How To Measure Air Quality

Like all things, we can measure air quality scientifically. We can get a number that says just how gross the air in your facility is. Not only that, but we can figure out what particular type of problem your air has. There’s more to air quality than just saying it’s good or bad.

The Troublemakers

There are three commonly examined areas for air quality. We have different ways to detect and measure each of them, but these are typically available all in one tool or device.

  • Particulate Matter
    There are tiny particles in the air, often harmful chemicals we don’t notice individually. Think of things like the exhaust from a car. That exhaust is made of billions of tiny particles of burned fuel and even metal shavings from the engine. These can have negative health effects. Particulates from cars could play a role in Alzheimers Disease. These can detect bacteria, viruses, and mold as well. Sensors for these are rated in their measuring sizes, 2.5 microns and below, 10 microns and below, etc. Your hair is about 40-70 microns thick, for comparison.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds
    The rule of thumb is that a VOC is something you smell and notice. That’s not always the case, but it’s a good guiding post. These chemicals are highly reactive, dangerously so. Examples of these are things like cleaning chemicals, gasoline, and paint. They’re things you should try not to breathe in.
  • Carbon Dioxide
    This is deadly at the right concentration. Increasing levels of carbon dioxide will actually reduce human brain function, even if the levels aren’t deadly. We exhale carbon dioxide with every breath we take. When the CO2 levels are high, it can indicate that the air is old and stale, full of compounds we breathe out (more than CO2 leaves your lungs, bacteria and waste chemicals do too).

By identifying these major trouble makers, we can adjust your facility to improve its air quality and consequently improve the health, safety, and comfort of everyone inside. There are a couple levels that we can actually go about doing this. It depends on your facility and how far you want to go.

Routine Testing

The first step is to just see what the air is really like. You can acquire portable, hand held detectors that will measure what’s in the air. It’s also possible to go the nuclear route and have air samples analyzed in a laboratory with things like spectrometers, electron microscopes, and bacterial culturing. The lab results will give you a far better idea of what you’re dealing with, but they’re not the only way to go about this.

This routine testing can give you a good idea about big changes to make. It’s a good starting place to find out if your facility has an air quality problem. From there, you can find out just how much of an air quality problem it is and what your best fixes are going to be. If the results come back with lots of mold, you can do some deeper work and remove the mold issue. If the results come back with lots of metal particulates, maybe you need a better filter.

There is no such thing as too much data at this point. Identify what’s going on, and form a plan of action. If all’s well, then let it go and check on it again in a few months to make sure nothing has changed. Even after you’ve implemented fixes, you should still do more thorough, routine tests. The environment around your facility is always changing and can always make things worse inside.

Continuous Monitoring

Your facility has multiple problems. It’s a big facility and you have a nice, automated HVAC set up. How can we use this to handle the air quality? Most major HVAC manufacturers have indoor air quality sensors. These can be integrated into building control systems like BACnet.

This sort of monitoring isn’t fool proof, but it’s a good start. Generally speaking, the solution is going to be ventillation. Too much CO2? Force in fresh air. Too many particulates or VOCs? Exhaust the air and pump in fresh air. More significant management of these issues requires adjusting your set up, changing filters and keeping the use of volatile cleaners to a minimum.

Common Sense Management

Lastly, it’s important to just train your employees a little about air quality. If your facility has a painting area, but your employees are slow to turn on the ventillator or they just spray outside, next to the open window, you’re going to have air quality issues. If you have an employee who goes overboard on the cleaning chemicals, you’re going to have some air quality issues. A good HVAC system will handle air quality from crowds and things you can’t control, but it’s also important to mitigate the things you can control, the processes your employees use inside your facility.

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