4 Ways to Improve Commercial Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in Your Building
No matter the type of facility you have, the indoor air quality (IAQ) of your building is important.
Your building’s IAQ is essential to the health and safety of your staff and guests. Poor indoor air quality can have adverse effects on the health of your building’s occupants.
In schools, poor indoor air quality can result in decreased attendance, lower student performance, and an increased probability of school closings. In other facility types, such as office buildings, poorly maintained IAQ can cause a decrease in staff performance due to sickness and discomfort.
There are many steps your facility can take to improve the indoor air quality in your building. These steps can range from the installation of air purifying devices in your air ducts and upgrading your HVAC system, to simply updating your cleaning programs. Today, we’ll focus on some of the changes you can make to your cleaning and maintenance program to improve the IAQ in your building.
In this article, we’ll define indoor air quality and offer 4 easy ways you and your janitorial staff can help improve your building’s IAQ to protect the health of your staff and guests.
What is IAQ (Indoor Air Quality)?
Indoor air quality is the measurement of the amount of pollutants inside and around the outside of your facility.
The air outside of your facility contributes to the quality of air inside your facility because ventilation systems allow air to pass into your building. If there are high levels of air pollution outside of your building, your indoor pollutant levels will also likely be high.
What Factors Affect Commercial IAQ?
Indoor pollutants, like those listed below, and lack of proper ventilation are the main causes of poor indoor air quality.
Some sources of indoor air pollution include:
- Chemical Cleaning Agents
Improper use of cleaning products, like floor strippers, can lead to strong odors. Cleaning staff should be properly trained on how to use cleaning products and equipment to minimize their effects on your building’s IAQ.
- Improperly Maintained Janitorial Cleaning Equipment
It’s important that all equipment is regularly maintained. Without proper maintenance, some janitorial cleaning equipment, like vacuums and floor burnishers, can release particles which can contribute to poor IAQ.
- Central Heating And Cooling Systems
Temperature and humidity can affect the concentration of certain pollutants. Unclean or poorly maintained HVAC systems can contribute to a lack of air ventilation in your facility.
Other pollutants include:
- Germs and Viruses
- Tobacco Products
- Building Materials
- Outdoor Sources (Such As Pesticides And Radon)
How is IAQ Calculated?
Indoor air quality is calculated by measuring the amount of air pollutants in a facility.
To understand if your IAQ is acceptable, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) provides guidelines and regulations for the recommended level of chemical VOCs and pollutants inside your facility.
OSHA’s exposure limits should be used alongside limits set by Cal/OSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).
Annotated tables of these recommended exposure limits can be found here:
When air quality is sampled, pollutant concentrations are compared against threshold values to determine if action needs to be taken.
IAQ must be tested by a contractor with experience in air quality testing. You and your staff will not be able to test your facility’s IAQ.
Note: You can use this Indoor Air Quality Professional Finder to find an IAQ technician near you.
During testing, areas that do not pass are flushed with outside air and retested until pollutant levels are under threshold amounts.
If it is determined during this testing that your IAQ does not meet recommended standards, there are a variety of ways to improve your building’s air quality.
What Is A Good IAQ For My Facility?
There is no single number or rating that determines a good IAQ for your building, rather there are individual measurements based on the types of pollutants in the air being tested. An area that does not exceed any of the recommended exposure limits during testing is considered to have a good IAQ.
While there are no specific standards for schools, hospitals, or other commercial facilities, monitoring your facility’s IAQ is vital to the health of the people in your building.
Effects Of Poor IAQ
Poor IAQ can have negative effects on the people in your building.
These effects include:
- Irritation of nose, throat, and eyes
- Respiratory disease
- Heart disease
The effects of poor indoor air quality can be made worse due to age, pre-existing medical conditions, the amount of pollutants present, and repeated exposure. Some pollutants may cause varied reactions based on individual sensitivity and the kind of contaminants that are in the air.
How to Improve Commercial IAQ
The best way to improve indoor air quality is to control and minimize the indoor pollutant levels in your building.
Pollutant levels can be minimized with a consistent cleaning routine and regular equipment maintenance.
Below, we provide 4 ways you can improve the IAQ of your commercial building:
- Integrate Air Purification Systems Into Your Facility
- Upgrade to More Efficient Cleaning Equipment
- Properly Educate Staff On Product And Equipment Use
- Schedule Cleaning When Fewer People Are In The Building
1. Integrate Air Purification Systems Into Your Facility
Air purification can help reduce the number of pollutants in the air of your facility. Using an air filter for your HVAC system can prevent dirt from entering your vents and purify the air in your facility.
Air purifiers utilize different technology to cleanse the air, so it is crucial to choose an air purifier with the technology that meets the needs of your facility.
There are three types of purifiers that can improve your facility’s IAQ:
- HEPA technology: HEPA filters are highly efficient in removing contaminants from the air. Large particles are caught immediately and smaller particles are caught as they pass through the various layers of the HEPA filters. HEPA filters tend to last between 2-4 years, but that number can vary depending on use, amount of air pollutants, and filter brand.
- Activated Carbon technology: Activated carbon filters can absorb chemical pollutants, gases, smoke, and odors into a compact filter made of porous carbon. While activated carbon filters can reduce the number of contaminants in the air, it has lower efficiency, compared to HEPA filters, when removing allergens and airborne particles.
- UV technology: UV air purifiers use ultraviolet light rays to disinfect the air. UV technology is commonly paired with a particulate filter as they don’t remove airborne particles as efficiently as activated carbon or HEPA filters. UV light is effective at removing viruses and bacteria from the air, but not airborne contaminant particles, such as dust or pollen.
When considering adding an air purifier to your facility’s ventilation system, it’s important to look into the most efficient way to remove air contaminants.
Some of these options are easy and inexpensive to install, while others may require an HVAC specialist or facility modifications, which can be expensive.
2. Upgrade to More Efficient Cleaning Equipment
Dust Mop vs Vacuum
Dust mops are a common way to prepare your floors for wet mopping, however, they are not very efficient. They can release contaminants back into the air if the mop is shaken or lifted from the floor.
To avoid this issue, commercial vacuums can be used to clean dirt from your floors. Unlike dust mops, they trap and remove particles that could affect your air quality.
The most effective vacuums contain HEPA filtration systems.
Vacuum cleaners equipped with HEPA filters nearly eliminate the chance of contaminants returning to the air. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can trap up to 99.97% of airborne particles like dust, mold, bacteria, and other particles 0.3 microns or larger without redepositing them into the air.
In other vacuums without HEPA filtration, particles can sometimes escape and travel back into the air.
Pro Tip: Several other types of janitorial equipment, like carpet extractors and floor burnishers, can also utilize HEPA filters to reduce the redistribution of contaminants into the air. If your equipment doesn’t already use a HEPA filter, you should consider upgrading to one since they are highly efficient at minimizing dust in the air.
Mop & Bucket vs Autoscrubber
Using a mop and bucket is a common method for cleaning hard flooring, but it can produce moisture in your facility if not stored or dried properly. Moisture in the air can lead to respiratory discomfort or mold growth, ultimately affecting IAQ.
An alternative to the mop and bucket system is using an automatic floor scrubber, also called an autoscrubber, to clean the floors in your facility. Autoscrubbers use a three-part system to leave floors clean and dry.
Autoscrubbers also take less time to dry the floors, reducing the amount of moisture in the air of your facility. Since the pad or brush of an autoscrubber should be cleaned after each use, it’s less likely for the pad to develop mold or mildew that could contaminate the air.
3. Properly Educate Staff On Product And Equipment Use
Your staff must understand how to safely and properly use the products and equipment your facility’s cleaning program includes.
Chemical residue from improper cleaning routines can contribute to sickness and higher contaminant levels.
Additionally, your janitorial team should be trained on the complete removal of cleaning substances to avoid mixing chemical cleaners. Incorrect removal of products from surfaces can cause chemical reactions that can harm your cleaning staff and contribute to unhealthy air conditions.
4. Schedule Cleaning When Fewer People Are In The Building
During cleaning and maintenance procedures, some cleaning products may emit odors that can be irritating to the people in your building.
To mitigate occupant discomfort, you might consider scheduling cleaning and maintenance procedures when fewer people are present.
If cleaning is done with fewer people in the building, it’s less likely your building’s occupants will come into contact with allergy irritants in your air.
You could also consider using products that don’t produce as many odors. Fragrance-free products could reduce the way your guests are impacted by the cleaning products used in your facility.
Improving and maintaining your building’s IAQ is important to preserve the health and productivity of your staff.
While you cannot measure your facility’s IAQ on your own, there are some proactive steps you can take to purify the air inside your building.
Proper cleaning and air purification programs can reduce the number of airborne contaminant particles in your facility. Filtering out contaminants, like dust and mold particles, increases the cleanliness and quality of the air.
You might also consider upgrading your cleaning equipment which can also help control the presence of pollutants and allergens in the air. You should choose equipment that minimizes the allergen content in the air without contributing to pollutant levels.
Finally, training can provide your cleaning staff with the proper protocols for the use, storage, and disposal of commercial cleaning products to keep the people in your building safe.
A combination of these proactive steps can improve your building’s IAQ and make it safer for the health of your guests.
EBP and other Imperial Dade locations have a range of innovative products, like air purifiers and green cleaning products, that can help you improve your facility's IAQ.
If you're located in the United States, Puerto Rico, or the Caribbean, contact one of our EBP Specialists to determine how updating your cleaning practices could impact your indoor air quality.