Fall Sicknesses and their Relationship to Heating and Cooling Systems

A source of biological spores

Many people typically get ill during the Fall season.  Although there are many reasons one might get ill, a seldom thought of culprit may lie within a buildings heating and cooling system.

Out of Sight – Out of Mind

Owners seldom pay attention to the insides of their HVAC system.  If it works, then that is the end of any involvement with the system by owners or maintenance staff.

But HVAC systems get dirty.  Damp and dark interiors are perfect breeding grounds for mold and bacteria.  It is common for fungal and bacterial matter to build up within the HVAC system.  Growth and amplification of fungus and bacteria most often occurs during the summer operating months where humidity are high.   Growth can be so substantial that the condensate or water collection pan within the HVAC unit becomes a reservoir for dirt, and biological matter.  The result is what is sometimes called a “biological broth” comprising fungal (mold) growth and debris that passes around or through air conditioning filters.

Once you have had the occasion to see this unhealthy soup, you probably won’t want to see it again.

Operational Problems Caused by Microbes

This same collection of microbials often causes the drain to stop up in the HVAC unit, with the result of water overflowing onto carpet or sometimes into the floor below.  Either way, the result is a nasty situation.

Microbiological growth occurs in the  summer months where warm temperatures, nutrients and moisture abound.    But is in the  iFall they are particularly troublesome.

It is at this time of year that the cooling system is turned off, and the heating system starts up.  Fungus has already dried up within the water collection pan, coils, and interior surfaces.  When viewed, the water collection pan which a few months previous looked nasty, now looks just dirty with a small amount of debris left.

The average thought is: “Well, thank heavens!   That mess is gone and now I am free from it!”

Nothing could be further from the truth however.

Mold or fungus goes into a dry spore form when there are no nutrients or water to promote its growth.  Microbial spores are very small objects, and individually are below the limits of human visibility in most cases.  What one sees are millions and more spores grouped together.  Some estimates have put the numerical count in the trillions of spores depending upon the extent of the growth.

Spores are  light, and are easily disturbed.  When disturbed they get released into the air flow going to occupied areas.  Often just starting up an air handler or system is enough to shake loose several thousand or more spores.   SIzes of spores are such that they may easily become breathed into ones lungs as well as alight onto room surfaces.

Many of these spores are less than 5 microns (30 microns is the lower limit of human visibility).  Particles of this size easily penetrate into lungs.

Allergic illnesses can develop resulting in some of the following symptoms:  sneezing, fatigue, headaches, asthma and others. The phrase “Sick Building Syndrome” is associated with this type of contamination.

Is there a solution to this?

While there is no broad method of handling all contaminants, there are ways of addressing deposits within the HVAC system.

Essentials of Handling

These involve keeping the microbial contamination out of the condensate water collection pans in the HVAC system continually to avoid build-up in the first place.  Controlled Release Technologies developed the first timed-released solution to handle this problem without constant attention in 1986.  Since then, remarkable technological developments have been made.

You can read about how some of these solutions can help your air handlers  be kept clean without constant maintenance attention in one of our upcoming blogs.   We value your experiences with how dirty air handling units can affect occupant comfort.  Comments are always appreciated.

Technical Corner: Cleaning and Coating HVAC Systems to Improve the Bottom Line

Recently, the National Air Duct Cleaners Association requested I write an article for their association magazine, DucTales. The following is an excerpt from that article:

Most often, owners or managers of buildings have little forewarning that an air handler may be on its last leg. Frequently, a HVAC owner receives an unexpected notice that an air handler needs to be replaced, which puts a strain on the annual budget. Additionally, it is usually the case that when one air handler needs to be replaced, the others are not too far behind, as all were probably installed at the same time.

The lifespan of a HVAC unit has a tremendous impact on the overall costs per year of ownership. A unit that is viable for 30 years will offer a better return on investment than a unit that only lasts 20 years, as long as efficiencies are maintained. Coatings can and will improve the cost of ownership through useful life extension, and can be a significant driving force in management electing to opt for this preventive measure. It is no secret that refurbishing units, rather than replacing them, can save tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for the owner.

For the whole article visit: https://www.nadca.com/download/Controlled%20Release.pdf

Lynn Burkhart is the founder and president of Controlled Release Technologies, Inc. located in Shelby, North Carolina. More information about the company, and its products, can be found at http://www.cleanac.com and by calling (800) 766-9057.

Case in Point: The Nature of the Beast?

Many mold remediation companies use coatings to prevent future insulation contamination. However, due to their physical and chemical properties, coatings are difficult to maintain and apply. Sometimes coatings separate, and other times they clog the lines, resulting in both a loss of product and man hours. Most companies see this as “the nature of the beast,” but others are looking for something better.

One such company contacted me several years ago. Being a large remediation company in Colorado, they believed the separation was due to either low temperatures, or the vendor shipping old paint. Either way, it was discouraging to open a brand new bucket only to discover that the paint must be discarded.

The caller went on to explain how even when the product did not separate, there was still a loss due to the manufacturer using fillers, which clogged the lines. When clogs occurred, they had to flush out the lines, wasting some of the product, but moreover, wasting numerous man hours. Then they discovered our product, EPA-registered Bioflex.

At first they were concerned regarding the price of Bioflex, but quickly realized that the product and man hours saved more than made up for it. Bioflex opened their eyes to how a coating should work. What a relief for them, to be able to use every bucket on a pallet without having to flush the sprayer lines once!

While their company was already well thought of in the area, their switch to Bioflex set a higher standard in customer expectations. Additionally, the overall look of their finished jobs dramatically improved, as one coat of Bioflex provided better coverage than several coats of the “other stuff.”

At CRT, we are happy that our coatings provide better results in half the time. Bioflex is unaffected by freezing, and each batch is filtered to ensure sprayers will not get clogged.


Rachelle Tinley
is the assistant executive director of Controlled Release Technologies, Inc., a research, development and manufacturing firm based in Shelby, North Carolina. CRT is an EnergyStar Partner and manufacturer of independently-certified Green products for HVAC maintenance. Since 1986, CRT has been creating leading edge HVAC maintenance products that have become industry standards, used in thousands of commercial buildings world-wide. CRT employees are members of BOMA, ASHRAE, ASHE and the American Chemical Society. www.cleanac.com (800) 766-9057.

 

Business Survival and Sustainability: Handling Critical Electronic Data

The Voice of Experience

Whether you’re working at a job or own a company, most likely you’re dependent upon electronic data and storage. Your records are the meat of the past and the future of your success. What if that electronically stored data was missing, damaged, or the equipment became nonfunctional?

Yes, I am going to stress to you how important backing up your information is, but not the way you may think.

You can back up onto disks and put them in your desk, which is great and easy to retrieve. You can back up onto a central back up drive at your office, and you should do that too.

However, these actions are not enough to save your information if you have a real, on-site catastrophe.

Think about it. Your business or job is your survival, it’s your money line, it’s how you pay the bills. Don’t short change critical systems; handle them before a crisis hits.

It is easy, inexpensive, secure, and trouble free to set all of your computers to back up their critical files to a remote, off site location. This can save you a lot of hassle in the event you experience the worst.

It gives you one less thing to worry about when you have so much to handle.

Check out Crash Plan at http://www.crashplan.com. You will be pleased with their response and simplicity; and they are inexpensive too. We use them at CRT and highly recommend their service.

Patricia Burkhart is the executive director of Controlled Release Technologies, Inc., a research, development and manufacturing firm based in Shelby, North Carolina. CRT is an EnergyStar Partner and manufacturer of independently-certified Green products for HVAC maintenance. Since 1986, CRT has been creating leading edge HVAC maintenance products that have become industry standards, used in thousands of commercial buildings world-wide. CRT employees are members of BOMA, ASHRAE, ASHE and the American Chemical Society. www.cleanac.com (800) 766-9057.

Technical Corner: The Value of Coating HVAC Insulation

Most air conditioning systems built over the last thirty years have air distribution pathways, or ducts, lined with fiberglass insulation. Unfortunately, insulation absorbs dirt and other matter, including microbial spores, greases and even oils. These particles penetrate the insulation, becoming entrapped and inaccessible for removal.

Due to particle entrapment, it is common for insulation to get dirty, and downright nasty in some cases. Even a slight bang on the duct work or unit sidewalls could send a cloud of dust and other matter into occupied areas. Listed below are a few of the problems commonly experienced:

1. Mold entering through the air stream is responsible for most objectionable odors encountered in systems. Entrapped mold spores eventually grow, due to the presence of humidity and nutrients within the insulation, causing undesirable consequences for building owners.

2. Organics, such as oil, can enter duct work if an air handler is located near a truck loading dock. The incoming air from around the dock usually contains diesel exhaust and other fumes. Some of these particulates, or fumes, may become lodged within the porous insulation, eventually becoming a source of odors.

3. Over the years fiberglass may lose its integrity. This results in small fiberglass particles being released into the air stream. In some cases, building owners can actually see black specs on desktops, which are later identified as being fiberglass particles.

Because of these problems HVAC contractors and NADCA duct cleaners often recommend cleaning and coating the duct work and insulation. As stated above, uncoated fiberglass insulation contains dirt and other matter that cannot be successfully cleaned. However, coated duct work is smooth and easily cleaned just by wiping the surface of the material. Additionally, sealing ducts with a coating eliminates the release of fiberglass emissions into the airstream.

Purchasing and recommending coatings can go a long way towards protecting your, or your customer’s investment, significantly reducing odors and emissions into occupied areas. For most building owners and contactors alike, it’s a win-win situation.

Lynn Burkhart is the founder and president of Controlled Release Technologies, Inc. located in Shelby, North Carolina. More information about the company, and its products, can be found at http://www.cleanac.com and by calling (800) 766-9057.