Poor Air Quality and Equipment Operation Caused by Improper Maintenance

by | Nov 30, 2021 | HVAC Maintenance

Many air conditioning systems are not getting proper maintenance. Poor air quality issues directly impact the environment you work and play in. But have you considered the effect of poor maintenance on the operation and efficiency of your equipment? I will review both of these issues in this two-part discussion.

Air Quality

Poor air quality in a building has many facets that usually show up through allergies, viruses, smells, and a genuinely stale feeling in the air when you first walk in the door. Then, when you walk out of the building, the air feels cleaner and crisper. It is just a feeling, but it is there. That’s poor air quality. Many factors can cause this feeling or a flare-up of allergies. The first one I will discuss is poor air filtration. 

Air filtration media is rated on a scale based on how small of a particulate it will trap. This scale is called the MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating. Most air conditioning companies use MERV 8 filter media, a standard MERV rating that equipment manufacturers design their equipment around. Custom or purpose-built air conditioners can be designed with a much higher MERV-rated filter media. 

However, not all air filter media are built the same; they are just similar. The frame of the filter media plays a major role in the fitment and sturdiness of the media in your machine. If the filter media doesn’t fit tight in your filter rack, then dirty air can pass around your air filters and collect in the cooling, heating, and fan assembly. As the air filters start getting dirty, more and more air is pulled around the media, bringing dirt, viruses, and odors. It doesn’t take long before this all collects in your ductwork and eventually makes itself known by discoloring your diffusers and even the ceiling around the diffusers. Also, the cheaper filter with the lesser frame, after collecting enough dust in the filter media, can collapse and fall into the coil, causing not only the dirty air to be pulled directly into the machine but also water leaks as the media gets saturated from the moisture on the cooling coil. 

Eventually, your machine will look like the machine in the illustration below. We were called to this building to get their equipment cleaned up and working properly. The cleaning was performed by a competitor, who had the cheapest price and had maintained the building for years. It wasn’t until a new manager came in and saw the equipment’s condition that he knew he had to do something different and called me. This picture shows the leaving air side of the evaporator coil and some of the inside of the blower cabinet. The dirt has been pulled completely through the filter section and then through the 8” thick evaporator coil. You can tell by the corner of the blower assembly and the little bit of the cabinet in the picture that this has been going on for quite some time and wasn’t getting cleaned properly.

Not only does this lead to foul air in the building, but it also inhibits the machine’s capacity by raising humidity levels in the machine and the building, creating a perfect environment for bacterial growth. At the bottom of the picture, you can also see that the dirt has collected on the machine’s surface. That dirt held the inherent dampness created by the cooling process and started rusting the machine’s surfaces. The most important part of proper maintenance is a good filter media that is installed and changed regularly. It keeps debris out of the cooling coil, which limits the machine’s capacity. This helps keep the surfaces clean so the debris can’t hold moisture, preventing rust and cycling clean air through the building. Quality media installed correctly is worth the added expense to ensure a healthier atmosphere in the building.

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