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!

3 Steps to Troubleshooting Your Facility’s HVAC With Onsite Staff

Have you identified that your facility is experiencing a potential air balance problem?  You might be experiencing doors that are hard to open, uncomfortable temperatures, poor smoke capture, odors, drafty areas, or any combination of the other common sick building symptoms.  The inevitable question at this stage is, “Who is best to resolve this?” Bringing in your facility’s mechanical contractor may be your first instinct, but troubleshooting with your onsite managers is actually the best place to start. Work through the following questions with your facility’s day-to-day manager:  

1.  Is the equipment running?

As basic as this may come across, it is absolutely crucial to check if all HVAC equipment is operating. Check all grilles to see if air is being blown out or sucked in. Check the equipment on the roof, can you hear the fans from the RTU, MUA, or EF units spinning? Have the manager record and communicate findings.

2.  Check the thermostats

Navigate to the wall mounted thermostats and ensure that they have the proper set points. Often, a thermostat is installed and connected to the system and then left alone. When this occurs the thermostat is left at factory settings which is often set at a random temperature, maybe even 100 degrees Fahrenheit!  Your staff should be able to follow the directions on this thermostat to program it for the desired temperatures.  As well, check the thermostats for “Fan ON.”

Thermostat

3.  Check the Circuit Breakers

Check your indoor and outdoor circuit breakers. Observe if any of them have tripped or been switched to “Off.” DO NOT flip the breaker back on. If it is tripped or left off, there is likely a reason for it and you don’t want to risk frying the electrical systems. We recommend calling an electrician for this type of deficiency.

 

Armed with your findings from these simple tests, you may have been able to save some money with a Do-It-Yourself fix.  It’s possible that the journey back to a healthy building ends here.  But if the problem persists, it’s time for the level of technical know-how. Call the mechanical contractor. With your observations to these preliminary steps above, you can approach your mechanical contractor with information that will help them to better understand your situation and get you closer to achieving a healthy building.

Do Any of These 4 HVAC Issues Occur at Your Restaurant?

Are you contracting out your preventative maintenance?  Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of restaurant managers be misled by their mechanical contractors into thinking their “building is balanced”, but still notice misreported or never- reported problems that are causing complaints from their guests.  For example, you’ve been told that air filters and screens used for the outside air intake are clean, or that belts are tight, when they are in fact loose or cracking and ready to break.  These facility problems would cost so much less if treated immediately.  For example, a $10 fan belt replacement, if not replaced by your facility management when needed can cause irreversible damage to the rooftop RTUs, along with the cost of uncomfortable guests.  These instances escalate in the summer and fall months, when outdoor weather threatens indoor comfort.

Be aware of these frequent summer sick building symptoms, so you can call out the indicators, if necessary:

  1. Humidity- Sits in the carpets or hardwood floors causing buckling, odor, and mold.  Often triggers allergies for guests.
  2. Too much exhaust and little or no fresh air-causing a negative building pressure, so anything in the outside air can come in, including bugs and pests.
  3. Condensation on windows and/or grills
  4. Entry doors hard to open- Leaving guests frustrated, or worse-assuming the restaurant is closed

All the above issues can cause a negative building pressure, allowing the outside air to infiltrate the building through every crack and crevice, causing damage that could shut a restaurant down from a health code standpoint. If you’re concerned that your building is uncomfortable or not running how it was designed to, you have the option of calling in a third party HVAC balance service who can give you an objective diagnosis of the issue, and fix it.