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Ventilation matters – both for employee wellness and for your energy bills

A well-maintained and energy-efficient ventilation system makes a difference to your indoor air quality, and can improve both employee wellness and your bottom line.

We all know that fresh air does us a world of good. That’s why, since so many of us work indoors, efficient and effective ventilation is critical. 

Well-ventilated workspaces are typically healthier and more productive environments. An energy-efficient ventilation system isn’t just better for your bottom line – it’s also better for your employees and customers.

 

Why ventilation makes a difference

In simple terms, ventilation is the replacement of stale indoor air with fresh air from outside. Just as homeowners open their windows on a crisp day to “air out” their homes, workplace buildings need good ventilation systems to reduce indoor air contaminants.

In a commercial space, opening windows isn’t always ideal or even possible. That’s why properly maintained, efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems play a major role in maintaining indoor air quality in the workplace. Good indoor air quality isn’t just about maintaining a comfortable temperature. It also means ensuring appropriate humidity and carbon dioxide levels, and reducing particulates and pathogens in the air.

Ventilation and indoor air quality are especially top of mind for businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they work hard to ensure optimal airflow to reduce virus transmission (more on this later).

However, ventilation is important for our health under all conditions. “Sick building syndrome” is a term now often used to describe the adverse effects people can sometimes experience from spending time in their workplaces. These effects may include allergies, aggravated asthma symptoms, cold or flu-like symptoms, fatigue and sensitivity to smells. For example, high levels of carbon dioxide in the air may cause fatigue. All of this understandably has an impact on employee comfort and productivity, and even on absenteeism.

A well-maintained HVAC system can help prevent fumes and odours, keep low carbon dioxide levels in the air, and reduce dust, allergens and other irritants. Well-ventilated spaces also address humidity and moisture issues, which can prevent mold and mildew.

Make energy efficiency a priority

In addition to their importance to our health, HVAC systems are a major driver of energy usage in commercial spaces, as they use fans and blowers to remove contaminated indoor air (as exhaust) and to take in fresh outdoor air. Ventilation systems also include filters, ducts and other air cleaning devices, so regular maintenance is needed to keep everything running smoothly.

Ensuring these ventilation systems are operating properly is important for your bottom line, both in terms of your energy costs and long-term equipment maintenance.

A qualified HVAC contractor can assess your system and find opportunities to make it more energy efficient. Variable frequency drives, for example, allow motor speed on fans and blowers to change depending on current needs, rather than operating at full speed all the time. This saves energy and can reduce long-term maintenance costs. A qualified HVAC professional can also assess your indoor air quality and ensure your system is working optimally. The specific standards for indoor air quality in your workplace may vary, depending on the type of building and work being done there. A manufacturing facility or a hair salon will have very different ventilation requirements than a standard office space. 

Organizations such as BOMA Canada and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) offer guidance on optimal ventilation. This guidance is now particularly important as workplaces reopen following pandemic shutdowns.

Consider existing building commissioning (sometimes called building recommissioning), which optimizes building systems for greater energy efficiency and comfort. Using this systematic approach can reduce peak energy demand and lead to substantial energy savings. Some improvements may not require any capital costs, but for buildings that do need upgrades, incentive programs can help shorten the payback period.

Building automation for better ventilation

Building automation systems can also help. They allow property managers to manage many aspects of a building more easily, such as HVAC systems, lighting and security. These systems can have hundreds of settings, including ventilation, to help a building run efficiently under different circumstances.

This includes managing airflow. In the case of a fire, for instance, you may have a building automation system setting that restricts airflow, so oxygen isn’t feeding the flames. These settings also can help optimize airflow for times when more ventilation is required. As employees return to work following pandemic lockdowns, many buildings may require more ventilation, but also might have lower occupancy rates (or remain empty) on certain days. With building automation, property managers can create a setting to boost ventilation when needed but can easily turn it down during times of lower occupancy, which can save energy.

Another bonus? Building automation systems also allow you – or your energy manager – to better understand how your building is using energy, and to use that data to make decisions to improve energy efficiency.

Regardless of what business you’re in, keeping your indoor space well ventilated is important. Spend the time to ensure your system is working efficiently and effectively. Your employees, customers – and energy bills – will thank you.

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