How Restaurants Can Verify Proper Ventilation for Health & Comfort

If you have owned or operated a restaurant, you are familiar with the challenges of maintaining proper airflow throughout the building. From the kitchen to the front of the house to the back of the house, proper airflow can be challenging to keep in balance. That said, restaurants go out of balance for many reasons, wreaking havoc on a building’s health, comfort, and ventilation.

Does your restaurant look like this?

Restaurant Ventilation Problems

Unfortunately, these types of issues are extremely common in existing restaurants throughout the United States, and, when left unaddressed, can lead to negative building pressure, which causes serious long-term damage, poor indoor air quality, poor energy efficiency and uncomfortable conditions.

What are the industry guidelines for building ventilation?

ASHRAE 62.1 outlines minimum ventilation rates for various types of buildings, as well as other measures to ensure acceptable indoor air quality (IAQ) for human occupants.  In a nutshell, ASHRAE recommends a certain minimum amount of fresh outside air be introduced through the building’s HVAC system.  It also recommends that the proper amount of outside air be verified at least every five years. Without properly setting the outside air intake volume, buildings can experience negative building pressure and exhibit sick building characteristic. The best way to verify outside air is to hire a certified Test & Balance company, such as Melink, which has the proper air measurement instrumentation and years of experience.

How can I tell if my restaurant is properly ventilated?

  1. Observe restaurant conditions and ask staff for a log of comfort issues
  2. Turn on HVAC equipment, “Fan On” mode
  3. Check the front door for signs of negative building pressure
  4. Observe the kitchen hoods for proper smoke capture
  5. Check the restaurant for drafts
  6. Inspect the rooftop equipment to ensure it is in working condition
  7. Ensure your HVAC preventative maintenance services are being performed satisfactorily
  8. Contact Melink for building balance and comfort investigation services

How can I be sure my building stays healthy, comfortable, and properly ventilated for the long-run?

More and more restaurant chains are interested in the idea of “ongoing commissioning.”  With scant facilities budgets and facilities managers stretched ever thinner, it is not feasible to routinely send someone to each facility to verify building health, ventilation, and comfort. Out of this necessity, Melink’s PositiV® Building Health Monitor was born. PositiV is a standalone system that monitors your building’s pressure and remotely tracks building health. Alerts are sent when the system detects anything is out of set parameters. Moreover, PositiV monitors temperature, relative humidity and CO2 so that you gain a full picture of the health of your facility. 

Melink PositiV Building Health Monitor

PositiV is THE solution toward being able to actively monitor restaurant health, comfort and ventilation for the long-haul, and it is the most affordable way for multi-site facility managers to proactively stay ahead of building health issues before they become big facility problems.

Below is a REAL restaurant’s PositiV data. The site is taking action to improve negative pressure and building ventilation issues before they cause building damage, mold and comfort problems.

Restaurant Ventilation Case Study Example

Ensure Your Restaurant’s Ventilation & Air Quality

For further information restaurant ventilation and PositiV (ongoing commissioning), please e-mail [email protected] or call us at 513.965.7300.

COVID-19 Closures: Mitigating Damage to Unoccupied Buildings

As states across the U.S. are working to flatten the curve, many businesses are impacted by COVID-19 closures as a result of “stay at home” or “shelter in place” orders to limit human interaction and prevent the virus’s spread. Additionally, many companies across the country have opted to temporarily close facilities to prevent employees from contracting the disease. With these shutdowns, it can become increasingly difficult to determine the condition of a facility and repair any issues that could be developing while the facility is unoccupied.

COVID-19 closures of restaurants

Damage to Unoccupied Buildings

Consider these scenarios that could arise in an unoccupied facility…

  • A building in the coastal region may experience high humidity that is going unnoticed, which can in turn lead to mold growth. Imagine if the facility is a retail store; the end-result might mean thousands of dollars of damaged, unsalvageable clothing merchandise.
  • If indoor moisture levels drop too low — perhaps in a cooler climate that is shifting from winter to spring temps — it could lead to wood warping. For instance, the frames of wood windows can shrink in size, making them more difficult to open and potentially creating gaps that let in more cold, dry air.
  • Low indoor moisture can also lead to peeling or separated wallpaper, or cracked paint on plaster walls. What would you do if you come back to your facility, only to realize you need to bring in professional painting or remodeling services?
  • Think about a restaurant or bar. There may be hundreds (or thousands) of dollars of liquor or wine in stock, going untouched through the COVID-19 crisis. Corked bottles of wine are not exempt from the effects of dry indoor air. Extremely low humidity levels can slowly chip away at a cork, leaving room for air to get into the bottle and ruin the flavor. The ideal humidity level for wine storage is 60%.
  • Another thought for a restaurant facility: A humid environment allows mold growth to fester. The COVID-19 shutdowns came on suddenly for many facilities. Did kitchen staff have adequate time to scrub walk-ins, pots, and pans? Were grease traps thoroughly degreased? These are potential breeding grounds for mold during non-occupation.
  • Contemplate multi-purpose facilities, such as an apartment complex with retail or dining space on the first floor. Completely shutting down HVAC airflow to the unoccupied businesses could lead to uneven air flow and temperature throughout the larger building.

The bottom line: Scenarios like the ones above will go unnoticed and unrepaired until employees return to the facility to find the damage caused by an unoccupied month.

Preventing Facility Damage During COVID-19 Closures

While these issues may seem frightful, thankfully many state governments have kept issues like this in mind when mandating shelter-in-place orders. Seeing the value and necessity of essential services, many states are allowing skilled trades such as HVAC technicians to continue working. During quarantine, let these technicians be the eyes and ears at the facility to ensure that, when business returns, critical issues didn’t develop, delaying reopening.

In addition, this downtime can also be the ideal occasion to have technicians visit the facility to address any known issues or to perform preventive maintenance. Maybe there is a repair the facility manager has been putting off because its fix requires closing a typically busy corridor or lobby area. By addressing this work now while the facility is shut down, managers can limit future downtime, employee inconvenience, and lost profit.

And as a preventative measure for the duration of this closure or in preparation of future closures, consider installing sensors to remotely monitor a facility’s indoor air quality levels through relative humidity, temperature, building pressure, and CO2 checks. A system like Melink Corporation’s PositiV® building health monitor can remotely track and trend building health, plus send alerts to the facility owner or manager when the system detects measurements outside its set parameters. While a facility may not have this in place to combat the current COVID-19 closures, it can be installed now to prepare for future unplanned closures or even a vacation (Facility managers need a break at some point, right?!). 

Coronavirus & Indoor Air Quality

Now, maybe more than ever, many businesses are concerned about indoor air quality (IAQ) to protect employees and customers from coronavirus. With the current spread of COVID-19 across the globe, it is important that we are all taking the necessary steps to reduce the spread of the virus. As part of this, it is important to recognize how your HVAC system can impact your IAQ during long hours of social distancing, as well as steps that can be taken to limit the spread of the virus in buildings.

In a normal year, the typical American spends 90% of his or her time indoors. With current guidelines about social distancing, this number is expected to increase over the next few months. Prior to recent events, the American Medical Association stated they believe 50% of illnesses are caused, or aggravated, by polluted indoor air. Furthermore, per the EPA, indoor air contains two to five times more pollutants than typical outside air.

Coronavirus
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

So what does this mean for the COVID-19 crisis? Now that we have learned the novel coronavirus can be spread via airborne transmission when in close contact, there is the possibility that the HVAC system could cross-contaminate. That means air from an infected person could recirculate through a facility’s HVAC system and infect another individual. An example of this is how cruise ships experienced severe outbreaks. All cabins share an HVAC system, which is working as a mode of transmission from one individual to another.

While this risk of shared indoor air cannot be completely eliminated, there are a few items that can be addressed to reduce the potential for transmission through the HVAC system including:

  • Enhanced Ventilation & Ventilation Effectiveness
  • Source Separation
  • Air Filtration
  • Operable Windows

First and foremost, facilities should ensure their HVAC equipment is bringing in the correct amount of outside air required by the engineered designed plans, as well as managing the pollution and exhaust from your building properly. To further mitigate this risk, one should attempt to increase the percentage of outside air being brought into a facility to a higher percentage than minimally specified. In doing this, the equipment will reduce the amount of air being recirculated through a building. This will not only reduce “shared air,” but will also decrease levels of CO2 and other indoor air pollutants that can create an uncomfortable, or unhealthy, facility.

For a residential facility, where air source isn’t as easily controlled, it can also be helpful to open windows to bring in fresh air to any given room. In addition, it is worth verifying that any fresh air being brought in is being evenly distributed. If it isn’t, certain rooms may have less air turnover, meaning that the air isn’t circulating in and out of the facility properly.

The next few months may be difficult with longer hours than normal spent indoors. It is important that we are all taking steps to minimize the spread of coronavirus and other airborne illnesses both now and in the future. Melink offers products and services specifically designed to track, trend, and improve indoor air quality. Click to learn more about our HVAC test and balance services or PositiV® building health monitor, or contact us today. Our techs are the certified pros in indoor air quality — let us help you mitigate your risk while protecting employee and customer wellness.

How Do Seasonal Changes Affect Building Health?

As we transition from dry, cool winter months to hot, humid summer months, you may be saying to yourself, “Woohoo! Bring on the heat!” However, seasonal changes can affect building health. Specifically, the summer season can present major problems for facility managers and building owners as their buildings’ HVAC systems struggle to keep up with increasing cooling loads and extremely humid outdoor air.

Just as spring plant life sprouts, HVAC mechanical issues can pop up with warmer temperatures. Poor indoor conditions such as high indoor relative humidity, negative building pressure, CO2 buildup, or drastic temperature fluctuations are just a few examples.

Staying ahead of these issues before they become noticeable, costly problems is crucial when considering the overall health of your building and its HVAC systems.

Humidity: A Common Seasonal Issue

At various facilities, a common issue that comes with changing seasons is humidity. Specifically, humidity can be difficult to maintain at a comfortable level.

Condensation on building window, a seasonal building health issue.
Condensation in office building

In the winter, the heating mode on air handling equipment can heat or evaporate the existing moisture in the air to reduce the overall relative humidity as outdoor air is brought into the building. However, in the summer, the opposite occurs: the air handling equipment cools the building space and doesn’t heat or evaporate the moisture out of incoming air. This combination of high relative humidity and indoor dew point ultimately creates conditions that promote condensation or organic growth within the facility.

A Year-Round Solution for Indoor Building Health

The most cost-effective solution to verifying and ensuring long-term indoor building health is with a sensor capable of measuring key building health metrics like differential pressure, relative humidity, dew point, temperature, and CO2.

Components of building health

By gathering data on these building health metrics, the facility manager, operator, and/or building owner can quickly verify on-site conditions in real-time, while also gaining peace of mind in knowing their buildings are meeting engineering specifications per design as seasons change. In addition to these benefits, sensors’ data gathering gives users the ability to track and trend building health over a long-term period.

Using Data to Plan for Seasonal Building Health Changes

Getting and staying ahead of maintenance doesn’t need to start with expensive truck rolls and frequent site visits. Instead, sensor solutions provide an inexpensive, effective avenue to implement a proactive mindset. The collected data can be aggregated to an easy-to-use online portal capable of summarizing, visualizing, and diagnosing issues on site, while also granting users the ability to trend and predict HVAC performance for a lasting solution.

Get ahead of the changing seasons by verifying your building is healthy today!

The Future of the 2020s: Healthy Buildings

As we enter the Roaring 20s and continue the “What’s next?” conversation surrounding societal, technological, planetary, and human behavioral changes, I think it’s important for us to consider the role of buildings in all these arenas — ideally, healthy buildings.

According to a Navigant Research study in 2018, the global building stock is expected to increase 13% by 2028, and other research estimates the total global building stock will double by 2060. Should these estimates be correct, that’s the equivalent of building an entire New York City every month…for the next 40 years! Consider that growth, combined with research that contributes 40% of greenhouse gas emissions to buildings, and we have a big opportunity in front of us.

On a recent visit to Melink, President and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council Mahesh Ramanujam highlighted his mission to transform buildings by first focusing on the people inside of them. Considering people spend 90% of their lives inside buildings, the more people associate buildings with human health and personal well-being, the more the conversation for smarter and more efficient buildings can be accelerated.  While Mahesh is a great influence on the advocacy front, Melink is in a great position to offer building owners tangible solutions for tackling these challenges. 

How Melink Innovates Healthy Buildings

Innovation is a core principle at Melink, and 2020 brings about exciting opportunities across all of our products and services to make an impact in the world:

  • Melink PositiV®  is a building health monitor that provides trend data for the key metrics of building pressure, CO2, temperature, and humidity. Negative pressure can lead to a multitude of “Sick Building” syndromes that ultimately lead to decreased employee performance, increased sick days, and unhappy occupants.
  • Melink’s core Test & Balance services ensure that buildings are performing as they were designed to support and protect the occupants.
  • Intelli-Hood® measures the cooking activity at the kitchen hood level to ensure the operator is using only the energy required to exhaust cooking effluent based on the demand, in addition to ensuring enough replacement fresh air is delivered to occupants.
  • Our Solar & Geothermal division is busy working to rapidly scale the adoption of these core building technologies and innovate around barriers to entry. The price of solar continues to decline as efficiencies increase, leading to a transformative time in the solar industry as we go beyond grid parody. In most cases, we offer our solar customers the ability to lock in their kWh rate for the next 30 years at prices below $0.025 / kWh. With the rapid rate of innovation in the battery storage sector, I’m confident new technologies will emerge that mitigate net-metering laws and allow building owners to more efficiently install power plants on their roof via solar.
  • Plus, our geothermal team continues to push the boundaries of hybrid thermal loop systems in an effort to remove significant bore-field cost in geothermal projects. Our new HQ2 is a living laboratory to drive the innovation necessary to responsibly heat, cool and power the buildings of the future.   

So, “What’s next” for Melink? Changing the world, one healthy building at a time. Sound familiar?

Get A Pulse On Your Building

In today’s world, we are surrounded by smart phones, watches, cars, and other devices that are becoming further integrated into our lives. These smart sensors and technologies are helping day-to-day tasks become more efficient. To improve energy efficiency in commercial buildings and restaurants, these smart sensors and technologies can be applied in a similar manner.

Like a Fitbit that monitors and trends personal health metrics, sensors within a building can monitor and trend overall building health. With these smart sensors, important building health metrics, like relative humidity, CO2 levels, temperature, and pressure, can be measured to paint a picture of building health and HVAC performance. With data from the sensors, facility managers can identify improvements regarding building health, energy efficiency, and occupant safety and wellness within their building. PositiV, Melink’s exciting innovation in the world of building health, equips facility managers and building owners with a tool they need to verify building health and HVAC performance.

There are a variety of tell-tale signs of an unhealthy building like wet, dripping diffusers from high humidity, lower occupant cognitive ability from excessive CO2 levels, or a strong incoming draft at an open door caused by improper pressure or HVAC balance. These problematic unhealthy building signs can be addressed before becoming a costly, major issue. With building performance data, a facility manager or building owner will easier understand when building health begins to decline and identify corrective actions for the issues before they cause further problems.

A Fitbit won’t directly prevent a heart attack or make someone healthy, but it does arm its wearers with knowledge that is needed to live a healthier lifestyle. Similarly, building sensors won’t make a healthy building space, but they will equip its users with the information needed to create and sustain a healthy building space. It’s up to the manager or owner to take necessary corrective actions, but providing the data to help them make the proper decisions is the first step to improving overall building health.

National Cut Your Energy Costs Day: Tips for Businesses

In the United States, January 10 is National Cut Your Energy Costs Day, a time that encourages people to look for ways to reduce energy usage and ultimately save on energy bills.

Melink offers five tips for businesses to cut their energy costs. Implement these solutions today to impact your business’ bottom line in the future!

Melink technician checking air flow in business for energy costs

Tip #1 — Ensure Your Building Has a Balanced Airflow

An air balance testing service is the process by which the performance of HVAC airflow is measured.  Once it is tested, the systems are then adjusted, or balanced, so that the air brought into a building is slightly greater than the air being pulled out of the building. The result is a comfortable, healthy indoor environment with an HVAC system that is optimized to perform efficiently. Read more air balance basics.

Keep in mind there are different degrees of air balance reports and you should choose an air balance contractor wisely. Not every balancing firm performs the same service or provides the same report at the end of the project. Hire a professional, certified firm like Melink Corporation.

Energy costs in busy commercial restaurant kitchens

Tip #2 — Conserve Energy in Commercial Kitchens

If your facility has a kitchen operation, this is an area where you can greatly reduce your operating costs, as well as occupant comfort. Consider installing a demand control kitchen ventilation (DCKV) system to control the variable speed of your kitchen’s exhaust fans.

Traditionally, kitchen exhaust fans run at 100% speed for constant periods of time.  With the addition of a variable speed system, like Melink’s Intelli-Hood®, fan speeds are reduced when cooking isn’t at its maximum. 

Dirty furnace filters can increase energy costs

Tip # 3 — Replace Used Furnace Filters

This may sound like a simple fix, but dirty furnace filters can lead to defective equipment, airflow issues, and ultimately higher energy bills. If a filter is clogged, airflow is reduced and the unit(s) will have to run longer to achieve the desired temperatures. Seasonally changing air filters within your building is one of the easiest, cheapest, and most effective ways to ensure maximum airflow output.

Monitor your building for guests' comfort and to watch energy costs

Tip # 4 — Monitor Your Building

Monitor your building’s health BEFORE a costly issue develops, such as mold growth, high energy bills, safety issues, or comfort issues for occupants. Melink offers PositiV®, a standalone tool to monitor your building’s performance data. A small investment now can lead to a great reduction in future energy costs.

Rooftop HVAC Unit

Tip # 5 — Have a Replacement Plan

Whether your facility has an immediately aging HVAC unit or not, it’s important to plan for the future — especially with the phase-out of R-22. Emergency replacement, AKA “fix-on-fail,” is the costliest way to repair units. If you implement a proactive equipment replacement program, you can save approximately 70% per unit, which adds up to major energy cost savings.

National Cut Your Energy Costs Day may only happen once a year, but Melink offers energy-efficiency solutions for businesses year-round. With Melink, cut your commercial building’s energy costs. Contact us today at (513) 965-7300.

Using Data to Evaluate Building Health

What is the most valuable resource in the world? If you said time, I can’t argue with that… However, if you said a commodity like gold, coal, or even oil, you may be shocked to learn that not even these precious natural resources compare to the inherent value of a certain intangible object. I’m talking about data — more specifically, the data that allows us to make mission-critical decisions about building health.

We live in a period known as “The Digital Revolution,” where the once groundbreaking mechanical inventions of the 20th century have been enhanced by the digitization of computer software and automated control systems. Bookkeeping now consists of populating Microsoft Excel worksheets, medical records are now analyzed by computers, and checks can now be deposited with a smartphone camera. These advances in technology have, without a doubt, made our lives easier. However, many of us are overlooking the most valuable byproduct of using these machines, which is the collected data itself.

The practice of interrelating computing devices for the sake of transferring data over a digital network is known as the Internet of Things (IoT). This shared system of information allows us to collect data using multiple machines to ultimately assist humans in making better decisions.

Melink Corporation has always strived to be ahead of the curve when it comes to modernizing its products for better data acquisition.

For instance, our Intelli-Hood® kitchen ventilation system was the first of its kind back in the early 1990s. Our engineers have since continued to evolve its firmware to better integrate with building automation systems so that building owners can more closely monitor energy consumption. Users can log in to a cloud-based portal to extract real-time data to better manage their utilities. Thirty years after its inception, Melink continues to lead the industry by advancing green energy building solutions.   

In February 2019, Melink Corporation pushed the envelope for how building owners keep their workspaces healthy by launching a new product that is the first of its kind. Much like how a smartwatch can closely monitor your physical health, PositiV™ is a device that monitors your building’s health.

Components of building health
Melink Corporation’s PositiV™ system helps monitor building health.

About the size of a thermostat, PositiV ™ houses a variety of sensors to detect temperature, relative humidity, CO2 levels, and building pressure. This data is collected and transferred to our online portal where users can view the live data and trend it over time. For facilities managers who operate a network of buildings across multiple cities and states, PositiV™ allows them access critical data that can both justify costly HVAC improvements and warn against sick building syndrome. How is this possible? Melink’s software developers have implemented machine-learning algorithms and data visualization tools to harness the full potential of this invaluable building health data. After all, data means almost nothing if it’s not thoroughly analyzed and effectively interpreted.

Similar to how doctors check blood pressure, cholesterol levels and body temperature to diagnose a patient, PositiV™ can connect seemingly unrelated data sets to draw conclusions about building health.

Building owners, feel more empowered to make the critical decisions you need to keep your occupants comfortable.  Calculate how PositiV™ can help you save money and improve building health.



PositiV and Test and Balance: A one-two punch to sick building syndrome

Sick building syndrome is a condition that affects a building’s occupant due to unhealthy factors in the work environment primarily associated with poor ventilation and airflow in the facility. Per the EPA, symptoms of Sick Building syndrome include acute discomfort such as headaches, dry skin, coughing, dizziness, and nausea. Despite all these symptoms Sick Building syndrome can go undetected for years as the symptoms are all relatively minor and occur over multiple years.

With the release of Melink PositiV™ earlier this year, facility managers can now remotely diagnose and asses 4 of the key building metrics that contribute to building health. These include CO2, relative humidity, building pressure, and temperature. By ensuring these 4-building metrics are within acceptable ranges facility managers can sleep well knowing that they will be able to monitor and track if their facility is showing early signs of sick building syndrome. This can empower the end user to act and stop the early patterns that can lead to numerous issues down the road.

You know it is time to act when one of the 4 measurements are outside of the recommended limits. A primary way of attempting to correct any of these issues in a facility is to have a test and balance to reset airflow to the engineered design plans. During a test and balance, existing issues are identified and corrected to allow for proper airflow into the space. Through this process the technician should be examining and resetting the outside air dampers at the facility to allow the building to receive the correct amount of fresh air. The combination of monitoring and acting on the data allows end-users to ensure comfortable, healthy and energy efficient facilities.

The Melink Umbrella

Are you an existing customer or follower of Melink?  I’m guessing the answer is “yes” if you’re reading this, so what all falls under the “Melink” umbrella? If you’re in the Cincinnati, OH region perhaps we’re best known for our super-green energy efficient HQ building, with a second on the way, or Steve Melink’s advocacy in the region surrounding energy efficiency and sustainability.  Those things help to show who we are as a company, however it isn’t always clear in what we do as a business to support this mission of changing the world one building at time. 

To help illustrate the portfolio of offerings at Melink, pretend for a moment you own a hotel, restaurant or operate an entity involving a commercial kitchen facility.  Prior to leaving for work in the morning you utilize your smartphone to check if your building is healthy for your employees and customers by swiping open your PositiV app to check the latest building health makers of indoor CO2, temperature, humidity and building pressure.  You notice that your building pressure has been trending in the negative for the past week and notify your Melink Test & Balance account manager that you’d like an investigative visit to determine the root cause and corrective measures prior to big event coming up.  You meet your Melink field-technician onsite who identifies the outside air damper on your RTU has been locked shut and there’s an insufficient amount of fresh outside air being supplied to your building.  This negative air pressure situation would have been substantially worse, however you have a self-learning adaptive control system that adjust the kitchen exhaust fan speeds in accordance with the cooking loads in real time.  Your Intelli-Hood control system automatically turns itself on in case the prep crew starts cooking without the fans and will preemptively warn your team if there’s an issue with the exhaust fan to mitigate risk from fire.

Knowing your building is back to optimal conditions you head to the back office to review your utility bill statements and prepare payments.  You’re sure there’s a billing error, however you remember this past month your new rooftop mounted solar system has been installed and commissioned resulting in 40% decline in your electrical bill.  Your gas bill for operations in the winter time has never been much of a concern since your buildings geothermal HVAC system is utilizing the ground underneath your parking lot as natural heat sink rather than using gas to boil water for your HVAC units.  In addition, you have a waste water reclamation system to extract the heat in the water being dumped in the sewer to preheat your domestic hot water tank. 

Welcome to the Melink umbrella.  While not all customers have the potential to benefit from the full suite of our offerings, these complementary business units make us a stronger partner for our customers as they invest in business growth in a responsible, sustainable manner.