We all know that clean air is critical for human health. The 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic has shed a spotlight on that concern as we all contemplate ways to reduce the spread of the virus and protect ourselves, or associates, and our families. Many of those ways focus on the potential airborne spread of the disease, and it does not take much imagination to visualize the virus particles spreading through your building in the air conditioning system.
Typically, commercial real estate leases cover various topics and scenarios. However, they rarely if ever address the cleanliness of the air within a leased space. These leaves you the tenant in a situation where it is a challenge to first determine if you have the appropriate quality of air in your space, and then what to do about it to control it. The main challenge revolves around the fact that high quality indoor air is almost possible to perceive without very sophisticated and expensive equipment. This differs from basic comfort factors like temperature and humidity which are both easy to “feel” and have common, inexpensive measurement techniques. To ensure that the air is hygienic, you have to measure extremely fine particulate levels, CO2 concentrations, and other parameters such as VOC and mold presence which are not easily measured but can have a significant impact on the occupant’s long-term wellness.
Given that it is not practical for most tenants or building managers to hire an industrial hygienist to come perform a full indoor air analysis, the most reasonable approach is usually a defensive one: Assume your air needs cleaning and employ proven methods to perform that cleaning.
Since most of us are not experts in Air Conditioning or ventilation, below are a few questions to ask and tips to employ to ensure you are taking that defensive approach to protecting your occupants.
QUESTIONS TO ASK:
Q: WHAT MERV RATING ARE THE FILTERS BEING USED IN MY BUILDING?
MERV ratings tell you how well the filters clean the air. If the answer is below MERV 13, you should consider requesting an upgrade to help remove smaller particles including pathogens from the air.
Q: HOW MUCH FRESH (OUTSIDE) AIR IS BEING BROUGHT INTO THE BUILDING?
Fresh air dilutes contaminants and forces potentially contaminated air out of the building. Recycled air can save on heating & cooling costs, but typically will have a negative impact on Indoor Air Hygiene
ACTIONS TO TAKE, OR REQUEST FROM YOUR LANDLORD:
Deploy Stand Alone Air Scrubbers – An air scrubber uses a built in fan and filter module to move air within the space without using the HVAC system. This can greatly reduce the amount of particles in your space and can be run 24/7 no matter what the weather is outside.
Request that the HVAC system be run overnight – Flushing a building with fresh air when occupants are not present has been recommended to reduce contaminants from the air, this can be done overnight or at least for several hours before occupants arrive.
Request a review of your building’s Indoor Air Hygiene- Understanding the filtration products in use and maintenance protocols will help ensure you are getting the clean air you expect for both comfort and safety
Hopefully you will find that your building owner is performing the tasks and using the correct products to assure you that your air is as clean as it should be. If you find that they are not, or are concerned that they could be doing more, it may be something to think about when you renew that lease. In the mean-time, stand alone air scrubbers can make up for what the building’s HVAC system is lacking.