Billy Prewitt, while highlighting the health hazards caused by mould, stresses that it is the job of the HVAC industry to offer superior service in design, remediation and future prevention to combat the problem.
The HVAC industry employs its own unique lexicon, some of which probably sounds foreign to those on the outside. LEED credits, energy loss mitigation, vapour barriers and lagging adhesives may not conjure up any specific imagery to the layperson. But one term that’s sure to get a facility owner or manager’s attention – and may well turn their stomach – is “sick facility.”
Mouldy ductwork is very serious business indeed. Some of the more common complaints from occupants of a sick facility are dizziness, shortness of breath, red or watery eyes, and coughing. Poor Indoor Air Quality due to mould growth can even cause far more serious symptoms. It goes without saying, therefore, that preventing and addressing mould growth within a facility’s HVAC system is of paramount concern to the HVAC expert.
There are tens of thousands of types of mould worldwide, many of them harmless to humans. However, unsealed ductwork presents the optimal environment for the incubation and growth of microbial pollutants that may cause serious illness. Accumulated moisture is the key component. Water from cooling coils, equipment condensation, and regular heating and cooling cycles introduce moisture into the nooks and crannies of an HVAC system – some of them far beyond the scope of a regular visual inspection. Mould spores settle in such conditions and begin to digest whatever they can, wherever they can, ultimately growing and releasing more spores.
What is to be done about microbial growth in an HVAC system? As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A properly designed, sealed and maintained air distribution system, including ductwork, dehumidifiers, air filters, intakes and dampers will help to mitigate the problem before it starts. Regularly maintained filters, designed to keep ducts clean and free from debris, are becoming more and more effective at removing very small particles from ductwork, stymieing their growth.
Naturally, remediation is the answer when mould, mildew and bacteria are threatening the welfare of a facility. A remediation plan begins with moisture and microbe cleanup. Advanced tools, such as air compressors, vacuums and cleaning/sealing robots, can be used in hard-to-reach places and treat them. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency for final cleanup after areas are fully dried. Portions of ductwork may need to be replaced. Sealing and coating ductwork with a non-pesticidal antimicrobial coating is a way of preventing further mould infiltration down the line.
Only an expert is capable of determining the level of mould infestation and the proper response. Nevertheless, facility owners and managers should not wait until mould has become a serious health problem before they take the time to address it. It is the job of the HVAC industry to provide the public service of highlighting the dangers poor IAQ due to mould, mildew and bacteria can pose to a building, and to offer top-level service in design, remediation, and future prevention.
The writer is Marketing Manager, Carlisle HVAC. He can be contacted at Billy.Prewitt@CarlisleHVAC.com