Five Tips To Improve Indoor Air Quality

There’s a great story about an Air Force general and his facility manager. When being presented with a PowerPoint about some facility issues, the general stated the following:

  • You’re air to me.
  • I need you to be there, but I don’t want to see you or think about you.
  • I just need to know, to believe, that you’re there.
  • However, if I am thinking about you, then we both have a problem.

Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) is a serious problem for generals and non-generals. It is invisible to a human eye but can easily influence the health and productivity of a workforce. Studies show that air pollution-related illness results in roughly $150 billion in losses. Amazingly, the United States Environmental Protection Agency reports that the concentration of pollutants indoors is often 2 to 5 times higher than outdoors.

Better air means better decisions. Several years ago, researchers from Harvard University conducted a study to see how IAQ affects “knowledge workers.” The results showed that breathing better air led to significantly better decision-making.

Improving IAQ requires a bit of thought and commitment. Here are five actions that will make a real and noticeable difference.

1. Entrance matting: Improved IAQ can be as easy as adding entrance mats to your facility. It is a common misconception that the mats are only used to reduce risk of slips and falls. They also help prevent dirt and dust from getting into the building. It is crucial that mats throughout a building should be cleaned on a regular basis. Dirty mats only help spread pollutants in the facility.

2. Vacuuming frequencies: While it is clear that carpets serve to trap dust, walking over a dirty carpet actually contributes to the elevation of dust and other pollutants into the air. This is especially dangerous for vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, people with asthma and individuals with difficulties breathing. It is key to employ proper vacuuming frequencies which vary depending on a facility’s size. It is also important to ensure that the cleaning crew uses the HEPA vacuums and commonly accepted cleaning practices.

3. Dusting practices: Dusting seems a very straightforward task at first thought. However, it is crucial that employees use proper equipment and techniques. Otherwise, they risk simply scattering the dust without any significant improvement to the surface. It is important that the cleaning crew uses a microfiber cloth which absorbs the dust and minimizes escaped particles. With a microfiber cloth there is no need to use any chemicals; a great benefit to tenants with allergies to chemicals.

4. HVAC maintenance: Maintenance of HVAC systems is a key factor to ensure healthy IAQ. If a company doesn’t have enough resources to invest in the new HVAC systems, there are other solutions to consider. For example, they can use an older system but increase the frequency of filter replacement. Another solution is to consider more effective filter options. However, the biggest problem in the industry is the lack of HVAC technicians. Many trade schools report their programs being under enrolled. This results in a decreasing supply of HVAC professionals. It may seem like an easy task to change a filter, but it becomes quite a challenge when there is not a specialist available to do it. This causes many facility teams to postpone their scheduled preventative maintenance for indefinite periods of time.

5. Cleaning of non-traditional surfaces: Today many businesses prefer to occupy the so-called “modern” office with the exposed pipes in the ceilings and other attributes resembling a city loft atmosphere. Those designs look trendy and attract younger employees. However, it is important to keep in mind that those nontraditional surfaces often require unique cleaning procedures as well. Otherwise, they end up being the biggest (and the fanciest) dust collectors in the building.

It is essential that industry professionals educate their customers on the impact cleaning services have on the productivity in the workplace. This is an impact that can be as important as the air we breathe.

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Clean indoor air can help reduce asthma attacks

architectural design, architecture, ceiling

Did you know that, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 25 million Americans, including roughly seven million children, have asthma? It’s true, and those numbers have steadily risen in recent years.

Asthma is more than occasional wheezing or feeling out of breath during physical activity. Asthma is chronic and can lead to coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, fast breathing, and chest tightness, states the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. In the 21st century, people spend significant time indoors at home, school or work, and indoor air environments could be triggers for asthma. Improving indoor air quality can help people breathe clearly. The AAFA notes that the following agents can adversely affect indoor air quality, potentially triggering asthma attacks.


Allergens such as mold, dust mites, pet dander and fur, and waste from insects or rodents thrive in many homes. Ensuring indoor air quality is high can cut back on the amount of allergens in the air. People with asthma can invest in an air purifier and vacuum regularly, being sure to use a HEPA-equipped appliance. Routinely replacing HVAC system filters can help prevent allergens from blowing around the house. Also, frequent maintenance of HVAC systems will ensure they are operating safely and not contributing to poor indoor air quality.

Mold can be mitigated by reducing moisture in a home. Moist environments in the kitchen and bathroom may promote mold growth. Ventilation is key to keep mold at bay.

Tobacco smoke

Thirdhand smoke, or THS, may be unfamiliar to many people. A 2011 report published in Environmental Health Perspectives says THS is an invisible combination of gases and particles that can cling to clothing, cushions, carpeting, and other materials long after secondhand smoke has cleared from a room. Studies have indicated that residual nicotine levels can be found in house dust where people smoke or once smoked. Studies have indicated that smoke compounds can adsorb onto surfaces and then desorb back into air over time.

Keeping tobacco smoke out of a home can improve indoor air quality and personal health.


Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are gases released from commonly used products. These can include paints and varnishes, cleaning supplies, air fresheners, new furniture, and new carpet. People with asthma may find that VOCs can trigger attacks. Airing out items, reducing usage of products that are heavily scented and choosing low- or no-VOC products can help. Making cleaning products from baking soda, vinegar and liquid oil soap also can keep indoor air quality high.

Homeowners who plan to renovate their homes can consider using the appropriate specifications for HVAC systems to promote good indoor air, as well as address any other potential problems that may be compromising indoor air quality.

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Clearing the Air on Indoor Air Quality | 2019 Annual Meeting January 14 – 16, 2019

Registration Now Open for IAQA’s 2019 Annual Meeting

The IAQA Annual Meeting will be held at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis
265 Peachtree Center Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia 30303

3-Day Conference Registration


    • Access to the 40+ sessions in this year’s Technical Program
    • Access to final papers and presentations
    • Eligibility for Continuing Education Credits

Admission to:

  • AHR Expo & Exclusive IAQA VIP Service (January 14– 16)
  • Welcome Reception (January 14)
  • Networking Coffee and Danish (January 14-16)
  • Conference Lunch (January 15)
  • Annual Meeting of the General Membership (January 15)
  • Hall of Fame Awards Ceremony (January 15)
  • Discussion Panels (January 14-16)

Early Bird
Oct 22 –
Nov 16

Nov 17 –
Jan 16

IAQA Member – First Attendee $695 $745
IAQA Member – Additional Attendees* $595 $645
Non-Member – First Attendee $835 $885
Non-Member – Additional Attendees* $695 $745

To join IAQA, please visit

*Additional attendee registration is open to employees within the same company.

Pre-Conference Workshops

Pre-conference Workshops will be held on January 13, 2019.

“Cannabis! Fentanyl! Methampetamine! Oh My”
Presented by Susan Kimball and Coreen Robbins
1:00 pm – 5:00 pm
$175 member
$295 non-member
“Novel and Traditional Microbiological Methods for Common Indoor Microbial Investigations”
Presented by Wei Tang
8:30 am – 12:30 pm
$175 member
$295 non-member
“Infection Prevention Considerations in Healthcare Design, Construction, and Maintenance”
Presented by JJ Jenkins
8:30 am – 5:00 pm
$275 member
$395 non-member
“Indoor Air Quality Monitoring – A New Toolkit for the 21st Century”
Presented by Louie Chang
8:30 am – 12:30 pm
$175 member
$295 non-member

Daily Conference Registration


  • Access to the full day’s technical sessions
  • Access to final papers and presentations
  • Eligibility for Continuing Education Credits
  • Admission to the AHR Expo, the world’s largest HVACR expo
Monday, January 14, 2019 ONLY $350 member
$450 non-member
Tuesday, January 15, 2019 ONLY $350 member
$450 non-member
Wednesday, January 16, 2019 ONLY $300 member
$400 non-member

Spouse Registration

Spouse registration can only be purchased with a full three-day registration package. Spouses are not allowed entry into the IAQA Technical Program. This additional fee includes admission to:

  • AHR Expo (January 14 – 16)
  • Conference Lunch (January 14)
  • Welcome Reception (January 13)
  • Hall of Fame Awards Ceremony (January 14)
Spouse Registration $322

CANCELLATION POLICY: Cancellation requests must be sent in writing to by January 14, 2019. Cancellations are subject to a $75 per person service fee that will be deducted from your refund. Refunds are not available after January 14, 2019, under any circumstances, but substitute attendees will be accepted.

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National Indoor Air Quality Awareness Month

National Indoor Air Quality Awareness Month is observed annually in October. This month is dedicated to reminding Americans to take a look at their home and see how they can improve the quality of the air they breathe. While outside air pollution gets a lot of attention, it’s the air inside our homes that can be even more dangerous. Most people spend nearly 80% of their time indoors, so the quality of the air we breathe is very important.

What is Indoor Air Quality?

Indoor Air Quality refers to the air quality within buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of the occupants in the building. Studies conducted by the EPA show that indoor air can be 3 – 5 times more contaminated than outdoor air. This spike in air pollution may be due to modern day building practices. In an effort to be more energy efficient, today’s homes are built airtight with more insulation.

On the flipside, these less drafty homes no longer have natural ventilation to bring in fresh air. Everyday living provides an ongoing source for airborne contaminants like dirt, dust, and dander. These pollutants become trapped in your home due to poor ventilation and get recirculated by your air ducts.

Why is Indoor Air Quality Important?

Breathing quality indoor air is critical for good health. Common complaints related to poor indoor air quality include headaches, fatigue, nausea or irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. Some people, including children, seniors and those with asthma and allergies may be more sensitive to indoor air pollutants, and their symptoms tend to be more serious.

What Contributes to Indoor Air Quality?

  • Chemicals
  • Mold
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Pets
  • Poor ventilation
  • Particulates (from dirt and dust tracked in from outdoors)

How Can Air Duct Cleaning Improve your Indoor Air?

Air duct cleaning is a great way to address the air quality inside your home. Professional air duct cleaning can provide an evaluation of your home’s ducts. Through everyday occupancy, your home’s ducts can become clogged with dirt, dust and pet hair. When air can’t circulate through a system or when filters are especially dirty, they can become breeding grounds for mold and bacteria.

NADCA recommends having your air ducts inspected once a year and cleaned as needed. When it comes time to hire an air duct cleaning company, be sure to hire a NADCA-certified technician. This will ensure the job is done according to industry standards.

Learn more about indoor air quality

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Preventing the Next Outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease



The recent major Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in New York City that sickened at least 127 people and killed 12 could have been prevented. Multiple cooling towers in the South Bronx were found to be infected with Legionella bacteria. Regular service and maintenance would have eliminated the problem. But, it’s not just cooling towers that need to be maintained.

The first recognized outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease was initiated in July 1976 following an American Legion convention in Philadelphia. Attendees started to become sick, and several passed away. According to the New York Times, 221 individuals eventually became ill and 34 died.

By January 1977, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified Legionella bacteria as the cause and found it in the cooling tower of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, where the convention took place.

According to the CDC, Legionnaires’ disease is a severe pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria. A milder, flu-like form of the disease is known as Pontiac fever. The two illnesses are also often referred to as legionellosis. People most at risk are older people, current and former smokers, those with chronic lung disease, and those with a weakened immune system. Death has been reported to occur in as many as 30 percent of Legionnaires’ disease cases.

The CDC notes that Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment, usually in water. These bacteria grow best in warm water often found in cooling towers, decorative fountains, hot tubs, hot water tanks, and large plumbing systems. People can contract Legionnaires’ disease when they breathe in a mist or droplets containing the bacteria. The bacteria are not spread person-to-person.

Since Legionella are found naturally, Legionnaires’ disease is not limited to the U.S. Major outbreaks have also occurred in Canada, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the U.K. The largest known outbreak occured in Spain.


Dr. Rajiv Sahay is lab director of Environmental Diagnostics Laboratory (EDLab), a division of Pure Air Control Services in Clearwater, Florida. EDLab is a CDC Environmental Legionella Isolation Techniques Evaluation (ELITE)-certified lab for Legionella testing. Regarding conditions favorable for Legionella growth, Sahay said, “Aquatic habitats with temperatures ranging from 5.7° to 63°C and containing organic constituents (nutrients) are most favorable for the growth of Legionella species.”

Richard Gerbe, cofounder of Highmark in New York City, which operates multiple divisions focusing on HVAC, energy services, and water management, added that other favorable conditions include warm water stagnation, pH levels between 5.0 and 8.5, and sediment that tends to promote the growth of commensal microflora.

As for when outbreaks occur, Sahay said there are limited data available on periodicity of Legionella outbreaks. “However, a historical review indicates that summer months between July and August are more vulnerable than other times of the year in the U.S.”


When it comes to cooling towers, Gerbe said: “The dust and debris that bacteria like to propagate in can be removed and kept out through proper maintenance, filtration, water treatment, and monitoring. This will control the growth of bacteria, such as Legionella, and ensure that outbreaks, such as Legionnaires’, are prevented.”

James T. Turrisi, president/CEO of Matco Service Corp. in Carle Place, New York, a commercial HVAC contractor serving New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, said, “Most cooling towers are maintained chemically by water treatment companies, and they are maintained mechanically by service companies, such as Matco.”

To perform mechanical maintenance on a cooling tower, it should be cleaned of all debris at startup, said Turrisi. “All nozzles should be cleaned and functional [if applicable]. Tower fill drift eliminators should be inspected and replaced, if necessary, to ensure proper heat transfer. Belt tension should be checked and changed, as needed [if applicable]. Gear box oil should be changed frequently, even at shutdown, to prevent condensation. If applicable, check the tower fan starter, contacts, overload relays, and magnetic coil. Make sure all strainers are cleaned frequently and all water treatment feeds are functional. Make sure fan blades are pitched properly.”

For cooling tower maintenance, Gerbe said, “The goal is to keep the unit as clean as possible.” To achieve this, he suggested a contractor “conduct ongoing inspections to identify any mechanical deficiencies; repair any mechanical issues a cooling tower may have — such as leaks and broken panels, fans, and infill — so it operates as designed; ensure drift eliminators are sufficient and functional; and perform regular cooling tower cleanings.”

Gerbe also recommends systematic filtration. “The cooling tower water must be filtered on a continuous basis to remove the debris at, or close to, the hypothetical rate of collection to impede build-up or accumulation.”

As for monitoring a cooling tower, Turrisi said, “Condenser water loops vary from building to building in terms of cleanliness. I think once a month is adequate.”

“Continuous automatic system monitoring and commissioning are necessary for both enhancing water quality and system performance,” said Gerbe.

Water treatment includes control of scale and biological contamination. Regarding the use of biocides, Philippe Boileau, a consulting chemist based in Montreal, said, “Biocides are ineffective if microbes are hiding inside the protection of mineral deposits. You have to clean first and then disinfect and decontaminate.

“Biocides do not work where they do not go,” continued Boileau. “Make sure to circulate everywhere when you inject a biocide. Coordinate with control people to make sure the required pumps are activated when and as long as required.” Also, he added, “Use as much as required, but no more than needed. Knowing the volume of the system, make sure you inject enough to reach the minimum required concentration for the minimum required contact time at given water conditions. When you inject in the middle of the day, where water demand is high, it’s possible your biocide will get diluted before it has the time to be efficient. Try injecting it right before evening hours, when demand is minimal and contact time is maximal, if you can.”

Boileau also noted one of the important aspects of cooling tower management is aerosol dispersion limitation — minimizing the number of droplets that could get into a person’s lungs. “Drift eliminators are important to limit aerosol dispersion. If there are no aerosols, there is no legionellosis.”

Mario Bellavance, founder of Blue Heron Cooling Tower Inc., Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, Canada, who now works on a consulting basis, said it’s important to inspect drift eliminators to check their condition. “Damaged sections can mean higher air velocities and more drifts in the air,” he said. “You also have to check the water distribution system and nozzles. Water can be splashed in the drift eliminators, which will result in higher risk.”


Bill Pearson, vice president, consulting and technical services, Southeastern Laboratories, Raleigh, North Carolina, and the Association of Water Technologies (AWT) liaison to ASHRAE, worked on the development of ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 188-2015, “Legionellosis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems.”

Pearson said the new ASHRAE Standard 188 came from ASHRAE Guideline 12-2000, “Minimizing the Risk of Legionellosis Associated with Building Water Systems.” ASHRAE decided to expand the guideline into a standard.

Standard 188 references Guideline 12 because it provides guidance and recommendations that are beyond the scope of a standard. “The standard tells you what to do, but it doesn’t tell you how to do it,” said Pearson. The building owner and mechanical contractor should use Guideline 12 as well as follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and water treatment specialist’s recommendations. And, ASHRAE Standard 188 covers all building water systems, not just cooling towers.

Although cooling towers are usually named as the source for large Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks, the annual number of cases caused by whirlpool spas, decorative fountains, and other building water systems is actually larger than the annual number of cases caused by cooling towers. “The vast number of Legionnaires’ disease cases are sporadic,” said Pearson. According to CDC data and many experts, he said, “The majority of cases — likely as many as 70-80 percent — are associated with building potable water systems versus cooling towers and other non-potable water systems.”

The CDC estimates 8,000 to 18,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease occur annually in the U.S., but because it’s a type of pneumonia and patients must be tested for Legionnaires’, “We really don’t know the actual number of cases,” Pearson said. Many think the CDC’s estimate “may only be 10 percent of the total cases.”

As for whether cooling towers should be tested specifically for Legionella, Pearson said he personally feels they should. “A total bacteria test doesn’t tell you if you have Legionella.”

Sahay agreed, stating testing should be done “periodically every six months due to the seasonality of water systems.”

On the other hand, Boileau said, “It’s better to test, in my view, for the conditions favorable to Legionella growth rather than test for Legionella pneumophila itself. Do you have a biofilm? Get rid of it.”

However, Pearson said, “You should not do Legionella testing without a plan of action.” You should focus on prevention, he said. And, if you find Legionella, you should have a plan in order to make decisions based on the specifics of the cooling tower or building water system to control legionellosis.


In late August and early September, an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease occurred at the Illinois Veteran’s Home in Quincy, Illinois. As of Oct. 1, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 54 cases of the disease and 12 deaths. The source of the outbreak had not yet been determined.

Also in late August and early September, a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak sickened more than 80 inmates at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, California. On Oct. 1, the San Jose Mercury News reported that two contaminated cooling towers at the prison were being blamed for the outbreak.

And, in late September, another Legionnaires’ disease outbreak arose in New York City in the Bronx. As of Sept. 30, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported 13 people sickened and one dead. Cooling towers were again suspected as the source. Thirty-five cooling towers in the area were sampled for Legionella and 15 came back with positive results.

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Builders respond to mold complaints in Parkland homes

Residents living in newly built homes in Parkland are complaining of mold, and at least two big builders have taken steps to fix the problem.

Sowande Johnson, director of development services for Parkland, said WCI Communities Inc. and Standard Pacific of Florida have been approved for permits to complete work that they hope will eliminate the fungus.

A third builder, Toll Brothers, has said it also plans to apply for a permit, Johnson said.

Those companies, along with Lennar Homes, are building hundreds of high-end homes in Parkland, the last available area for large-scale residential construction in Broward County. Johnson said he hasn’t heard of any problems with the Lennar properties.

Johnson said the city has received a few complaints, and he doesn’t have “even the slightest idea” how many homes may be affected.

WCI’s permit application outlines plans to install a dehumidifier, while Standard Pacific is using spray foam insulation. Johnson said it may take a few months to determine whether the proposed fixes will work.

“We’ll have to wait until things heat up [in the summer] to find out if it’s a true solution,” Johnson said. “If not, they’ll have to come back with another solution to remedy the problem.”

Jon Rapaport, division president for WCI, said the Bonita Springs-based builder received a “couple of dozen complaints” but not all of those homeowners had mold.

Still, out of an abundance of caution, WCI made modifications in more than 100 Heron Bay homes at no charge to the owners, he said.

Rapaport attributed the mold to a design issue. WCI sealed openings and made changes to ventilation that lets moisture leave attics. In addition, WCI is offering the dehumidifiers to homeowners, he said.

“We wanted to do the right thing,” Rapaport said. “Now we seem to not have a problem at all.”

WCI, expected to soon merge with Lennar as part of a $643 million deal, has built the vast majority of the nearly 3,000 homes in Heron Bay over the past two decades. The master-planned development, off the Sawgrass Expressway at Coral Ridge Drive, is one of the largest in the region.

Standard Pacific, which builds in the Watercrest at Parkland community, did not respond to requests for comment. In 2015, the company combined with Ryland Homes to form CalAtlantic Group of Irvine, Calif.

Horsham, Pa.-based Toll Brothers builds in the Parkland Golf & Country Club. A publicist for Toll said officials were not available to comment, but she released a statement from the company.

“Toll Brothers stands behind its homes with a comprehensive warranty and we work with our homeowners and provide them with information on operating their home systems efficiently and within their design criteria,” the statement said.

In 2015, Angela Mesa-Taylor moved into a rented home in Heron Bay’s Osprey Lake subdivison. Soon after, she noticed that she and her children were constantly sick, but she just thought it was her young twins bringing home coughs and colds from their play dates.

Then her housekeeper pointed to mold on the ceiling in the master bathroom. Another bathroom had the same problem, she said.

Mesa-Taylor said the builder, WCI, tried to address her concerns, but the mold persisted. Meanwhile, she said she heard similar complaints from neighbors.

Within days of discovering the mold, Mesa-Taylor said she moved her children out of the home and continued to press WCI for answers. Not satisfied with the results, she filed suit last summer in Broward County Circuit Court. The complaint was amended in November.

“Every fix was not a fix,” said Mesa-Taylor, 38. “It seemed to be very, very temporary and superficial.”

The suit, which seeks damages in excess of $15,000, alleges that the mold was caused by design and construction defects and led to chronic health problems.

An attorney for the builder declined to discuss the case. Rapaport, the WCI division president, said he can’t comment on pending litigation.

Scott Gelfand, Mesa-Taylor’s Coral Springs lawyer, said he has spoken to more than 100 owners complaining of mold in Heron Bay homes built within the last several years. Some may be reluctant to discuss the problem publicly because they’re worried about property values, but homes that are properly remediated tend to sell for full market value, he said.

Johnson, the development services director for Parkland, said he suspects mold is occurring in other homes across Florida. But Truly Burton, executive vice president of the Builders Association of South Florida, said she isn’t aware of an ongoing problem statewide.

David Cobb, a former homebuilder and now a regional director for the Metrostudy research firm, agrees that mold is common in a humid climate and often is the result of workmanship issues.

But Cobb also cited another cause: improper home maintenance. He said homeowners should inspect homes annually, caulking around windows and doors and painting every few years to keep mold at bay.

“People who buy new homes say, ‘It’s new, so I don’t have to do anything to it,’ and that is totally incorrect,” Cobb said.

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