HVAC Units Are About More Than Comfort

Quality indoor cooling systems are one of the most important aspects of the smooth running of any facility. Commercial offices, schools, hotels and hospitals represent but a few spaces where job satisfaction is directly relative to the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems (HVACs).

The most obvious reason for this is that without cooling in the summer and heating in the winter, a place of work can become pretty uncomfortable. Similar to sojourning the desert in a coat, or traversing the Arctic wastes in a summer dress.

As a result of the HVAC system’s integral role in office happiness (and all round health) the risks associated with low-quality indoor ventilation have come under heavy scrutiny in recent months.

The bare facts suggest that bacteria, mould and viruses in any HVAC system can be transmitted to the occupants of a building through the airflow, which can lead to health problems like headaches, eye irritation and sore throats.

It’s not just about comfort. It’s about health.

What are some signs that my HVAC needs maintenance?

For most in the facility maintenance game, this should be fairly obvious. But there are a number of signs which point to the need for a proper clean of the HVAC unit itself. These include:

  • Water Damage
  • Build-up of biofilm
  • Presence of debris
  • Restricted airflows
  • Dust coming from vents
  • Offensive odours coming through the vents

Biofilm and its dangers

Biofilm is the slimy collection of bacteria, mould, dust and debris which forms inside any moist environment. In this case, it would be the air handling unit (AHU) and its connected ductworks. If you’ve ever reached your hand into a very old drainage pipe of any sort, you will have felt the sickly slimy coating of biofilm there. Not a pleasant experience!

The reason biofilm becomes dangerous is that it not only puts the health of occupants in the building at risk, but it lowers the efficiency of the AHU’s cooling coil drastically. This is due to the reduction in thermal conductivity and airflow. Similar to the effect that high cholesterol has on a person’s veins.

A new method of cleaning

Fortunately for all of our facility maintenance teams, there is permanent solution to HVAC hygiene. While the regular manual cleaning is always a viable option, the use of ultraviolet-C light makes the challenge of cleaning a simple one.

UVC light is classed as short wave radiation, which means it cannot penetrate the ozone and never reaches the Earth’s surface.

One of the joys of modern(ish) science is that we can artificially reproduce UVC light using ultraviolet germicidal irradiation photonisers – a bit like fluorescent tubes. UVC light is twice as powerful as UVA (long wave) and UVB (medium wave) and as such makes an incredible disinfectant with its ability to break down mould, bacteria and viruses.

UVC light has been popular since the 1950s when it was used to control tuberculosis. Powerful enough to almost eliminate biofilm completely, if it is continuously applied it will stop biofilm regrowing. Basically, UVC light disrupts the very DNA of the biofilm, preventing the cells from reproducing normally, and eventually destroying the cells over time.

As a result, a UVC-emitting lamp mounted close to the AHU components will keep the surface as clean as is humanly possible, eradicating and preventing the development of biofilm. This, in turn, will permanently improve the AHU’s performance over time, increasing energy efficiency and operational life.

Can I continue to use traditional methods?

Of course you can. As the old adage goes – if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. But there are certain facts you should probably aware of. Traditional cleaning methods simply aren’t as effective as the UVC solution. Biofilm will continue to build on the surfaces of the cooling coil and drain pan, no matter how hard you scrub it!

Manual cleaning also doesn’t break down the actual cell-composition of biofilm. Instead it simply removes the topmost layer, which can often force organic and inorganic material into the cooling coil – making your original problem even worse than when you started. With UVGI for cooling coils, the UVC light will reflect off the surface of the coil and continually work against the accumulation of biofilm.

So what’s the catch?

So far, there isn’t one. UVC systems can be modelled to fit or retrofit any installation and the running costs are ridiculously low. The benefits also lead to monetary value, as the higher efficiency gains from the constant removal of contaminants means that the cost of fitting the installation is recouped in savings. Within months.

As a result, it seems pretty obvious which route facility managers should be taking with regards to the upkeep and maintenance of their HVAC systems. UVC lighting as a cleaning agent may soon be the new benchmark for all facilities, so perhaps its best to get ahead of the trend while you can.

Why is this so important?

Recent legislation from the Energy Performance Buildings Directive says that all HVAC systems need to be regularly inspected every five years. This includes checking its efficiency, maintenance logs, potential issues and if it is doing the job it was designed for. This must be inspected by an accredited energy assessor as well.

Part of the compliance regulations also include certain guidelines for the correct use of F-Gases in air-conditioning. The legislation is vast (you can refer to our previous blog for more information) but Voltix Services has a team fully-versed in the complexities of changing legislation. As an example, R22 was once a common component in refrigerant air conditioning, and has since been banned. Voltix Services can find it and remove it, while offering you the best route forward for compliance.

Voltix Services offers a wide range of specialised maintenance services for our clients. Get in contact with our team today.