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4 Ways Energy Recovery Ventilation Can Improve Your Building's Indoor Environment

Posted on 11/21/2014 9:00 AM by Kenneth Paul Drews

People are the backbone of any business and are ultimately responsible for the success and development of the organization. A recent EPA study states that a healthy, productive workforce is an essential component to a successful business, so therefore, creating a healthy work environment for people must be a primary focus of building owners and facility managers. 

The indoor environment is comprised of many elements, from lighting to layout, design to decor, and thermal comfort to indoor air quality (IAQ); they all play an instrumental role in facilitating a fruitful work environment.

Fresh air plays a vital role in maintaining healthy and comfortable indoor environments. Building codes require a frequent exchange of stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air to lower the level of all indoor pollutants. Without a constant exchange of air, indoor pollutants such as formaldehyde, airborne viruses, humidity, and other chemicals build to unhealthy levels that can trigger asthma, headaches, fatigue, and general discomfort. 

In the past, building owners and facilities managers reduced fresh air levels to save on energy costs at the expense of health. This reduction is no longer necessary due to the increased availability and code requirements for Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV). ERVs reduce fresh air ventilation costs by up to 80% by using recycled energy from building exhaust air. In addition to lowering operating expenses, ERVs help control humidity and often pay for themselves by lowering heating and air conditioning capital equipment costs.

Without an energy recovery solution in place, air that is treated for temperature and humidity will simply leave a building. The work that has already been done to heat, cool, humidify or dehumidify the space will need to be repeated for the incoming fresh air multiple times per hour. Implementing an ERV solution helps building owners meet ventilation code, lower operating costs, and improve indoor air quality. 

When looking to maintain or improve a buildings’ indoor environment with an ERV, keep these benefits in mind:

1) Humidity – On warm humid days, humidity contained in fresh outdoor air often overpowers the air conditioning system and creates a challenge for facility managers to keep tenants comfortable. If humidity is a concern, select an ERV that utilizes an enthalpy transfer device, such as an energy recovery wheel, to overcome his challenge. Energy recovery wheels remove up to 80 percent of the humidity from the fresh air before it contacts the air conditioning coil; the result is air that is cool, comfortably dry, and does not contribute to the formation of mold and mildew.

2) Productivity – According to the EPA, a school’s indoor environment can have a significant impact on children’s learning and productivity. Studies have shown links between poor IAQ and children’s health problems, reduced performance scores and increased absenteeism. Similarly, the productivity of a company’s workforce is dramatically impacted when forced to work in a less-than-ideal environment. ERVs deliver affordable fresh air to ensure a healthy and productive environment without the energy penalty historically attributed to fresh air.

3) Health – With half of all illnesses attributable to indoor airborne contaminants, the EPA has declared IAQ a public health priority. Federal, state, and local building codes have followed suit in mandating minimum outdoor air ventilation rates based upon the size and function of buildings. ERV is the only ventilation strategy that can simultaneously reduce the levels of all indoor pollutants for health and reduce the size and operating cost of the HVAC system.

4) Cost savings – It is important to note that including an ERV in your HVAC design provides substantial savings, both up front and over time. A facility manager can expect minimal or no added first cost to installing an ERV in a retrofit or new construction project. Additionally, first cost may be offset with energy recovery incentives offered by many utilities and local, state, and federal governments. 

Kenneth Paul Drews is the marketing communications manager at Airxchange. He can be reached at KennethDrews@airxchange.com.

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7 Electrical Mistakes Facility Managers Should Avoid

Posted on 11/18/2014 10:54 AM by Bob Sheppard

Facility managers have more than enough lists of things they must do. When it comes to electricity and electrical safety, having a list of what not to do may make safety easier, so review these seven electrical don’ts and make sure they don’t exist in your facility.

1) Don't allow maintenance personnel to work "live"

When equipment needs maintenance or repairs, it must be de-energized. The rule is simple: shut the power off. Too often, employees think it will be much quicker and easier to just make that little repair, and that shutting the equipment down takes too much effort. These shortcuts can be deadly. 

In addition to the electrical hazard, equipment starting up while in service can trap or otherwise injure the worker. While you are at it, enforce the use of lock out/tag out procedures which prevent the power from being turned on while the equipment is undergoing maintenance. 

2) Don't fake a ground connection

Your facility may have outdated receptacles that only have two-prong outlets. While these may only exist in office areas, ungrounded receptacles cannot be replaced with grounded, three-prong receptacles unless a ground is available for connection. There are many ways that the problem can be resolved, but just installing a grounded receptacle is not one of them. 

While you are considering this, don't allow any employees to cut the ground prong off a cord. Sure, the cord will plug in that way, but you end up with a disaster looking for a place to happen. 

3) Don't skip GFCI requirements

Unless the National Electric Code (NEC) says otherwise, assume that if it is outdoors, or near water, it must be on a GFCI. Receptacles within 6 feet of a sink or water supply must have this protection. If the floors in your facility are frequently wet, you also need this protection. 

GFCI requirements are extensive, but you can meet the code through several methods. Individual receptacles can be installed or entire circuits protected by GFCI breakers. Cords can also be equipped with GFCI protection when a suitable receptacle is not available. 

4) Don't think low voltage doesn't need a ground

Telephone, satellite, and cable do need a ground. The voltage on the system is low, but it is voltage. The NEC has specific grounding requirements for all of these systems and your facility must meet code requirements. 

Outdoor antennas must have a discharge system and the discharge must be away from any combustible materials. Grounding is designed to prevent a buildup of static charges and voltage surges. 

5) Don't forget to maintain test equipment and labeling

You have warned your workers that they can only work with the power turned off. Your technician went to the electrical panel and threw the breaker for the equipment that needed repair, so how could the technician possibly be electrocuted? 

Changes and upgrades in your facility can lead to changes in your electrical panels. Even if changes have not been made, are you sure that the panel is labeled correctly? Are your employees actually testing for power after the circuit is shut off? Is the test equipment working? Make sure that workers test a known live circuit against one that is shut off before assuming the power is really off. 

6) Don't just assume your facility is grounded

You may see the tip of ground rod and an acorn connection that looks perfectly fine. Unfortunately, this does not mean your facility is grounded. Mistakes happen and connections break. Have your facility tested. In some cases, you may even find that additional grounding is required. If the resistance to ground is higher than mandated, you must take additional steps to ensure safety.

7) Don't forget about OSHA, NFPA, and NEC changes

Code requirements underwent changes during 2014 with continued changes and compliance dates for 2015. NFPA 70E outlines these changes with new requirements for arc flash and arc blast safety. If you are not aware of what the changes require, you will not be in compliance. Take the time now to improve the safety of your facility.

Bob Sheppard is the founder, president, and general manager of Southwest Energy Systems

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