It’s been over two years since the pandemic hit and many people have been working from home ever since. However, as businesses reopen their doors, Canadians are returning to the office. But is it really safe to return to an office environment? This article looks at what you can do to stay healthy, particularly how to make sure your indoor air quality is good.
The pandemic has taught us that we could be doing a lot more to improve our health and wellbeing. What we put in our bodies has a big impact on our health and although people are becoming more conscious about the impact of unhealthy food and sugary drinks on our quality of life and longevity, we may unknowingly be allowing unhealthy particles and gasses in our body every day at our workplaces. In many cases, indoor air pollution can be much higher than outdoor air.
Indoor air quality can often be quite poor
It’s no secret to health officials and property managers that indoor air quality is often poor. Whether it’s because of office buildings with poor ventilation, or offices with carpets and furniture that trap dust and allergens, indoor air quality can be a real problem. And it’s not just a problem for people with allergies or asthma – poor indoor air quality can affect everyone’s health. Studies have shown that poor indoor air quality can lead to a variety of health problems, including headaches, dizziness, breathing problems, fatigue, or worse.
“Indoor air quality impacts respiratory disease transmission, acute health outcomes (e.g., allergies and asthma), chronic health outcomes, cognitive function, well-being, productivity, etc.” “Indoor air quality is largely unregulated, represents the greatest environmental health risk for most Canadians, and poor IAQ disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations.” 1. -Jeffrey Siegel, Ph D., University of Toronto Professor
Which air pollutants should we be most concerned about?
Biological pollutants such as SARS‑CoV‑2 along with other viruses, bacteria, dust, pollen, mold, and mildew can cause health problems. Previously, particulate matter was classified in PM10 and PM2.5 categories. These particles can find their way into the lungs, but not human cells. However, recently health organizations have recognized PM1 as much more dangerous as it can get into the bloodstream, brain, and organs. For example, the Covid-19 virus is one of these ultrafine particles. PM1 pollution can even cause cardiovascular problems.
Can we make it safe to return to an office environment by improving indoor air quality in the office?
Indoor air quality is something that we all need to be aware of. By taking some simple steps to improve the air quality in our offices, we can all breathe a little easier – and stay healthy. As Canadians are returning to the office these are the key factors to consider to make a safe to return to an office environment.
There are a few things you can do to improve the indoor air quality in your office. First, make sure there is plenty of ventilation. If possible, open windows to let outdoor air in. Second, vacuum regularly while wearing a dust mask when cleaning to avoid inhaling dust and allergens. Third, consider investing in an air cleaner. Air cleaners can help to remove pollutants from the air, making it easier to breathe. Even within the same office space air quality can vary in different areas or in different rooms.
Air changes per hour are important
As we return to the office after months of working from home, it’s important to make sure that our office environment is healthy. One key metric to look at is the air changes per hour (ACH). This measures how often the air in a space is completely replaced with fresh air. The recommended ACH for office spaces is 4-6.
In a typical office building, the ACH might be as low as 1 or 2. This means that the air in the office is only being completely replaced once or twice an hour. An indoor air quality audit for your building is a good way to see if your building meets the minimum requirements for good air quality.
Not all air filters are the same
When it comes to office air quality, not all air filters are created equal. In fact, many commercial air filters are only designed to trap large particles such as dust and pollen and do nothing to remove smaller airborne contaminants like bacteria and viruses or volatile organic compounds.
That’s why, if you’re concerned about the air quality in your office, it’s important to choose an air filter that’s specifically designed to remove these smaller particles. Luckily, there are a number of high-quality air filters that can help improve the air quality in your office and protect your health.
What’s the best indoor air filter for offices? MERV-13 and MERV-13A Explained
A MERV-Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value rating will tell you what size particles can be captured by that filter. While there are many different brands and types of air filters on the market, it is important to choose one that is right for your specific needs. First, you need to decide what type of air filter you need. There are mechanical filters, which use physical barriers to trap particles; electrostatic filters, which use a static charge added to the filter media to improve capture efficiency; and activated carbon filters, which remove certain gases and odours from the air.
You’ll need to determine the flow rate of the system, and match the filter or filter array to the system’s requirements. You’ll also need to decide how often you want to change your air filter. The optimum method to know when to replace your filter is by using a pressure gauge; however, if these are not available, manufacturer recommendations should be followed., and these will vary depending on the quality and type of filter that you purchase and the amount of use your office space gets.
When it comes to choosing the best indoor air filter for your office space, it’s important to consult with a professional. They can assess your specific needs and make recommendations based on your individual situation.
“Many property managers order MERV-13 filters not realizing that they are actually operating like MERV-11, MERV-8 or even lower rated filters after a few weeks or months in service, depending on operating conditions and filter types. Without buying a MERV- A rated filter, they are not getting what they paid for in terms of air quality. Specifically for health, it’s best to get a MERV-13A or even better a MERV-14A to ensure sustained air quality is supplied to the facility.” –Commercial property air filter expert Jon Holmes from Camfil Canada
Most authorities in Canada on indoor air quality such as BOMA, Building Owners and Managers Association recommend at least a MERV-13 air filter be used to maintain a healthy office environment. Due to the fact that some filters can lose their efficiency over time, MERV-13A efficiency should be requested as these maintain their efficiency throughout their life and reduce risk Where possible, buildings should choose filters rated a minimum of MERV-13A for long-lasting risk mitigation against harmful substances and respiratory particles such as those that spread the COVID-19 virus. Read more about MERV ratings in Canada here – US Environmental Protection Agency guideline
We Really Need Better Filters
- What is a “good filter” and why is proper installation and fitting important? The CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends a minimum rating of MERV-13 for proper indoor air filtration. But not all MERV13 filters are created equally. Some air filters are less effective. This is highly undesirable as the whole point of filtration is to capture and stop dangerous particles from reaching people.
- Some filters contain coarse fibres which are electrostatically charged and some contain fine fibres. Filters with fine fibres are more efficient and retain their efficiency over time as well as having better longevity-meaning fewer filter changes over time and this results in reduced labour costs. Fine fibre filters also have lower average pressure drop for better airflow, which leads to less energy usage and better filtration.
- Many air filters on the market today are rated MERV-13 in tests, but after a short time these filters lose their efficiency and if retested would not meet their specified rating. There could be a substantial drop and it means a lot of harmful particles will get through.
- Proper installation of air filters is crucial because if the right adapters and hardware are not used to properly fit and seal the filters in place, especially if they are in an array, gaps will be present where air could easily pass through, defeating the purpose of a filter, allowing particles to get through the air filtration stage.
Camfil produces filters such as the Hi-Flo ES and the Durafil Hyperlink that not only filter harmful contaminants but also help to save energy. These fine fibre filters retain efficiency and have a lower average pressure drop for better airflow. The key to cleaner indoor air is better air circulation.
Contact us to get expert advice on how to improve the air quality in your office or your building. Click here for our contact locator
About Camfil Canada Clean Air Solutions
For more than half a century, Camfil has been helping people breathe cleaner air. As a leading manufacturer of premium clean air solutions, we provide commercial and industrial systems for air filtration and air pollution control that improve worker and equipment productivity, minimize energy use, and benefit human health and the environment. Read more about Camfil Canada
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Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Canadian Air Quality. Resource by Camfil, CA