What is Your IAQ?

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is an important part of every college and university’s environmental program — or it should be. Facility managers today realize the importance of providing a comfortable and safe indoor environment that takes into account not only IAQ, but comfort related to heating and cooling levels. It takes a comprehensive program that addresses monitoring and maintenance to ensure that heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are operating properly to achieve established standards while also meeting IAQ requirements.

A Solid Foundation

Ron Cochran, manager of maintenance services at Iowa State University (ISU), says that meeting the University’s HVAC and IAQ requirements is a key focus for administrators.“Chris Ahoy, our associate vice president for facilities, challenges us to provide world-class services at all levels, and has obtained the tools for us to fulfill that vision,” he said.“We receive a high level of support from our upper administration, and that makes a great difference in our program.”

Cochran is responsible for all administration and classroom buildings on ISU’s campus in Ames, which encompasses 140 buildings totaling 14,000,000 sq. ft. The challenge for this staff is to monitor and maintain HVAC systems in buildings that run from historic structures to new facilities with the latest and most sophisticated equipment.

“We are very proactive when it comes to energy conservation,” Cochran said. “We continually seek to balance IAQ, user comfort, and our energy use. Knowing the status and condition of our systems on a current basis helps us to meet our HVAC and IAQ requirements.”

A knowledge-based automated system helps officials at ISU to track HVAC use and related system information. The available data enables the facility staff to identify potential problems or to resolve issues quickly when they arise. The historical data contained in the system provides a comprehensive and current picture of individual systems, another important benefit.

The university’s preventative maintenance program for HVAC involves inspecting and changing filters on a quarterly basis, cleaning outdoor air intakes, and making sure that each system is operating according to the manufacturer’s specifications. All systems are also calibrated once a year.

Handling Complaints

ISU has a service center where faculty, staff, and students can register complaints regarding IAQ concerns — such as unpleasant odors — as well as requesting a review of indoor temperatures. Cochran says that facility personnel work with staff from the Environmental Health and Safety Department to address each reported concern. By bringing experts together, ISU can quickly determine the source of the problem and the required remedial action, if any is required.

The Safety and Environmental Management Department at the University of Maine in Orono also collaborates with facility management personnel to tackle IAQ issues, according to Gerald Stormann, HVAC supervisor. “We work together to study complaints in order to determine the source and the best corrective action,” he said. “Our proactive approach regarding our HVAC program helps us to minimize complaints and to address them quickly when they occur.”

Staff Considerations

Like his counterparts at other colleges and universities, Stormann acknowledges that the facility staff plays a key role in the HVAC program. “The challenge, as it is for my peers and their staffs, is to keep up with scheduled maintenance in light of unplanned circumstances and other facility requirements. We have 135 buildings to service and the systems vary. We hire experienced personnel and provide the training they need to understand our systems and our maintenance requirements. We require very little contract work because our staff is very capable and committed to what they do.”

The HVAC program at the University of Maine includes replacing filters on a regular basis — three times a year in most buildings — and inspecting motors, belts, and bearings and replacing them when needed. Stormann says that the consistency of the staff and their knowledge of the university’s systems enable them to efficiently analyze the current state of the equipment for which they are responsible.

Training when a new system comes on line is very important. When a new building is constructed at ISU, this begins even before a shovel of dirt is turned. Facility personnel are involved in reviewing the proposed HVAC system during the design phase and continue their involvement as required during construction. This enables them to provide their input regarding future operations and maintenance needs. The appropriate staff also receives training from the contractor and/or the manufacturer’s representative before the building opens, which provides an important knowledge base.

Meeting IAQ and HVAC standards is more successful when facility professionals and experts from other departments, such as Environmental Health and Safety, work together. Following a comprehensive monitoring and maintenance program, efficiently handling complaints, and providing appropriate staff with training will ensure that a college or university’s IAQ and HVAC systems are the best they can be.