Energy Efficiency & Building Occupant Safety: Why Your HVAC System Is More Important Than Ever

Maintaining a comfortable, productive environment within your facilities always goes back to maintaining the HVAC system and reducing its risk of malfunction. In recent years, more organizations have focused on improving the indoor air quality (IAQ) to improve the health and comfort of building occupants. As explained by Tim Robb of Facility Executive, “there are immediate and long-term health effects from poor IAQ. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) states these can range from minor irritations, such as headaches and dizziness, to serious issues such as respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer. A big contributor to the increased pressure on facility managers is the recent deadly outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease throughout the country and the approval of ASHRAE Standard 188-2015.” However, the need for a safer, more efficient HVAC system has been put under the microscope in light of the pandemic, and facility managers need to understand why HVAC system maintenance is key to ensuring building occupant safety. 

The Situation Amid the Pandemic

Facility managers have their hands full in handling routine operations, but due to recent developments, ASHRAE has refined guidance on maintaining HVAC system function to improve building occupant safety. As reported by Facility Executive, “while ASHRAE supports expanded research to fully understand how coronavirus is transmitted, we know that healthy buildings are a part of the solution. ASHRAE’s COVID-19 Preparedness Resources are available as guidance to building owners, operators and engineers on how to best protect occupants from exposure to the virus, in particular in relation to airborne particles that might be circulated by HVAC systems.” Furthermore, the Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) continues updating the situation and how facility managers can focus on improving IAQ without jeopardizing the safety of repair or facilities management professionals. This is especially true in both the use of chemicals to clean HVAC units, as found here, and the need to eliminate all other possible contaminants in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Know How Your HVAC System Works to Improve Building Occupant Safety

  • The safety of building occupants relies of four primary factors, including:
  • Maintaining a fresh supply of safe, clean air. This is especially true for health facilities managers where caring for those with the virus is inevitable. 
  • Containing and exhausting contaminated air with an appropriate means. As a result of ongoing research into the coronavirus, this factor may include the use of additional filters and ways to neutralize airborne pathogens—such as ultraviolet light. Regardless, the key lies in staying informed and up to date on what measures are more effective. 
  • Diluting the space with clean, fresh air to help reduce the concentration of pathogens within the space. For example, ensuring the HVAC system supports a circulate function and blower motors’ run appropriately is key to enabling this step. 

Maintenance Steps to Take Now to Improve Building Occupant Safety

Today’s consumers are uncertain. They want to enjoy their favored activities, return to work in a safe environment, and get what they need. As a result, the pressure is on for facility managers to guarantee their safety as much as possible. Staff should begin by maintaining the current maintenance schedule, including possibly moving up preventive maintenance to enable use of new measures to sanitize or otherwise purify air. Second, staff should work to minimize contact with patrons or occupants—performing maintenance during vacancy or off-peak hours. Additionally, staff should prioritize maintenance needs based on their potential to reduce risk to building occupants from the pandemic. Furthermore, apply facilities management data to ensure all steps reflect the latest best practices and advice from health professionals to contain the spread of the pathogen and enhance building occupant safety. 

Stay in the Know With a Centralized Plan for Maintaining the HVAC System Throughout the Disruption

The pandemic is unprecedented, and the facility management team will need to work together and stay on the same page to avoid further disruption and potential health risks. Fortunately, outsourcing to a proven, trained and experienced provider can go a long way in both reducing risk to building occupant safety and decreasing maintenance spend. 


J Glasglow, MCR

J Glasglow, MCR

As Senior Vice President of Solutions Development for Cushman & Wakefield Global Occupier Services, J Glasgow partners with corporate occupiers of real estate to develop integrated real estate, facility, project and operational management programs designed to improve processes, manage risk while significantly reducing total cost of occupancy. J’s background includes more than 20 years of experience in diverse commercial and corporate real estate disciplines such as, account leadership, and management, facility and operational planning, project management and strategic portfolio optimization. J has advised global clients from a broad range of market sectors encompassing financial, insurance, healthcare, bio-science, engineering, and consumer goods companies that encompass, office, industrial and manufacturing portfolios. With a diverse background in corporate real estate planning, facility management and project management, J has leveraged savings for his clients of over $313 million dollars while aligning with their overall business strategy and mission.