Every day, the average person takes in about two pounds of food and four pounds of liquid — far less than the 30 pounds of air that also get ingested on a daily basis.

Building service contractors should keep that fact in mind as they approach their service accounts, and resolve to make indoor air quality (IAQ) a critical part of their cleaning regimen.

Choose A Process
The first step to improving IAQ is to create a baseline by measuring the particles in the air and the overall air quality.

“You have to have some kind of way to figure out what you started out with and how you are proceeding, you have to track what you are doing,” says Lynn Luedecke, a risk and safety manager for West Conshohocken, Penn.-based GCA Services Group, recognized by Building Service Contractors Association International with a Environmental Excellence Award and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its IAQ program.

That measurement can be accomplished with an indoor air particle count device, which pinpoints the location of the bad air. Once it has been determined that the air quality in the building needs to be improved, an indoor air quality program can be developed. The first step to creating a program is to think of any building as an ecosystem that is impacted by many different components, says Allen Rathey, president of InstructionLink/JanTrain Inc., Boise, Idaho. Components are comprised of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, entryways, and the processes, materials and equipment used to clean an indoor space.

Rathey recommends approaching IAQ improvement with a three-step process that begins with capturing and controlling the source of poor air. The second is step is to improve ventilation and the third is cleaning the air.

“By far, the least effective [method] is to try to clean the air after it’s already dirty,” Rathey says. “The idea with indoor air quality is to attack the source of the problem.”

First, look at floor mats that are placed near entryways, he says. When effective, floor mats can reduce harmful dust particles that are dragged in from the outside by a factor of six. Those dust particles can contain harmful plastic byproducts, heavy metals and pesticides and other synthetic chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors, which can wreak havoc on the body’s hormones.

The role Of HVAC
Another tactic to addressing the source of dust and particles that compromise IAQ is the maintenance of the HVAC and ventilation systems, fostered through a partnership with the maintenance staff in buildings. Regularly replacing filters and following a maintenance schedule can drastically eliminate harmful airborne particles. This will take a cooperative effort between facility management and the facility service provider.

“If those [systems] are not being maintained properly, you already have a problem that frankly you’re just trying to fix after the fact with a cleaning program,” Rathey says.

A BSC can add HVAC maintenance into its portfolio and sell it as a value-added service. By changing out filters, and cleaning drain pans and coils on a periodic basis, depending on the size and use of the building, facility managers will see an improvement in IAQ.

Vacuums Matter
Types of vacuum cleaners and where they are used can also lead to better IAQ. HEPA filter vacuums can capture 99.9 percent of dust, pollen and other airborne particles. Basic maintenance practices mandate that filters should be monitored and changed regularly.

“This is a matter of your workers being trained and using the correct products,” says Mickey Crowe, founder of CleenTech Consulting Group LLC, Acworth, Ga.

In addition to HEPA vacuums, Crowe recommends using green cleaning solvents and solutions that are less potent as far as the fumes that are emanated when using the product. He also suggests using the HEPA vacuum to pick up any mold spores that may find their way into the air before mopping tile flooring in bathrooms.

Another recommendation is to vacuum HVAC intake vents rather than using a brush or dusting device on them. The use of microfiber wipes throughout an area is also recommended for the same reason instead of simple dusting cloths or feather dusters that tend to stir up particles.

“We have to partner, we have to coordinate with the building owners and facility managers to make sure that everyone is on the same page and that no one is contributing to the problem and that actually we are doing all that we can do to reduce the risk to the tenants, visitors and workers in the buildings,” Crowe says.

Brendan O’Brien is a freelance writer based in Greenfield, Wis.

Editor’s Note: Mickey Crowe will be speaking at ISSA/INTERCLEAN® North America in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday, Oct. 23. His presentation titled “Basics of Supervision and Quality Control” is sponsored by Contracting Profits.