HVAC, or heating, ventilating and air conditioning, systems are a significant system in any modern household. These interconnected network of devices all function to provide thermal comfort and a more acceptable quality of indoor air. These systems should be reasonably easy to install, operate and maintain such that adequate ventilation, reduction of air infiltration, and maintenance of equal pressures across spaces are sufficiently attained.
Now, the main reason why heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are installed in most modern homes, any office building or any other large establishments is to effectively control the temperature inside these structures. This is closely associated to the need to control and effectively manage humidity or the presence of moisture in the air indoors.
However, even before we can begin to understand the need for maintaining an optimally functioning temporary heat (HVAC) system we need to first learn the fundamentals.
The ABCs of HVAC
Temporary heating systems can be in the form of central heating mechanisms or a locally installed heating element. Most central heating mechanisms are composed of a mechanism for heating water, air or steam, a series of ducts or pipes to convey the heat, and a device for transferring the heat generated to the outside air. The resulting heat can be either sent to various fixtures to provide hot running water or centralized heating during the cold winter months.
Ventilation systems function by replacing air in any space to control the temperature of that space. These systems also remove moisture, odors, smoke, dust, airborne particles and microorganisms, and even heat by moving air from one place to another. The quality of ventilation will usually indicate the quality of indoor air. A freely moving or adequately ventilated air space is literally free from harmful airborne particles which can otherwise prove harmful to human health. Because these systems move air currents about a certain place, these remove unwanted odors and too much moisture, transfer environmental air into the room, and prevent the stagnation of interior air.
Whereas heating systems work by providing heat to an otherwise cold room, air conditioning systems remove the excessive heat in an otherwise hot room. What makes these systems so efficient is that they provide cooling, ventilation, and control of moisture all at the same time. In most modern air conditioning systems, a dehumidifier function is also made an integral function of the system’s evaporator so that the control of room temperature is made more efficient. Dehumidification works by condensing moisture into the unit’s evaporator which is then drained through a pipe and into the outside of the building.
These three interrelated systems all work by making sure that the room temperature is at its optimum level so that it is comfortable to the occupants of the room. But what happens if the HVAC system is not really at its optimum level of functioning?
An Ill-Functioning HVAC
An ill-functioning, or non-functioning, HVAC system can often lead to a variety of problems, almost all of which are associated with human health. Since one of the major roles of the system is to provide good quality of indoor air, a severely compromised system will result to a severely compromised quality of indoor air.
With poor indoor air quality comes the likelihood of increasing humidity which can predispose the formation and development of mold and mildew colonies. Although relatively harmless to most individuals, these microorganisms can become especially life-threatening to individuals who may have had a history of hypersensitivity reactions. People whose immune systems are severely compromised are also at an increased risk of developing clinical symptoms that can be fatal if left untreated.
1. Mold and mildew infestation can produce allergic symptoms to individuals who may have known allergies to pollen or who are especially susceptible to such microorganisms. These microorganisms produce and release microscopic spores into the air. Because of the relatively inefficient ventilation, the air is stagnant and as such the spore remains in the indoor air until such time that it is inhaled by anyone in the room.
2. Majority of the clinical symptoms brought about by the invading mold and mildew spores can be relatively simple and uncomplicated like runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, inflamed and irritated eyes, cough, sore throat, skin itching, and skin irritation like redness.
3. In individuals whose immune system functioning is severely compromised, clinical symptoms can be especially life threatening. These can include shortness of breath, laryngeal spasms, difficulty breathing, pneumonia, encephalitis, kidney infections, and, in rare instances, even death.
The relatively poor quality of indoor air will also mean that airborne particles can remain suspended in the air for extended periods of time. And just like mold and mildew spores that remain airborne even after some time, particulate matter can remain in the air and inhaled by virtually anyone in the room. Although the clinical symptoms may vary from those associated with mold and mildew spore infection, these remain largely localized in the respiratory passages.
Whatever is the clinical symptom, one thing is sure, the quality of indoor air has to be corrected so that moisture is effectively eliminated, humidity is controlled, adequate air movement is facilitated, and air impurities are effectively filtered.
This is the reason why an optimally functioning temporary heat (HVAC) system is a requirement for a healthier living environment.
Optimizing for Better Results
Since we now have the basic understanding why a fully functioning HVAC system is considered important, we can start making considerable progress towards ensuring better quality of indoor air. The most important thing to understand here is that the HVAC system should be installed by a professional. Although a do-it-yourself installation can be practical and work at times, there are certain issues that only a professional can adequately address. The efficiency of the placement of the various ducts and pipes as well as the system’s heating and radiator mechanisms can be ensured by a professional HVAC installer. Having him coordinate with the designer of the house is essentially the most ideal way to go. This means that even before you start building your home, you may want your architect to design the most efficient HVAC system for the builders to follow.
However, majority of the cases we now have will call for retrofitting old systems with newer and more advanced HVAC systems. This also means looking into the old system design (if there is any) or even studying the structural blueprint of one’s home. However the homeowner wishes to approach the optimization of his HVAC system greatly depends on his understanding of the nature of the system.
Now, if an HVAC system is already installed in your home or office building, you can perform the following basic maintenance to ensure optimal functioning of the HVAC system.
1. The selection of the most appropriate filter is a crucial activity in the maintenance of the HVAC system. Since the system filters impurities in the indoor air, the quality of the air filter will be a major consideration. As a rule of thumb, homeowners should choose a filter with an efficiency rating of not lower than 11 because this is the minimum level that can effectively remove very small particles. A filter made of cotton or synthetic fabric can boost the filtration efficiency further while a pleated filter can increase the effective area of filtration.
2. Generally, air filters should be changed at least every six months, depending of course on the dirt and debris load of the filter. This requires you to visually inspect the filters of your HVAC system at least once a month.
3. Clean the evaporator coils at least once or even twice a year, depending on the workload of your HVAC system. Since evaporator coils act as dehumidifiers, there is an increased likelihood of mildew growing in these areas. This is because the coil is continuously damp brought about by the condensation of moisture from the indoor air. Furthermore, one side of the evaporator coil is in contact with warm and humid air from outside. If you notice mildew to be growing in these coils, a commercially available cleaning solution with excellent dwell times should be used to clean and remove the fungal growth.
4. Clean the condenser coils also at least once or twice a year, simultaneously with the evaporator coil. Because the condenser coil can be exposed to unfiltered air from the outside of the home, its condition can deteriorate over a period of time due to the accumulation of dirt and debris. Do not forget to treat the coils with the recommended cleaning and sanitizing solution so that microorganism growth is prevented. Periodic and regular cleaning and maintenance of both the evaporator and condenser coils not only translate to better indoor air quality, it can also translate to better energy efficiency.
5. Perform a thorough visual inspection of the air intake at least once every six months because water can accumulate around the air handlers. These areas can predispose to mildew growth such that the spores that they produce and release can be taken up by the HVAC system and circulated into the indoor air. If water is present, remove this immediately and thoroughly dry the area.
There are practically a lot of things homeowners can do to prevent any problems in the HVAC system. For best results, it is always advisable to consult professional help such as those companies that offer various cleanup and restoration services. The bottom line is that by making sure the HVAC system is functioning properly, the good quality of indoor air is maintained and the ill effects of moisture accumulation prevented.