Poor indoor air quality can affect health

Panellists at the MEP UAE Conference 2018 reveal the importance of choosing the right indoor air quality products.

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Panellists discussing HVAC and IAQ concerns at the fourth MEP UAE Conference.
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Panellists discussing HVAC and IAQ concerns at the fourth MEP UAE Conference.

At the MEP UAE Conference 2018, Hassan Younes, director at Griffin Consultants, put forth the question on some of the indoor air quality (IAQ) concerns in relation to HVAC systems in the UAE.

Brian Suggitt, managing director, Systemair, and chairman, Eurovent Middle East, reminded us that since we spend 90% of our time indoors, we need control mechanisms for energy usage. He said: “We need to use the right products. A simple air handling unit with the right fan, filtration and monitoring systems can improve air quality and energy efficiency at the same time, and thus save money.”

He, however, said that the challenge was to get the owners to want such products, consultants to specify them, and suppliers to provide the specified products. Suggitt said that one of Eurovent Middle East’s goal was to spread such awareness. Eurovent is Europe’s Industry Association for Indoor Climate (HVAC), Process Cooling, and Food Cold Chain Technologies. Its members from Europe, the Middle East and Africa represent more than 1,000 companies.

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From a consultant’s perspective Shaher Rajha said that fast track projects don’t give adequate time to design, install and maintain systems for IAQ. Rajha is the lead mechanical engineer at LACASA Architects & Engineering Consultants. He added: “Designers, consultants, contractors, and suppliers should work together to offer the optimal and not the cheapest design to clients and convince them that an additional investment will get them the right systems. Clients must be made aware that only by regulating temperature, humidity, air flow, etc., will not bring in good IAQ. Poor IAQ, sick building syndrome (SBS), etc., will be detrimental to their future plans to lease or sell their properties.”

He stressed that a contractor has the responsibility to choose the right systems for IAQ.

Jagath Gunawardena, senior manager, projects & building development, Dubai Chamber of Commerce, weighed in and urge the community to look at IAQ as affecting a person’s health. He said: “IAQ is not only the air we breathe, but [it relates to] our overall health and comfort in an indoor environment. We need to relook at indoor air quality as ‘indoor environment quality’. Overcooling indoor spaces may seem to improve comfort, but it affects the health of people adversely. Building designers don’t operate buildings or deal with clients. It’s up to the operators to understand what the right temperature and other conditions should be to create comfort for their clients.”

Gunawardena said that as operators, they test IAQ periodically with various sensors to measure Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and formaldehyde levels. He added: “We also use ‘Demand control management’. It essentially means that a cooling system not used is either switched off or temperatures are increased to pre-set levels. This helps us manage both energy usage and the indoor atmosphere. The operator should have the ability to manage any MEP system.”

He added that a labelling system is required by maintenance contractors for clients to justify their service charges and the price they are willing to pay for expertise.

Awareness is key says Arvind K. Bhatnagar, general manager, TTE. He added: “End-users are not aware about SBS. There needs to be more awareness.”

Bhatnagar focused on the issue of duct cleaning and maintenance. He said: “A building can be perfectly designed, but when it comes to facilities management, there’s no foresight on duct cleaning. In most buildings, residents could be breathing air out of 20-year old ducts that have not be cleaned.
When there’s a design clash with MEP contractors about false ceilings, contractors are asked to remove redundant air flow systems to make space. Clients are unaware that in future residents will be breathing air blowing over the open false ceiling. If there’re no return air ducts, how will they clean the ducts.

“Awareness can be created with labelling. For example, does a building have facilities management that include cleaning of ducts? If such information is available, people renting buildings will be aware about their quality and they will be willing to pay a little more for the service.”

He said that facilities management is now limited only to asset maintenance. “If the maintenance or facilities management contract specifies that air quality checks be conducted regularly and ducts should be cleaned, then it will be cleaned. Nobody will do it free of cost,” he concluded.

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