Indoor Air Quality


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Indoor Air Quality


The air quality in any structure is of vital importance to the occupants of the building. Taking the time to properly assess and determine what a structure needs in terms of indoor air quality filtration systems is very important to the long-term use and life cycle of the building. Indoor air quality is impacted by a variety of naturally occurring elements, pollutants, vapors, and gases.  These factors can have detrimental impacts on the occupants of the building and the physical assets that are located in the building.

When it comes to actually determining what type of indoor air quality filtration system you need, enlisting the help of an MEP engineer is vital to project success. With their expertise, they will be able to effectively and efficiently assess and determine what is needed for the structure. there are a variety of ways to achieve indoor air quality that is livable. Your MEP engineer we'll know which direction to go in when it comes to designing and installing an indoor air quality filtration system.

Understanding Indoor Air Quality

While it may seem simple to understand what indoor air quality is there are some nuances to it and ways to measure indoor air quality. As stated above, indoor air quality is impacted by naturally occurring elements, pollutants, vapors, and gases. These pollutants can be created by the occupants themselves, the processes that happen in the building, and other factors. Vapors and gases can occur when the ground beneath the structure after time.

According to the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) “indoor air quality Is the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants. Understanding and controlling common pollutants indoors can help reduce the risk of indoor health concerns for occupants.” They also state that “the four most dangerous indoor air pollutants in developed countries are cigarette smoke, formaldehyde, radioactive radon-222 gas, and very small fine and ultrafine particles.”

The EPA offers A variety of suggestions on how they believe you can improve indoor air quality and maintain acceptable indoor air quality over the life of the structure. Over time the soundness of the systems may lessen and you will need to continuously measure the air quality to ensure the safety of the occupants. If you will not be in contact with the owners, then providing this information with the owner’s manual at the time of startup will be recommended.

According to the EPA here a few ways to determine if there is a problem with your ventilation once the structure is built

  • moisture condensation on windows or walls
  • smelly or stuffy air
  • dirty central heating and air cooling equipment
  • and areas where books, shoes, or other items become moldy

It may also be necessary to test the air quality periodically. Occupants may exhibit health symptoms that aren’t immediately apparent that they are related to indoor air quality. Additionally, some health effects may show up right after exposure or only after repeated exposures. These are a few of the health effects that may be observed in occupants who are exposed to inferior air quality; difficulty breathing, skin reactions, lethargy, fatigue, brain fog, inability to focus. This is not an all-inclusive list.

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Indoor air quality systems


Indoor air quality filtration systems provide the infrastructure to filter outside and inside air and clean it for indoor consumption. These systems are generally used in applications such as clean room, hospitals, and labs that need air to maintain their internal systems. indoor air quality filtration systems are also used in residential homes and commercial buildings to ensure air quality is consistent and of good quality in the building four occupants.

The EPA is the go-to source for understanding your options for how to manage indoor air qiuality. They offer the most comprehensive research on the subject and can offer expert suggestions on how to accomplish decent air quality. The EPA currently recommends three distinct ways to improve air indoor air quality; management and removal of pollutant sources; utilizing HVAC ventilation to dilute contaminants, and utilizing filtration to clean the air. In addition to these methods, there are a number of other ways to implement an indoor air quality filtration system.

To ensure your air quality filtration system is going to work well here are a few things you will want to be aware of and monitor. These are directly recommended by the EPA:

  • Proper Equipment Sizing: HVAC filtration and ventilation equipment must be adjusted depending on the use of a particular space. For example, turning a storage space into offices would require the HVAC system to be modified.
  • Outdoor Air Cleaning: The location of air intake units, the filtration system’s efficiency, and the system’s ability to infiltrate enough air for dilution are all critical considerations.
  • Space Planning: Interior spaces can affect the HVAC system’s performance. For example, locating heat-generating equipment near HVAC units can cause misreadings.
  • Equipment Maintenance: Regularly cleaning and maintaining HVAC equipment is imperative for efficiency, preventing pollutant build-up and long-term performance.
  • Improperly installed windows: this can lead to air seeping in, thermal transfer, draftiness, water leakage and condensation. All of which can lead to poor air quality. Having properly installed windows will reduce the reliance on HVAC systems allow the structure to manage its own heat transfer.

How would a contractor go about purchasing or sourcing/sizing one?

The first step in sourcing and sizing, or designing, an indoor air quality filtration system is contacting an MEP engineer to work with you on the process. Once you have brought them onto your team they will need time to review the existing project plans including any mechanical, electrical, plumbing systems that could impact and or support the filtration system. They will be able to spot problems that could otherwise be missed by architects and other Construction team members.

The next step before actually selecting components for the filtration system will be to assess a number of factors that will impact the system and occupants. This is not an exhaustive or a complete list of all the things that will need to be assessed and considered as you design your filtration system.

  • Environmental factors
  • System load
  • Occupancy load
  • Building usage
  • Construction classification
  • Fire ratings
  • Access to required components
  • Project timeline
  • Project budget
  • Local building codes
  • Any other construction restrictions
  • Space allowed for the system within the structure
  • Access for future maintenance and ease-of-use
  • And more

This is just the beginning of what you will need to consider when designing and selecting an air quality filtration system for your project application.

What are some common applications used in Commercial Construction

Every building needs to have good air quality, however, there are instances where additional air quality measurements and screenings should be conducted routinely. These include applications like labs, hospitals, chemical plants, manufacturing, and other buildings where additional pollutants are released into the indoor air. Every application will need a custom approach to the indoor air quality filtration system design. Bringing on an MEP engineer early on in the design process will help streamline the design timeline and ultimately the project timeline. Their input and knowledge will be immensely helpful in designing a system that will adequately maintain EPA standard air quality.

Applications like laboratories tend to create more pollutants than the average commercial building application. For instance, an office building will produce far fewer pollutants in the interior air, than a full-fledged functioning laboratory. For this reason buildings with laboratories in them, we'll need to have extensive assessments and design consideration when it comes to the indoor air quality filtration system. Enlisting an MEP engineer is the recommended route to ensure your system will adequate adequately clean the air and maintain the quality required by the EPA. The pollutants that occur in laboratories are generally caused by the activities of the lab techs, testing, experimenting, and driving new chemical elements. They also come from the occupants themselves. In a lab setting, it will be vital to the safety of the occupants to routinely, more so than in a normal application, measure the quality of the air. In addition, routine maintenance and systems checks should be executed to maintain the efficiency and effectiveness of the air quality system.

In applications like hospitals, and indoor air quality filtration system could be the difference between life or death 4 the patients in the hospital. in areas like the emergency room or NICU, if it has one, these occupants are highly susceptible to airborne pollutants and chemicals. it will be imperative that the air quality filtration system adequately and efficiently filters the air for the occupants. With this in mind, it is highly recommended to enlist the help of an MEP engineer that specializes in air quality filtration systems for these applications. Checking with your engineering firm or in-house engineer that they have these specializations will be a way to streamline the selection process.

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Indoor air quality systems


What can cause systems to fail

There are a variety of reasons why air quality systems can fail. REGARDLESS of the components, the maintenance schedule, the application, the occupants, and a variety of other factors these systems Rely On human input to maintain their functioning. This means that when systems fail not only do humans have to fix it, they may also be the cause of it. most system failures occur because something was missed, maintenance wasn't completed, or the manufacturing of a part was faulty. Other system failures occur because of build up from excessive pollutants that weren't accounted for in the initial design process. With this in mind, it is imperative that the design process for an indoor air quality filtration system is thorough, thoughtful, and intentional. Doing the work on the front end of the project will help avoid problems during the project and hopefully avoid failures in the system once the structure is completed. 

How can an MEP engineer help

A qualified MEP engineer can help you size and design your indoor air quality filtration equipment based on a number of factors. The engineer is required to have a certain level of construction and mechanical, electrical, Plumbing knowledge. they are also required to know and understand the load calculations necessary to size MEP equipment. there experience and knowledge gives them the basis to effectively and efficiently design your MEP equipment.

A local qualified MEP engineer will have knowledge and understanding of the local building codes and local governing bodies for the commercial construction industry. They are your expert boots on the ground in the mechanical, electrical, plumbing areas of your project. The MEP engineer is a vital component of your construction team and someone who you should use as a reliable resource. If your general contractor does not have an MEP engineer in-house, do your due diligence and find one that you work well with.

The MEP engineer will be able to review the plans you have drafted with your architect and with all of the information you have gathered on the size of equipment you think you need, they won't be able to determine your next steps and the direction you need to go. They may need to conduct additional or complementary research and inquiries to verify they are making the correct recommendation for the size of equipment for your application.

Calling on the experts like an MEP engineer will help your project succeed in the long run and help you to continue being profitable and efficient. Knowing when to call in an expert is a valuable skill to have. If you think you need an MEP engineer please take a moment to contact us and we would be happy to review your project information. We are pleased to serve the Chicago area and welcome local and out of state clients.

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