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Ventilation Requirements for Office Buildings

Photo: UnsplashOffice buildings around the country are occupied by millions of workers for hours at a time every day. Keeping these buildings safe for employees is a top concern for building managers, designers and the companies that occupy them. 

Proper office ventilation requirements is a key portion of that.

However, varying standards in building codes and safety standards can make it difficult to know what the minimum requirements are. Let’s take a look at some of the basic ventilation requirements for office buildings so you can assess whether your building is in compliance with them.

Basic Office Ventilation Requirements

People assume that their HVAC system brings in outdoor air, treats it to the appropriate cooling (or heating) level, and that’s the end of the process. In reality, however, office space ventilation requirements need a more complex system that depends on a combination of processes. There are four basic steps:

  • Air intake occurs adding clean air to the system.
  • Outdoor air is conditioned and mixed with current air supply.
  • Conditioned air distributes throughout the building.
  • The system exhausts old or recirculated air.

These steps enable mechanical ventilation. If problems in building design or maintenance causes one of the steps to fail to perform, the building’s overall air quality will suffer. If the air quality deteriorates, it can cause occupational safety and health risks.

At a minimum, office ventilation requirements must address the following issues:

  • Envelope tightness
  • Combustion appliances
  • Duct leakage and contamination
  • Ventilation distribution
  • Occupant controls
  • Filtration

Air Supply Building Code Standards

While rules vary from state to state and even city to city, there is one core standard of office building ventilation requirements that has held up over time. In 1989 the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers defined indoor air quality (IAQ) conditions in the Standard 62-1989.

These guidelines set minimum acceptable levels of ventilation rates for different indoor environments. While the rates recommended in Standard 62-1989 are voluntary, they form the basis of many local building codes regarding ventilation. If the building you’re in fails to meet them, it is a good argument for an upgrade to the ventilation system.

Further reading on air quality and building codes:

4 essential tips to improve indoor air quality
11 surprising indoor air quality facts
What are building codes and how do you find them?

Common Mechanical Ventilation Problems

The entire ventilation system must work in unison for it to perform optimally. There are individual factors that can decrease the effectiveness of a ventilation system. 

Some of the most common ones are:

  • An intermittent flow of air wreaks havoc with temperature regulation systems. Indoor environment controls are affected, leading to insufficient ventilation. 
  • Insufficient local exhaust ventilation for an indoor pollutants such cleaners or other materials can lead to unbalanced ventilation and a dangerous breathing zone.
  • By the same token, poorly placed intake vents can pull outdoor pollution into the system. All vents should be evaluated to prevent these issues.
  • The ventilation requirements for a windowless office are different. If your office has windows that do not open, the mechanical ventilation must account for this.
  • Even the best designed ventilation systems can be taken down by a faulty component. Proper maintenance is crucial.

If you are experiencing a noticeable issue in your business ventilation, checking for any of these issues is a good way to begin to diagnose the problem.

Create the Best Indoor Environment with Good Ventilation

To ensure that your office building has adequate ventilation, start encouraging best practices regarding office ventilation requirements. Confirm that the HVAC system is being operated as intended and receives maintenance. Monitor any potential polluting activities such as construction and check that furniture placement doesn’t block the air supply.

A little bit of effort goes a long way to meeting office ventilation requirements and running a cleaner, healthier office. And if it’s time to upgrade, those improvements will ultimately help increase the overall value of the building.

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