Three Ways to Improve Winter IAQ

Jan. 14, 2014
Commercial buildings can improve their winter time IAQ with proper air filtration techniques.

For the millions of Americans who work in commercial and institutional buildings, winter is the harshest season. Not so much for the ice and snow outside, but for the storm brewing inside. That’s because 30% of commercial buildings in the U.S. have poor IAQ, which is linked to respiratory illnesses and allergies, according to some World Health Organization experts.

In addition to shouldering the medical expenses of sick workers, U.S. businesses experience as much as a 33% drop in worker productivity due to poor IAQ. In fact, the total costs to the U.S. economy from poor IAQ are estimated to be as high as $160 billion a year.

Fortunately, airborne disease transmission can be reduced through effective air filtration. Kimberly-Clark Professional Filtration offers the following tips for commercial buildings to improve their IAQ this winter.

Air filters provide a primary defense for building occupants against indoor air pollutants. But air filters will only support good IAQ when they are maintained correctly. Replace filters according to the schedule recommended by the manufacturer, or use a pressure gauge to determine when the filter has reached its final pressure drop. During installation, secure the filters tightly to avoid gaps between the filter frame and the filter rack. This helps avoid bypass air, which is detrimental to IAQ because respirable particles travel through the gap without being filtered.

The filtration efficiency of commercial air filters is rated by the minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV). A filter’s MERV is measured by the ASHRAE 52.2 Test Standard, which provides the efficiency of the filter over three particle size ranges: E1 (very fine particles of 0.3 to 1.0 micrometers), E2 (fine particles of 1.0 to 3.0 micrometers), and E3 (coarse particles of 3.0 to 10.0 micrometers). The smallest (under 2.5 microns) and most toxic particles are most likely to travel to the deepest part of the lungs, where they can cause a variety of respiratory health problems. Many filters have low E1 and E2 efficiencies. It’s therefore important to look beyond the MERV to the entire ASHRAE 52.2 test report, across all particle sizes.

Filters that provide a good balance of mechanical and electret efficiency will almost always outperform a filter that relies solely on mechanical efficiency. While submicron particles are much smaller than the void spaces in most commercial electret media, the electrostatic effects are particularly useful in increasing the capture efficiency for the submicron particles that can cause health problems.

“Improved indoor environmental quality may improve work performance, reduce absences, and reduce healthcare needs,” says Robert Martin, associate category manager at Kimberly-Clark Professional Filtration.

According to Martin, IAQ improvements can reduce respiratory illnesses by up to 76%, and businesses can realize up to a 20% improvement in productivity.

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