According to “Rethinking Buildings Post-COVID-19,” a study commissioned by Honeywell and released in June of this year, 75% of facility managers in the U.S. say COVID-19 caused them to permanently rethink their mode of operation. And since COVID-19 is an airborne virus, it is unsurprising that nearly three in five correspondents voiced a need to invest in indoor air quality optimization and other healthy building solutions like revamped HVAC systems.
As people return to in-person office work around the country, Alan Wozniak, President and CEO of Pure Air Control Services, in an article with Newsweek, laid out the groundwork for facility managers to pursue when conducting a review of their HVAC systems, and with them, the mistakes managers can make in reopening their offices.
Mistake #1: Not Addressing Air Quality Concerns
The first pitfall is the most obvious, but the truth is, the effects of poor indoor air quality were known for a while before widespread action was being taken by many facility managers.
Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, the term “sick building syndrome” was being used to describe the amalgam of effects that poor indoor air quality would cause. Though the term’s current iteration wasn’t coined until 1986, people as far back as the 70s were referring to what was then known as “office sickness” to describe people becoming ill in recently constructed facilities.
And in the recent past, studies have been released that show the myriad benefits of having better air quality in buildings. One such study in October 2015 revealed that workers in green building environments would score 101% higher on cognitive tests over participants in conventional building environments. Another saw an 8% increase in performance when airflow was doubled (which translated to a $6,500 increase in productivity).
Mistake #2: Rushing Into an HVAC Review
As part of the best practices Wozniak laid out, he emphasized the importance of having a game plan ready before conducting a full review of HVAC systems. After all, certain problems can’t be targeted if one doesn’t know they exist in the first place. So Wozniak suggested that interested parties ask themselves the following questions before beginning:
- What are your current best practices?
- How do they compare to current CDC, ASHRAE and OSHA compliance standards?
- Did your building experience any prolonged shutdown in the past year?
- Did your HVAC system experience prolonged periods of shutdown or reduced capacity over the past 18 months?
Mistake #3: Chasing the Silver Bullet
Following this collection of the previous information, Wozniak stresses that managers should reach out to certified IAQ firms to conduct a complete evaluation of their HVAC systems. While there is a glut of products on the market aimed at providing quick, easy installations of IAQ solutions, the truth is that: one, not all of these solutions are made equal; and, two, a single product is not going to remedy a system as complex as HVAC.
In truth, the fact that many facilities have been inoperable or running at limited capacities for some time means that even more care needs to be taken when returning to full capacity. The risk of dangerous pathogens having taken hold in the meantime can spell serious consequences. It’s best to trust the experts. However, that then leads into the next potential pitfall a facility manager can make.
Mistake #4: Not Knowing What an Expert Looks Like
While it’s often best to default to the experts, especially in a field most people feel like they’re out of their depth in, its important not to have the wool pulled over one’s eyes. An evaluation of an HVAC system should follow a rigid scientific process and, given the aforementioned risks, cutting corners can mean serious trouble for everyone involved.
Wozniak also lays out some best practices here, advising against firms that either skip any of the following steps or try to push a single piece of technology:
- Lab support
- Prescriptive recommendations
- Monitor and measure
Mistake #5: Keeping Everyone Else in the Dark
As important as it is for facility managers to be in the know of how their buildings are operating, it’s just as important the workers know as well, now and moving forward. After implementing the recommendations, facility managers need to be transparent about the changes. Not doing so will make it as though no change happened at all for the people who are concerned about their indoor environments.
In addition, the data provided will give workers the confidence they need to return to an in-person office environment. That increased productivity will then allow business leaders to continue competing and excelling in their respective industries.