Las Vegas has air quality challenges. According to the latest report from the American Lung Association, ozone levels are getting worse. Las Vegas is now ranked as the 9th most ozone-polluted city in the US. Our problematic air comes from little rain to “scrub” the air, minimal wind to blow pollution away, lots of heat and sunshine, and a valley that traps the smog and wildfire smoke that drift in from California.
Environmental Protection Agency studies on human exposure to air pollution indicate that indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times, and occasionally more than 100 times – higher than outdoor levels. This is a concern, as most people spend about 90% of their time indoors.
We are aware that many factors contribute to poor indoor air. This includes the presence of occupants that add to the pollutants, such as cooking fumes and cigarette smoke, as well as contamination from outdoors and within the mechanical systems of the building. Keeping your building clean indoors and communicating with tenants about how they can help maintain a healthy indoor environment can be helpful.
But did you know that managing your HVAC system is one of the most effective ways to ensure your occupants are coming into clean air after being outdoors? A system that struggles to filter air contaminants and provide thermal comfort at the same time needs proactive maintenance and some basic housekeeping practices.
What can you do as a building manager or owner?
- Maintain a clean mechanical room
A mechanical room, free of tracked-in dirt and stored chemicals, is an important element in the prevention of indoor air quality problems. Airborne contaminants in the mechanical room can be drawn into ductwork through return air openings or unsealed seams in return ducts and circulated throughout the building.
- Control of odors and contaminants
Maintain appropriate pressure relationships between building usage areas. Avoid recirculating air from areas that are strong sources of contaminants (e.g., smoking lounges, beauty salons). Provide adequate local exhaust for activities that produce odors, dust, or contaminants, or confine those activities to locations that are maintained under negative pressure (relative to adjacent areas). For example, loading docks of convention centers and casino resorts alike are a frequent source of combustion odors. Maintain the rooms surrounding loading docks under positive pressure to prevent vehicle exhaust from being drawn into the building. Make sure that paints, solvents, and other chemicals are stored and handled properly, with adequate (direct exhaust) ventilation provided. Provide regular maintenance for local filter traps and adsorbents.
- HVAC equipment maintenance schedules
Inspect all equipment regularly (per the recommended service schedule) to ensure that it is in good condition and is operating as designed (i.e., as close to the design setpoints for controls as possible). Most equipment manufacturers provide recommended maintenance schedules for their products. Components exposed to water (e.g., drainage pans, coils, cooling towers, and humidifiers) require scrupulous maintenance to prevent microbiological growth and the entry of undesired microbiological elements or chemicals into the indoor airstream.
- HVAC inspections
Be thorough in conducting these inspections. Items such as small exhaust fans may operate independently from the rest of the HVAC system and are often ignored during inspections. As equipment is added, removed, or replaced, document any changes in function, capacity, or operating schedule for future reference. It may also be helpful to store equipment manuals and records of equipment operation and maintenance in the same location as records of occupant complaints for easy comparison if IAQ problems arise.
- Preventative maintenance management
Computerized systems are available that can prompt your staff to carry out maintenance activities at the proper intervals. Some of these programs can be connected to building equipment so that a signal is transmitted to your staff if a piece of equipment malfunctions. Individual areas can be monitored for temperature, air movement, humidity, and carbon dioxide, and new sensors are constantly entering the market. These sensors can be programmed to record data and control multiple elements of the HVAC system.