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Clean Air In Buildings Challenge

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently launched the Clean Air in Building Challenge. As per the EPA: “The Clean Air in Buildings Challenge is a call to action and a set of guiding principles and best practices to assist building owners and operators with reducing risks from airborne viruses and other contaminants indoors.” So what does the clean air in buildings challenge involve? It is broken down into four steps.

Create an Action Plan. Do you know what your current indoor air quality is? A general understanding of how your HVAC is functioning is a vital part of this. Is your HVAC system bringing fresh air into the system or is it just re-circulating existing air? What type of filter(s) is installed and are they able to capture particles that could cause harm or the spread of viruses? As a general rule you will need a MERV 13 filter or better if your system can handle it. Do you have a maintenance plan to make sure the system as well as the filter(s) is checked regularly? This can be a contract with an outside service company or your own maintenance manager. Is the air flowing in a way that maximizes the delivery and ventilation in each room? This can be a little tricky to determine and you might need to enlist the help of a HVAC professional.

Side note: While this challenge from the EPA is directed at buildings almost all of these principles can be applied to residential homes as well.

Optimize Fresh Air and Ventilation. Making sure there is a proper amount of fresh air coming into the building has been proven to increase the indoor air quality. There are many ways to accomplish this. Something simple like opening doors and windows is a quick and easy way. The downside to this is you do not have a lot of control over the amount or quality of air coming in as well as the temperature. You could be bringing in things like pollen (rural areas) or carbon dioxide from cars (urban settings). A mechanical fresh air intake that has filtration might be your best option. In addition to fresh air coming in, you need to ensure the “bad” air is being ventilated out. The best way to solve for this is utilizing exhaust fans. Most people think of exhaust fans or bathroom fans as items that run on an as needed basis such as when a bathroom is in use. While this is correct research has shown that they should actually be running continuously when the building or home is occupied and in most cases a few hours before and after occupation. Organizations such as ASHRAE have set standards for building and home on how much and how long an exhaust fan should be operating. They refer to it as whole house or continuous ventilation.

Enhance Air Filtration. We touched on this earlier with the HVAC filters. This can get a little tricky. You first need to determine what the highest rated filter you can use in your system is while still maintaining proper air movement though the system. Using too high a filter can also cause extra stress on the system shorting the lifespan. If your system can handle it, MERV 13 or higher are best and will remove almost all of the “bad” stuff. Items such as portable air cleaners can also be effective as a supplement. When choosing an air cleaner make sure it can handle the size of the room. In some cases multiple units might be needed. Although we are talking about filtration in this section it should also be mentioned that in high emission areas such as music rooms in schools, meeting rooms or gyms, adding extra ventilation and increasing the fresh air intake to those rooms along with filtration will be your best way to ensure the IAQ.

Community Engagement and Participation. It takes a commitment from everyone to make it work. Communicating with occupants can be a very effective way of ensuring everyone is doing their part. Hosting walkthroughs of the building as well as explaining the what, why and where helps everyone understand. It also engages everyone, allowing them to provide feedback and help identify items or systems that might not be functioning properly or could use improvement.

To learn more about the EPA’s Clean Air In Buildings Challenge view the factsheet on the EPA’s website.

For information about fresh air or ventilation solutions utilize the links at the top of this page. Also be sure to visit Lasko’s website to view the current air purifier options available including the Air Flex™ Air Purifier and Room Fan.

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