Improve Your Indoor Air Quality With Simple and Cost-Effective Solutions

In spring 2020, ASHRAE upgraded their guidelines for indoor air quality (IAQ). Although the new recommendations may enable you to improve IAQ using standard building HVAC systems, they can take you only so far.

Think of achieving optimal IAQ as running a lap on a track. With the previous ASHRAE guidelines, you could go about one-quarter of the way around. After you’ve implemented the updated guidelines, you may get halfway. But any farther and you start running into hurdles. You may find that even increasing outside air or filter MERV ratings creates problems for your HVAC system. In the first case, your system may not be able to heat or cool additional outside air quickly enough to keep occupants comfortable. In the second case, attempting to push air through thicker filters may create a pressure differential that burns out your fan motor.

If you’re truly committed to improving IAQ and moving farther around the track, you’ll need portable solutions. Just as you add layers of protection to combat the COVID-19 virus by washing your hands, wearing masks and gloves, and social distancing, breathing cleaner air adds another layer of protection for building occupants. But filtering air shouldn’t only be a priority in pandemics – every year, we can be subject to the flu, colds, wildfire smoke, allergens, and many other indoor pollutants.

The highest quality of air is found in locations like hospital surgical rooms that rely on air scrubbers to filter air 10 to 12 times each hour. Hospitals may also add UVC lighting to sterilize duct and equipment. That’s what the finish line looks like – but for most environments, getting within 10 feet will work fine. You can do that with HEPA filtration, air scrubbers, and negative air machines.

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HEPA filtration: The new ASHRAE guidelines upgrade the recommended minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) for building filters from 7 to 9 all the way to 13 for a typical home or office HVAC system. But to take that a step further, consider a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter equivalent to a MERV 16 or more. HEPA filters are thickly woven of fibers that capture particles of various sizes using one of three physical mechanisms – straining, intercepting, and diffusing. They’re designed to capture 99.97% of all particles down to 0.3 microns, including bacteria, viruses, pollen, mold, and dust.

Given that most HEPA filters are around 6” thick, they won’t fit in a standard building HVAC system. That’s why you need a specialized machine to hold the filter.

Air scrubbers: The restoration industry often uses air scrubbers to keep workers safe, but now they’re also improving building IAQ. Air scrubbers typically stand in the center of a space, clean contaminated air, and recirculate it into the space. Often, they use a pre-filter, second-stage filter, and finally a HEPA filter to clean air. Air scrubbers come in many different sizes but are rated primarily on how many cubic feet of air they can filter per minute. To ensure you get the level of protection you want, you can use some simple calculations to determine how many air changes per hour a particular unit will provide. Key considerations when choosing an air scrubber include the size of the space you’re cleaning, the level of noise that’s acceptable, and the cost to rent or buy the unit.

Negative air machines: Sometimes you want to remove contaminated air from a sealed containment area – for example, a hospital room with an infected patient or a remediation project that involves mold or asbestos removal. Then, you’ll use a negative air machine, which operates similarly to an air scrubber, but adds a duct to vent air to a safe location, typically outdoors.

With these portable solutions, you can improve IAQ and get very near the finish line without upgrading your entire HVAC system. By adding HEPA filtration, air scrubbers, and negative air machines, you achieve the goal of cleaner air at your facility in a much simpler and less expensive way. For more information on improving building IAQ, contact us today at 866-510-4777, download the Sunbelt Rentals App on App Store or Google Play to find and rent IAQ equipment while you're on the go, or click here to read more about our IAQ solutions.