8 Effective Ways to Improve IAQ in Multi-family Buildings

Indoor air quality continues to be a hot topic in the multi-family housing community despite the global coronavirus pandemic beginning to phase out in some places. In fact, when AirAdvice conducted an IAQ study of almost 50,000 American homes, it found some alarming results. An astounding 96.7% of all homes had at least one of six common IAQ problems. This includes chemicals, allergens, temperature, humidity, as well as both carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Half of the homes contained three or more of the pollutants, while almost one in five exhibited four or more IAQ problems. Yikes!

Fortunately, a variety of methods are available to improve the IAQ of multi-family buildings as well as the individual homes within them, including:

1. Remove pollution at the source

The easiest and probably most efficient way to address IAQ problems within a multi-family building involves eliminating the pollution at the source. Some issues might need professional assistance such as fixing buildings with old asbestos that needs to be sealed off. However, many issues can be resolved internally. For example, emissions from a gas stove or hot water heater can sometimes be adjusted, or the leaking equipment can be repaired or replaced.

2. Boost ventilation

Most multi-family residential buildings feature HVAC systems that do not bring outdoor air into the house mechanically. By improving ventilation within multi-family housing communities, property owners and managers can improve IAQ for their residents. By inviting more outdoor air to come inside the building, the exchange lowers the concentration of indoor pollutants. It’s the same logic behind opening a window to let smoke escape a building. Multi-family building ventilation can be improved through additional fans in ceilings, bathrooms, and kitchens, as well as mechanical methods such as integrating outdoor air intakes to HVAC systems.

3. Seal as many air leaks as possible

Air will travel from one unit to another through any hole or passage it can find. Air sealing, however, helps reduce unwanted air movements within a building by eliminating those leaks. Sealing even tiny gaps and openings between apartments helps improve IAQ by reducing the odors, smoke, pathogens and other pollutants that can travel from one home to the next. Common multi-family building areas that are susceptible to air leaks include the roof, windows, doors, pipes and vents.

4. Test IAQ

A variety of smart appliances that can monitor and test IAQ have been recently introduced. Not only can these devices monitor indoor levels of pollutants ranging from radon to mold, but many of the IAQ monitors utilize the Internet of Things and a building’s Wi-Fi signal to activate an accompanying air cleaning device.

5. Install air cleaners

A variety of devices are available to clean indoor air, although the expensive whole-house systems are unlikely to be installed in most multi-family buildings. Residents can, however, use tabletop air cleaners to improve the IAQ within their specific homes. While every air cleaner model is unique in its efficacy based on factors such as the type of filter and the amount of air drawn into the device, most table-top models are less effective and don’t remove gaseous pollutants.

6. Maintain equipment

Preventative HVAC maintenance is vital to achieving optimal IAQ in a multi-family building. HVAC technicians can ensure entire systems, including vents, filters and ductwork are free of debris and pollutants. Frequently changing HVAC filters alone can vastly improve IAQ. Stronger filter grades, particularly high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, are an effective solution for many particulates in the air, but they should be changed monthly for best results. Anti-bacterial filters can even remove pathogens like viruses from the air before it is re-circulated in a building.

Motili’s multi-family clients benefit from preventative maintenance programs that have been shown to boost resident satisfaction by double digit percentages.

7. Manage humidity levels

Controlling the humidity in a home not only boosts comfort, but it also can reduce energy consumption and hinder the reproduction of pathogens. Although homes are thought to be most comfortable when the level of relative humidity falls between 30% and 50%, the lowest amount of contaminants are found in the air when the humidity is between 40% and 60%, according to Sterling, Arundel and Sterling in their 1985 report. Although their report was published more than 35 years ago, most multi-family buildings around in 1985 have a similar design today.

Using humidifiers and dehumidifiers to maintain the relative humidity of about 50%, therefore, is a good compromise. While humidity levels within entire multi-family buildings can be difficult to control, residents can use the devices in their individual homes.

8. Know your pollutants

Awareness is half the battle, and indoor air pollutants can hardly be controlled if they aren’t identified. To determine the best strategies to improve IAQ in a multi-family community, property managers and residents must establish what IAQ issues they are facing. Is it a simple matter of humidity, temperature or ventilation control? Are more serious contaminates such as carbon monoxide or mold present? Are more residents getting sick, or is smoking allowed in the building? Understanding and identifying common pollutants will help establish an effective IAQ strategy for a multi-family building.

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