Maintenance mandatory for good IAQ

Poor maintenance practices result in poor indoor air quality, Leo Radford, managing director at Envida, writes

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Leo Radford, managing director at Envida.
Leo Radford, managing director at Envida.

There are two separate issues for AC system cleaning and maintenance.
Maintenance within a location such as the UAE or the Middle East in general is critical. The region is dry, wet, sandy and salty, and each parameter provides its own obstacles. There is no dispute that maintenance is critical to ensuring that assets perform and function as per their design. We have seen many examples of poor maintenance practices that have directly resulted in poor indoor air quality and high energy costs in premises. With regards to the cleaning aspect, there are elements of cleaning that bridge into maintenance. For example, cleaning of the filters, blowers, coils, condenser pan and lines all have a direct effect on maintenance of the system. Cleaning the ducting system on the other hand is much different.
 Given the functionality of buildings, one may assume that sensitive buildings such as hospitals and schools would have cleaner systems than malls or industrial buildings. However, it is our experience that the condition of duct systems is typically the same regardless of the use.
The question of good maintenance and cleaning are distinctly separate, but are also connected. If the plant is maintained and clean (FAHUs (fresh air handling units)/AHUs) and the terminals (FCUs (fan coil units)/VAVs (varialble air volume)) are clean, then why ignore the distribution system? In over 10 years of our AC cleaning experience within the UAE, I am surprised to see systems that are not cleaned upon handover.
 Every time we inspect AC systems, our appraisal method for cleanliness is solely governed by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) as per their assessment, cleaning and remediation standards. This organisation certifies and qualifies both AC system and duct cleaning companies along with mold remediators. In fact, the Dubai Municipality uses its standards in its Green Building Codes.
 The NADCA ACR Standard 2013 states that any system should be inspected and assessed and if found to be dirty, remediated back to a clean state. We have created an easy to use flow chart (see right) to detail the process.
So if systems are typically contaminated from construction, the real question is whose responsibility is it?
 In a perfect world, the client should instruct the MEP contractor to clean the system upon commissioning and handover of the property. The facility management team should then take over and create a schedule of maintenance and inspection, and if, cleaning needs to be done. This is the best case scenario for most cleaners, because this is the time you have the most access to the areas and systems. In reality, the MEP contractor usually does not have AC System cleaning within their scope and hopes the client/ consultant does not raise that issue. The cleaning of the system is then kicked down the lane for someone else to solve.
Simply put, keeping AC distribution systems in a clean and functioning state is important for all stakeholders. The specific subject of cleaning the duct and distribution systems should be important to all. Everyone from clients, consultants, contractors and residents are beginning to slowly realise the implications of not taking this seriously. The issue is starting to become tied to facilities company’s service level agreements and KPIs, but the real driver are the building owners.

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