific building’s design, system capabilities and unique characteristics with the highest performing clean air strategies for occupant health and wellness.

Buildings require customized clean air strategies

HVAC professionals understand better than anyone every that building’s needs, design and challenges are unique, meaning every organization’s clean air blueprint must also be unique. Varying factors like space size, number of occupants, building use and existing infrastructure require customized solutions to deliver an effective and holistic strategy.

For instance, a small commercial office building will have vastly different IAQ needs than a large K-12 school. Most rooms in an office building are uniform in size; occupants typically stay in assigned cubicles throughout the day and, in smaller buildings, circulating clean air from outside is easier. In a K-12 school, on the other hand, students are constantly switching classes and rooms vary in sizes from classrooms to gymnasiums. The younger age of a school’s occupants also makes them more susceptible to some illnesses and less likely to follow public safety protocol. The level of clean air management sufficient for a small office building would likely fall short in a K-12 school. This acts as just one example of why, when working across industries, HVAC contractors need to create a clean air strategy tailored to each building’s design specifications and occupant needs.

Starting with science-based assessments and integrated solutions

To help identify a clean air strategy that best meets a commercial building’s needs, HVAC leaders can realize value from science-based IAQ and infection risk assessments. These assessments evaluate baseline risk levels and system performance in buildings, pinpoint gaps and make necessary updates for a long-term clean air strategy that provides the strongest health and safety, financial and energy efficiency ROI possible.

By working with a trusted partner, organizations’ HVAC teams have the ability to assess systems’ ventilation performance with aerosol tracing technology that simulates the mobility and exposure levels of airborne pathogens in order to detect, measure and visualize airflow, ventilation and filtration performance.

The real-world value of these assessments is three-fold. First, independent assessments quantify the health and safety ROI of a clean air strategy – for example, how significant is the exposure risk reduction provided by increasing outside air rates, MERV-level upgrades in AHU filters and local air cleaning devices? Without verification by a trusted partner, it is difficult for organizations to know whether they are making the right decisions for their building. Assessments can provide the answers.

Second, assessments ensure organizations are spending their financial resources most effectively, both for capital investments in the HVAC system and local air cleaning devices, as well as for operating costs especially related to energy usage. Frequently, assessments save customers significant money and avoid waste.

Third, these audits enable HVAC technicians to communicate the health and safety conditions of the building to key customer stakeholders in order to strengthen trust and maintain occupancy levels at the highest levels possible, safely. By relying on their HVAC provider for these auditing services, organizations can feel confident both in their partnerships and the safety of their buildings.

Upon completing IAQ and risk assessments and setting targets, HVAC partners can ensure all stakeholders remain informed and implement integrated clean air solutions to meet customers’ goals. Together, these technologies provide a comprehensive, connected and data-driven approach to clean indoor air that delivers long-term success.

Leading clean air solutions most preferred by HVAC experts include:

  • Upgraded air handler or package unit filtration with MERV 13 filters
  • In-zone filtration and disinfection solutions like ultraviolet-C lighting
  • Advanced air quality sensors for ongoing testing and monitoring
  • HVAC equipment remediation and maintenance

Delivering the healthy building of the future

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a lasting impact on how we think about building health, and more organizations are making significant investments in clean air. But these investments must be tailored to each building and organization’s needs to maximize returns.

By taking a customized approach to their clean air strategy, incorporating science-based risk assessments and integrating solutions, HVAC suppliers can deliver customized solutions to help contractors and give occupants the peace of mind that their environment best meets their IAQ needs.

Tyler Smith is executive director of Healthy Buildings at Johnson Controls. Erik Malmstrom is CEO of SafeTraces. Sean McCrady is director, Asset and Sustainability Performance, Real Estate Properties at UL.