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Balancing Indoor Air Quality with Energy Efficiency

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Exposure to polluted indoor air can lead to health issues and, in the workplace, lower productivity and higher absenteeism. At the same time, we as a planet are trying to reduce our energy use to preserve natural resources and lower greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn has resulted in tighter buildings with little to no natural airflow. Tighter buildings means more need for mechanical ventilation, which in turn uses energy.

Understanding the critical interplay between healthy indoor air quality (IAQ) and energy efficiency is a delicate balance of introducing mechanical ventilation while maintaining high efficiency standards—and all without breaking the project budget.

The IAQ-Energy Efficiency Balance Challenge

Green buildings present a continual conundrum for players in the design and construction industry. While architects and others want to aim for the greenest buildings possible, project owners often opt for the least expensive solutions that just meet code. But simply meeting code doesn’t provide optimized indoor air quality nor improved energy efficiency required for both people and planet.

There has to be an in between — buildings designed with optimized indoor air quality and greater energy efficiencies that require more investment but don’t completely break the budget, especially when you factor in potential savings down the road. Building owners who use the building rather than simply renting it out will bear witness to the benefits, both in cost and in employee satisfaction, of an approach that optimizes both ventilation and efficiency.

Strategies for Balancing IAQ and Efficiency

As with many things, crafting buildings with healthy indoor air without creating energy inefficiencies starts with the design process. Systemair is currently adapting its European lifecycle cost calculators for the North American market. Engineers input required airflows and can calculate the lifecycle costs and payback period. This allows them to evaluate how size and energy recovery contribute to energy use and what options can provide savings over time. 

Every project is different and should be evaluated as such. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Code is just a minimum

Codes are prescriptive and represent a minimum requirement. Going above and beyond code will always stand to improve your indoor air quality and energy efficiency with greater payoff down the road. As mentioned above, cost calculators can help demonstrate the advantages each decision brings.

Consider geography

In most locales, optimizing indoor air quality calls for more and more fresh air. But that’s not always possible in regions where there is a large amount of dust or significant levels of outdoor pollution. These areas also tend to be hotter, so more recirculation is needed to avoid wasted energy. This is where filtration becomes even more vital — and needs to be even more robust. DELTRI+ filters, for example, contain advanced plasma technology capable of neutralizing or destroying 99% of all viruses. They’re available as an optional accessory item for all new or installed Systemair Geniox and Topvex air handling units

Consider location

Along with climate factors, individual buildings have unique challenges with bringing in fresh air, something that a prescriptive code will not address. For example, if a building is above a restaurant with strong smells or if HVAC intakes are located near cars.

Weigh lifetime costs

Upfront expenses for more robust ventilation and more efficient HVAC equipment can cause sticker shock. But each brings long-term savings in the form of greater employee productivity and lower energy bills. These details also can influence the amount of costly tenant turnover the property owner will experience

Size properly

As with other HVAC systems, it might be tempting to reduce capacity to save on energy use. But overtaxing the system will actually be more inefficient as it will run for longer periods than it should; this will also lead to more maintenance and a higher likelihood of early motor failure. Don’t go too far in the other direction, either — a system that’s too large for the space wastes money both up front and long term, as it will cycle on and off more. (Learn more about sizing ventilation systems for office spaces in our previous blog post.)

Reduce the presence of pollutants

Simple steps can help create a healthier living environment without requiring any energy. This includes using low-VOC options for finishes and materials, allowing new furniture to air out before moving into the space, and looking for Greenguard GOLD-certified furnishings and materials; performing regular maintenance and servicing on HVAC systems to keep them running efficiently and as designed; and introducing indoor plants that act as natural air purifiers, such as peace lilies, spider plants, and snake plants.

To learn more about balancing efficiency and indoor air quality, and to try out our lifecycle costing software, reach out to your representative or email sales@systemair.net.

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