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By 2021, the demand for HVAC equipment in commercial buildings will grow to $12.3 billion, according to a study from The Freedonia Group. Already more than 95 percent of households, including residential apartments, have HVAC. All this means more work opportunities for certified Building Operators. However, as much as HVAC systems make homes and commercial buildings more comfortable, they can also negatively affect people’s health if they are not managed well.

The health risks
The heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system helps control dust and moisture levels to prevent the increase in levels of allergens that may cause adverse symptoms in building occupants. If that system is not properly maintained, then occupants may start developing upper and lower respiratory symptoms. These include eye and skin irritation, fatigue, coughs, headaches and even difficulty in concentration. If a significant number of people in a building display similar symptoms, such as eye irritation or headaches, then it is possible that the HVAC system is the culprit. You can only rule out the HVAC system as the culprit if you maintain it regularly and have it inspected as required.

Relationship between HVAC and allergens
The temperature levels in a building should be maintained between 68 and 76 degrees, according to OSHA. If you run the air conditioner too cold, it can lead to the spread of cold-causing viruses. These viruses thrive in low-humidity cold environments that are created when you set the AC to extremely low temperatures. People’s immune systems also suffer because cold temperature limits the movement of blood throughout the body.  Their compromised immune systems make them vulnerable to the cold viruses thriving in cold temperatures. In an office situation, this could lower productivity significantly.

Generally, managing temperature and humidity levels in commercial or office buildings is a matter of comfort. However, too much humidity is just an invitation for mold growth, and ultra-dry environments dry the lining of the nose, making people more susceptible to infection. You also need to clean or replace AC unit filters so that they can stop allergens, pesticides and pollution from outside the building from entering. This also prevents the air conditioning itself from being a breeding ground for bacteria, or a place where mildew and mold grows. Increased exposure to mold can be blamed for symptoms such as headaches and breathing problems. In addition, organisms such as Legionella bacteria can thrive in poorly maintained HVAC systems. These bacteria are what cause Legionnaires Disease, which is a type of pneumonia.

Regular maintenance
The Building Operator has the responsibility to maintain the HVAC system regularly. Apart from changing the filters regularly, make sure that no water is pooling around the air handlers because bacteria, mold and mildew love water. You should also clean the evaporator coils so that mold doesn’t grow on them. A more permanent solution would be installing Ultraviolet lights to keep the evaporator and condenser coils mold and bacteria free.

Building Operators should ensure that HVAC systems are well maintained for the sake of building occupants’ health and comfort. A well maintained building draws in more occupants, which can positively impact a Building Operator’s income.

This article was authored and contributed by Jackie Edwards. Now working as a writer, Jackie Edwards started her career in Environmental Health in the Public Sector, but after becoming a mom refocused and decided to spend more time with her family. When she’s not writing, she volunteers for a number of local mental health charities and also has a strong interest in ecology, wildlife and conservation.

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