The symptoms start slowly, like the common cold. Nasal congestion, headaches, fatigue. But hey, it’s work, and you’re tired. You’re no stranger to a little seasonal sniffling and maybe you had one too many cocktails or sugar cookies the night before, so your head is feeling it today.
Maybe your office is too hot and you end up with memos stuck to your sweaty arms. Even more common, you bring a sweater to work because it’s just too cold and your chilled fingers don’t seem to work as quickly on your computer keyboard. Being uncomfortable makes you a little cranky, and you spend time trying to remedy that instead of working.
If any of that sounds familiar, the problem likely lies with either a contaminated air conditioning unit or one that was improperly designed for the space you’re in.
Whether you’re a small business owner with a few rooms in an office, or manage a large commercial space, here’s what you need to know about how your air conditioning unit can dramatically affect your health and productivity.
Too Hot, Too Cold… Or Just Right?
Installing an air conditioning unit in a commercial space involves a whole lot more than simply hoisting a unit onto the roof and connecting it to a few ducts.
Air conditioners must be sized appropriately to the space. And that involves a whole lot more than square footage. It’s just as important to take into account the building’s maximum capacity – more people means more heat and more power required to cool.
The building’s exposure to sun also comes into play. A room that gets full sun during the hottest hours of the day will require an entirely different cooling capacity than one in a shaded corner. Windows, roofing material and structure matter, too.
How the space will be used is another factor. A room full of computers will be a whole lot warmer than one without and have different cooling needs.
All of these things matter when sizing an air conditioning unit. When done properly, the air conditioner will work effectively, maintaining a comfortable temperature.
But why is that so important? So what if it’s a little too warm or too cold? Couldn’t you just grab your sweater and deal with it?
Well, if you want to be productive, temperature matters. Studies have shown that when it’s too hot or too cold, concentration is more difficult. Chilly employees tend to make more typing errors, increasing hourly labor costs by a full 10%. In fact, once study showed that increasing the temperature a mere 10 degrees – from 68 to 77 – increased typing output by 150%! That stat is no joke when you’re trying to get things done – or paying someone to do so.
Sick Building Syndrome Is Real
While the precise causes of Sick Building Syndrome are not entirely known, the symptoms are common. They most often involve headaches, dizziness, congestion, sneezing, shortness of breath and even nosebleeds.
The most likely culprit is a malfunctioning or inadequate HVAC system.
There are definite benefits to being in an air conditioned room vs. the great outdoors, especially if you suffer from allergies or asthma, or work in an urban or heavily trafficked environment where air pollution is greater. But the benefits are quickly eliminated if the air conditioning unit is inadequate or poorly maintained.
When the system isn’t maintained properly, condensation can build up, leading to mold and bacterial growth that can have serious health consequences. Other biological contaminants like viruses and fungus can breed in ducts and be recirculated throughout the building by the air conditioning system.
Improper ventilation means that your very own breathing could be making you sick. With every exhale, carbon dioxide in the air increases. If stale, indoor air isn’t being exchanged at the proper rate with fresh, filtered air, then you’re simply not getting the clean air and oxygen you need to feel – and perform – your best.
Everything from furniture to carpets, cleaning fluids and air fresheners have chemicals in them that must be filtered out or they can contribute to poor health and a general feeling of malaise.
In fact, commercial buildings are required by law to maintain a certain ratio of fresh air to indoor air for this very reason. That means air conditioning units need proper air changers, and dampers to control for excess humidity.
Without regular maintenance and a well-designed system, the building itself could literally be making you sick.
What To Do?
If you, your employees, or visitors are uncomfortable in your building, or if they walk out feeling worse than when they walked in, it’s time for serious remediation. Start by asking a professional to evaluate your system for sizing, efficiency, ventilation and cleanliness.
The system should be neither too small nor too large, take into account the myriad factors that can affect comfort, and effectively handle airflow and ventilation. Ducts should also be examined to ensure that they are free from contaminants and obstructions, and even that they are sufficiently suited to manage the temperature and ventilation of the building.
If you haven’t maintained your HVAC system properly, start now! System components and ducts can harbor an untold number of pollutants, all of which can contribute to everything from allergies to serious illness.
Remember, a well-designed, properly maintained air conditioner and HVAC system will pay dividends – not only in improved health but in increased output.
If your office is perpetually too hot or too cold, or if you suspect that it’s actually making you sick, contact us for a free consultation and estimate to get to the root of – and solve – the problem.