Technical Corner

Recreation Facility IAQ – A Managers Asset Management Challenge

July 25, 2022

Most public buildings have a constant environment to control and one of the biggest challenges of maintaining this constant environment is often based on weather changes or user loads. Recreation facilities not only have these issues but also often operate fossil fueled equipment indoors, have concessions and a variety of toxic or noxious gases on site or deal with users that react to the slightest change in temperature (eg. aquatic environment). In addition, air management systems are usually designed and installed to minimum code which often begins to reduce capability within a few short years of operation. Most recreation managers and operators fail to have even a basic understanding of this equipment on a day-by-day basis which usually has a “set it and forget it” approach.

For decades the ORFA has spoken about different qualities of ice in every rink. In hindsight, we should have been also identifying that IAQ (indoor air quality) in every recreation facility would also be different. Early buildings had a simplified air management design. A large exhaust (barn) fan was usually installed at one end of the room and louvers to draw in fresh air at the other. Operators often manually turned the system on and would turn it off once they felt the bad air had been removed. Turning the system off was not always guaranteed. Today’s recreation facility air management systems are designed with the most advanced technology available. Sensors often monitor air quality and can react as required.

Today’s facility manager must commit to providing safer and healthier indoor recreational environments. Monitoring air management equipment performance will help managers identify and implement low-or no-cost measures to significantly improve IAQ. A lot of the initial concerns during the pandemic centered on how facilities managers managed HVAC systems and their effects on IAQ. Some managers added newer and more efficient HVAC system components. But that step was a luxury many recreation facilities could not afford. In most cases, managers focused on maintaining IAQ with mechanical systems already in place.

Facility managers are encouraged to design programs that addresses IAQ concerns while identifying measures to keep IAQ high with the systems already in place. By developing written standard operating procedures (SOPs), making outdoor air intake modifications, and installing and maintaining supplemental air cleaning systems, an improved IAQ can be obtained. HVAC systems control the air exchange in a room and clean the air. There are many components involved with older systems requiring proper maintenance to make sure the systems work as effectively as possible.

Creating written HVAC system maintenance SOPs that include regular (quarterly) HVAC system inspections using a ventilation checklist. These inspections must include:

    • Examination of outdoor air intakes, system cleanliness, outdoor air supplies, air distribution, exhaust systems and quality of outdoor air.
    • Cleaning of clean air supply diffusers, grilles, return registers and outside air intakes to prevent contaminants from entering the system and spreading.
    • Inspections of outside air intakes to ensure they work properly with no standing water in the vicinity of the air intakes.
    • Inspections of the building automation system, dampers, actuators, and physical system components to ensure they work as designed.

Once completed, a written response plan that prioritizes issues based on their scope, urgency and consequences for the safety, health, and wellness of workers and users should be generated.

This data should be used to create and implement an equipment replacement plan based on the expected life-expectancy of the equipment. By establishing a baseline through these assessments, a manager will be well positioned to develop a three to five-year plan based on the age and efficiency of the equipment and existing preventive maintenance program. To be successful, preventive maintenance cannot be sporadic to obtain optimal efficiency of the systems.

Facility managers must research air inflow rates based on current ASHRAE Standards that specifies minimum ventilation rates and other measures to provide IAQ that minimizes adverse health effects. The solution to pollution is dilution. With HVAC systems, this involves introducing more outside air and keeping the equipment maintained and operating well. Managers must examine the amount of outdoor air the system brings in. Managers must accept that outdoor air flow standards constantly evolve, making it essential to regularly check standards.

One of the proven changes is using appropriate (MERV rated) air filters in all HVAC systems. Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values (MERV) are filter's ability to capture larger particles between 0.3 and 10 microns (µm). It is essential that a qualified technician evaluate what type of filter can be used efficiently in the current system. Selecting the wrong filter might tax the equipment. The wrong air filter may obstruct the airstream, which slows it down and makes the motor work harder to push air through duct work. Once installed, it is critical that operators change filters as required. Other measures include examining the diffuser where air comes out to ensure they are not blocked or dirty. A dirty diffuser blows dirt into the air creating additional housekeeping requirements. A low-cost change is to dust or vacuum these diffusers regularly.

Computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) for maintenance operations can help managers schedule and record operations and preventive or planned maintenance activities on facility equipment. This software can further help managers track HVAC preventive maintenance and maintenance operations.

Managers hoping to improve IAQ should pay attention to the way a building gets cleaned. Proper floor matting, the right equipment and safe cleaning supplies and chemicals are key initiatives that help improve overall indoor air quality. Mats at building entrances prevent contaminants from making their way into the building and eventually into the air. The mats scrape away pollutants as people enter the building. Cleaning chemicals also can affect the air we breathe.

Vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters can prevent releasing contaminants into the air. Cleaners can use automatic floor scrubbers that also vacuum soil, dirt, and dust, reducing moisture and dirt inside the building. Housekeeping staff can also use microfiber cloths that effectively remove soil, dust, and pathogens from surfaces.

One of the largest challenges in our industry is the “we have always done it this way” roadblock. Facility managers must always be open to change. Many times, improved operations can be achieved with little investment. The first step is always understanding the issue with the second step being the willingness is investing in understanding how the issue can be addressed. Managers that are able to implement low or no-cost measures that can improve IAQ today will be the industry leaders of tomorrow.

    Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Technical Director, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association

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