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Considerations for Proper Office Ventilation

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As more and more companies call workers back to the office, it’s important to consider if your building’s ventilation system is up to par. Even before COVID concerns, poor indoor air quality was an issue in many buildings. And with attention to the problem more heightened than ever, now is the perfect opportunity to plan for your current or future space.

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Why Is Office Ventilation Important?

It’s widely known that the quality of indoor air is typically worse than that of outdoor air, with high rates of chemicals and other pollutants combining with a lack of fresh air infiltration, particularly as homes and buildings have gotten tighter and more energy efficient over the years. The fact that people spend the majority of their time indoors elevates the issue further.

The impact of poor indoor air quality can be seen in a number of ways both visible and invisible. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes health effects such as nose/eye/throat irritation, headaches and dizziness, fatigue, and even respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer. There is also evidence that the quality of indoor air can influence student performance in the classroom and occupational productivity.

And, as the COVID pandemic showed, indoor environments with poor ventilation can further escalate the spread of viruses.

For the health and safety of your employees or tenants, and even for the productivity and success of your company, incorporating proper ventilation above code is crucial.

Ventilation vs. Purification

The pandemic brought attention on purification, but it’s important to note that purification and ventilation are two separate functions for two separate purposes. They can work together, but cannot replace the other fully, depending on needs and goals.

Ventilation is the exchange and circulation of fresh, filtered outside air for polluted indoor air. The ventilation process captures particles such as dust and dander. The higher the MERV filter, the more that’s captured.

Purification, on the other hand, targets and kills the smaller things you can’t see, such as viruses and mold spores. Air purifiers and UV lights are often incorporated into other equipment, such as air handlers or energy recovery ventilators, as a separate component.

The ventilation/filtration process “captures”—you can see it working in the form of a dirty filter. Purification “kills,” though you can’t physically see the results. Using a purification system should not forgo the need for a ventilation system; in fact, engineers should ensure that the purification system does not reduce the amount of overall ventilation coming in.

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How to Size Ventilation Equipment for Offices

When designing a ventilation system for an office space, whether in a new building or as a new tenant remodeling an existing space, it’s important to look beyond basic code requirements for size and capacity; code is a minimum.

Determining the right equipment for each space comes down to calculations and factoring in everything that can influence the space’s ventilation needs.

Square footage of the space, along with windows and walls, is of course the first consideration. But just as important is how many people will be using the office. Is the space mostly enclosed offices with one person in each room? Or is it an open-concept floor plan with a large number of employees in cubicles? Is it a mixture of both? The more people, the more ventilation capacity is needed.

Then take into consideration how the office space going to be used. Different types of companies generate different types and amounts of air pollution. A law firm with mostly offices has very different needs than a crowded call center. A print shop with vinyl printers and chemicals has additional needs. A yoga studio has heavier breathing and more people. Also consider that offices may have a combination of these factors—some workers may be “seated at rest” but several may be using chemicals for testing. It’s important to take all of these potential uses into account when performing calculations.

Other Considerations for Office Ventilation

For a new building, an owner should consider starting out with more ventilation than what you might need for the first occupant because it’s hard to know what tenants make take over down the road. It’s easier to dial down a system (as long as you stay within good practice and code) for less usage now than to overcompensate or fully replace later.

It’s tempting to design for minimum required ventilation, but incorporating fresh air and energy recovery, such as from Systemair’s Topvex units or using an air handling system like Geniox, is critical to maintaining quality indoor air and ensuring the health and productivity of workers.

Once the tenants take occupancy, it’s important to conduct an audit to determine if the system is performing and being used as designed. Passing inspection and operating fully based on the actual use of the space may be two different things. In some cases, you may even find that you need less ventilation and could be saving on energy costs.

Finally, be sure to consider all of your HVAC systems, not just ventilation. If an air conditioning or heating unit can’t keep up with demand, it’s harder to properly ventilate and users may be forced to dial back air exchange. The systems must be balanced, not just sized for the space.

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