There Might Be More in Your Duct System Than Air

Earlier this year, Forbes Magazine ran a story about working in America and noted that the average American spends 90,000 hours of their life at work. For many of us, that 90,000 hours is spent in a tightly closed building with no open windows and questionable air quality. The indoor air circulates through ductwork most likely installed when the building was constructed many years prior. Indoor air passes though the ductwork blowing by anything sitting inside: dust, mold, maybe even bugs…and then we breathe it in. For poorly maintained or older HVAC systems with clogged filters, disconnected flex duct, or moisture infiltration, indoor air can be some of the worst air we breathe thanks to what’s resting in the ductwork.

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Mold: The Original Facility Management Issue

The HVAC and building maintenance industries have seen issues come and go over the years. For a time, “sick building syndrome” was on the front cover of every facility management magazine. Now green has taken the headlines. Before green, the issue facing our buildings was mold.

Although mold may be off the front page, a quick internet search of “mold in commercial buildings” shows the problem of mold is still very real and very current. For a more sobering reminder that the problem of hasn’t gone away, search the keywords “mold class action lawsuit”. The results are enough to make any facility manager consider another career.

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Air Conditioning Makes You Smarter: Increasing the Bottom Line with Better HVAC Maintenance

CareerBuilder.com released a 2018 survey stating that 46% of employees think their office is too hot to too cold. Despite untold millions of dollars spent on heating and air conditioning systems, almost half of everyone in a building is uncomfortable. Year after year complaints about office temperature outrank dirty bathrooms, noise levels, no parking, or even bad indoor quality. It seems being uncomfortable is what is on people’s minds and for good reason. Several studies have shown a direct link between an employee’s comfort and their productivity, which is one of the many reasons why proper HVAC maintenance is so critical.

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Engineering Staff at the Forefront of Patient Safety

In hospitals and healthcare facilities, the responsibility to clean and maintain HVAC systems goes beyond just keeping the equipment from breaking down. HVAC maintenance can involve serious health concerns, especially for those working in buildings where the occupants may be sick or have weakened immune systems. In 2014 the CDC published its major Healthcare Associated Infections (HAI) Study noting that in 2011 there were roughly 722,000 cases of HAI’s in U.S. hospitals, and about 75,000 of those patients died. 2011 was a wakeup call and the survey prompted increased precautions on the part of designers and maintenance staff regarding hospital infection control. Now, nearly all large clinics and hospitals have infection control plans that include standards for HVAC maintenance and construction. The CDC’s “Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control in Health-Care Facilities” has infection control requirements related to cooling towers, air handlers, ductwork, and water treatment and can be used as a guideline for local facilities.

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How Maintenance Reductions Can Put Student Health at Risk

Every parent knows from experience that classrooms are swarming petri dishes of runny noses, coughs, and pink eye. Between wiping their noses, putting fingers in mouths, or just close contact, germs and infections spread very quickly among school kids. There’s little school employees can do about the inevitable transmission of colds between students, but school maintenance staff can make sure the building itself isn’t the source of additional infections. As such, less maintenance staff can mean higher risk of illness for students.

Maintenance technicians are at a school not just to fix things. A large part of their job is to perform routine preventative maintenance (PM) to keep equipment from breaking in the first place. For heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment, PM includes changing air filters, wiping out drain pans, and cleaning cooling coils. These PM tasks not only keep HVAC equipment operating efficiently, but keep the equipment clean reducing the likelihood that mold or bacteria will grow inside.

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Legionnaires’ Disease Strikes Again

Legionnaires’ disease is in the news again. Late last week, there were reports that 11 people in Manhattan were sickened. Then, over the weekend, more people were reported to have fallen ill. Many remain in the hospital. As the later report notes, “Health officials believe vapor from water cooling towers is spreading bacteria that causes the disease.” Although treatable with antibiotics, Legionnaires’ can also be fatal. In fact, 12 people died in the Bronx in 2015 as a result of an outbreak.

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How the Increased Use of HVAC In Winter Creates More Allergen Buildup

Facility HVAC Management in Winter - AllergenThe results are in and according to groundhog legend, we’re in for a few more weeks of winter. That’s not welcomed news for some in this country as snowstorms have already extended into regions of the country rarely experiencing anything but the odd flurry. Hazardous weather keeps many people indoors for days and sometimes weeks, without any fresh air. This means HVAC systems and furnaces must work overtime to keep the air warm while maintaining indoor air quality.

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The Importance of Duct Cleaning for Indoor Air Quality

This winter could break temperature and snowfall records across the country. For most of us, staying inside is the only defense. Avoiding the outdoors may keep us safe from dangerous weather, but we face another danger from the inside. The air quality inside a building begins to worsen when there are less fresh outdoor air and an increase in people and animals. Poor air quality is not only uncomfortable but can be bad for your health.

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HVAC System Repair and Maintenance Crucial after Hurricane Flooding  

For the first time in recorded history, the U.S. was slammed with back-to-back Category 4 hurricanes — Harvey and Irma — from the Atlantic. Many people in Texas and Florida continue to battle and hopefully recover from flooded streets, scattered debris, damaged homes, and inoperable buildings. The economic costs associated with this tag team of natural disasters in the U.S. are expected to be $290 billion.  

Mold and HVAC Systems

Part of that recovery process will be to assess the extent of the water damage. In the hot and humid climates of Texas and Florida mold growth is the biggest concern.

Mold and mildew pose real threats to flooded buildings. The stagnant standing water presents the perfect environment for bacteria growth, making any porous materials susceptible.

Typically, mold grows on floors and walls, but flooded HVAC systems can also pose a real health threat if mold is allowed to grow. Ductwork and insulation that has mold growth can pose a health threat to the entire building if the HVAC system is running because mold spores can be carried through ducts and distributed throughout the building.

HVAC System Cleaning

Proper cleaning of HVAC systems after a flood is imperative to the health of building occupants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you remove all flood-contaminated insulation and materials associated with the HVAC system and discard them.

Then you should clean the interior of the flooded system with a HEPA vacuum to remove the dirt and debris as well as microorganisms that typical industrial vacuums may not be able to pick up. After the HVAC system is cleaned it also needs to be thoroughly disinfected to prevent the growth of bacteria and microorganisms.

The aftermaths of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma will likely be felt for years while communities work to clean up and rebuild their homes and businesses. Prioritizing HVAC system cleaning is imperative to protect the health of building occupants during this time. Using a good HEPA vacuum to get rid of spores and a mold controlling cleaner are good ways to stop bacteria from growing and recurring.

Check out these other resources for information on HVAC mold prevention and cleaning:

  1. Effective Industrial Mold Control: A Three Step Process
  2. Controlling Mold: An HVAC Professional’s Guide
  3. How to Rid Your AC of Mold
  4. Mold Clean Up After Floods
  5. How to Protect an HVAC Unit from Flood Water

How to Future Proof Your Facility Management Career

Someday your facility’s cooling tower may be queued up to follow an automatic preventive maintenance program and actually self-clean in an effort to boost efficiencies and decrease unplanned repair costs. Cool, right? Well, there’s a growing concern within many industries that “automation” is synonymous with “job loss.”

According to a recent McKinsey & Co. analysis of 2,000 different work activities across 800 occupations, automation will change virtually every job in every occupation. Specifically, McKinsey found that in about 60% of occupations, 30% of tasks could be handed over to robots and bots. Bad news for your career, right? … Think again.

The report concludes less than 5% of global occupations will be fully automated using current technology. The remaining 95% will simply change to account for advancements in technology, connectivity and automation.

Here’s a handful of facility manager skills that’ll be in high demand due, for the most part, by these advancements.

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