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Building Health – How do I know if the air inside a building is safe?

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Matt White

How much risk of infection can you eliminate in your building? Quite a bit, according to ASHRAE.

“Ventilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2 and thus the risk of transmission through the air.” That is a powerful statement and places a large weight of responsibility on building operators. But providing a healthy building and proving it to occupants may not be as complicated as you think.

Your building likely has the basic equipment needed to take most of the industry recommended precautions to provide clean air and thus an inhospitable environment for viruses. For those in building operations, your areas of focus can be broken into 3 measurable steps:

Step 1: Verify that building systems are in good working order and properly sequenced:

The easiest thing you can do right now is to ensure proper air ventilation. In fact, it’s ASHRAE’s first recommendation for non-healthcare facilities. 

  • Be sure to verify that all dampers, actuators, VFDs, fans and related sensors are in working order and quickly make any necessary repairs.
  • Beware of untested filtration technologies. ASHRAE recommends upgrading your filtration to MERV-13 or the highest level achievable.  
  • Verify that your system is programmed according to recommended ventilation standards. Your strategy should include:
    • Dilution and extraction ventilation, proper building pressurization and proper airflow distribution and optimization.
    • Disable demand-controlled ventilation and any bypass energy recovery systems as they can potentially leak exhaust air back into your air system.
    • Maintain temperature and humidity to avoid the spread of an infectious aerosol (40%-60%RH).
    • During this time of heightened risk, it is also ideal to keep your air systems running 24/7. If for some justifiable reason you need to shut systems down, make those periods as short as possible.

System monitoring is key to prove that you are running a healthy building. Here’s how you can do that:

  • Install good air quality sensors to measure temperature, humidity, VOCs and CO2. There are sensors on the market that measure all three. These measurements can be used along with system historical data to prove building air quality. Sequencing would include comparing indoor air quality to outdoor air quality to ensure optimized ventilation.
    • Be sure to verify that historical trends are in place and working.

Step 2: Decide if additional air quality measures need to be implemented:

When it comes to taking reasonable precautions for building health, ASHRAE’s guidance adds ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) and states that when combined with step 1 above, UVGI is “[an] effective strategy for reducing the risk of dissemination of infectious aerosols in buildings and transportation environments.”

UVGI is not only an effective means of reducing the risk in this pandemic, it provides reduced risk from any airborne infection that can be transmitted person to person. As is the case with all of these best practices, they are most effective when combined with proper surface disinfection and personal hygiene.

Your MSI can help you to find the best UVGI solution for your system.

Step 3: Decide how to best communicate your actions to your occupants:

If you watch enough news, you know that fears are born in uncertainty. Your goal as a building owner should be to reduce the level of fear in your occupants as they re-enter the space they once considered safe. There is no doubt that creative minds thrive in this space of human relationships but here are a couple of ideas that seem practical to us:

  • Display KPIs on monitors near building entrances and cores. There’s something about data on a TV that makes someone a believer. Why not install some monitors in key traffic areas to showcase the health of your building and provide reminders for proper social interaction? You can display key data points or even a rating system such as described in the graphic below.
  • Create a building health rating system for your organization. Using your new air quality sensors, create a rating system that compares temperature, CO2 and RH and an associated color code. Green is good! Your rating system can be shared with occupants in email, newsletter, blog or even on the monitors described earlier.


The health of your building has never been more important. Proving that your building is healthy is going to become the new normal. Combining trustworthy standards with best practice is both practical and efficient in this time of confusion and concern.

OTI is a trusted MSI with decades of proven and practical experience. Call us at (888) 684-8454, send us an email to or fill in the form found here and we can work together to create a safe environment that your occupants will feel safe returning to.

Revisit the first article in this series, Building Health in Time of Pandemic - How COVID-19 will change the way we think about the built environment.

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