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CLEARING THE AIR: Three Reasons Why Air Handlers Contribute to Poor Indoor Air Quality

Aerial view of air handling units

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) has become a hot topic of discussion among Facilities professionals tasked with ensuring building occupant health and safety while balancing business continuity.

One key area of focus has been on building heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, of which the air handling unit (AHU) plays a main part and is responsible for circulating air throughout a building. Here are three reasons why your air handlers could be contributing to poor indoor air quality in your building:

Compromised Condensate Pans

Air Handler or AHU Condensate pans, also known as drain pans or drip pans, are responsible for catching and draining water accumulating inside the air handler. Quite frequently, especially in older buildings with multiple AHUs, the condensate pans are decades old, have become structurally compromised due to varying degrees of rust and corrosion, have lost their pitch, and the drains and traps are frequently clogged.

When condensate pans do not drain properly, scale, standing water and biofilms accumulate. This becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, such as legionella, and other forms of toxic mold and fungus, such as Aspergillus, and even viruses like the Coronavirus. Potentially dangerous microorganisms and pathogenic agents thrive in stagnant water and in dark, damp environments like that of an air handling unit where they can proliferate. We have over 15 years’ experience restoring AHUs to like-new condition.

If left unchecked or unmaintained, a toxic environment inside an AHU can quickly lead to indoor air quality issues. From a human health and safety standpoint, the major area of IAQ concern is when contaminated droplets are picked up and dispersed through the air stream by the system’s blowers, become vaporized, are conveyed downstream and then ingested by unsuspecting building occupants.

Fouled Cooling Coils

Cooling coils are essential to maintaining the delivery of properly cooled air in a building, but they are notorious for becoming impacted and clogged with debris such as dust and soot, pollen, mold spores and even dead skin cells. Given the close spacing of coil fins (about 1/16” apart) and the moisture-filled environment of an AHU, debris tends to stick to coil fins quickly, compounding the problem. Over time, coils become impacted with debris and have to work harder to perform at less than optimal levels. This negatively affects IAQ and drives up energy bills.

Traditionally, both acid (pH 2-4) and alkaline (pH 11-13) cleaners have been used for the cleaning of HVAC cooling coils. Over time, however, this causes damage to the coils by stripping and weakening the metal, leaving coil fins extremely fragile, thin, and prone to breakage. Also, acid and alkaline chemicals carry with them an inherent danger to human health, are environmentally hazardous, and often lead to equipment failure and damages creating added expense. Fortunately, we offer a game-changing solution which has revolutionized traditional coil cleaning: AQUIS Coil Restoration.

Lack of Proper Maintenance

According to OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration), a chief contributor to poor indoor air quality is faulty or poorly maintained HVAC systems. The interior of an air handling unit (AHU), for example, is a major source of microbial growth such as fungi, bacteria, and viruses. More specifically, cooling coils, condensate drain pans and fiberglass insulation are primary amplification sites for microbial growth. These microbes are small enough to bypass filtration where they thrive and proliferate in the AHU in the form of biofilms. Over time, biofilms release microbes into the airstream and have a negative impact on indoor air quality.

In short, indoor air quality problems can be compounded when HVAC system maintenance is neglected. AQUIS can help. We are experts in AHU maintenance and have a nationwide presence. Contact us today.

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