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Indoor Air Quality in the Workplace: 6 Signs Your Workplace May Have a Problem with Mould

man with headache in workplace

How common is mould? It is everywhere – literally. Mould spores are all around us in the air, water, and soil.

Some moulds are good. They make yogurt, cheese, soy sauce and many medications (including penicillin and other antibiotics).

Other moulds are bad. These require goggles and face masks and special equipment to clean up and dispose of.

While the former has saved many a life and nourished far more besides, the latter can strike fear into the heart of even the most stalwart home or business owner.

Mould spores are tiny and cannot be seen with the naked eye. By the time spores have colonized a space and spread to the point at which they become visible, the problem is often severe.

Luckily, mould generally announces its presence first through more obvious warning signs. In this blog post, learn what to watch for to get early warning your space may have a mould problem.

1. There is a persistent strange odour in the building

A strange odour is among the first and most common of the warning signs mould often sends out when it colonizes a space.

This odour has been described in a number of ways. But there are some similarities that seem to stay consistent regardless of the size of the space or the degree of infestation:

  • The odour is persistent and does not respond to air fresheners, fragrances or even ventilation efforts.

  • The odour smells dank, earthy, musty or grassy – some describe it more like “dirty gym socks.”

  • The odour becomes immediately apparent when first entering the space.

2. Certain areas in the building are consistently humid or damp

Depending on the age of your building and the state of any existing ductwork or ventilation system, some areas may be naturally more humid than others. Poorly routed ductwork, in particular, can often cause chronic temperature and humidity imbalances that will then lead to mould growth and buildup.

A basement or crawl space is usually damper and more humid than any area above ground. This is due to the nature of having a soil-surrounded space versus a space surrounded by air.

Condensation on windows, damp or soggy patches on carpeting or a higher natural humidity level (such as in laundry rooms or unvented storage areas) can also indicate areas at a higher risk of developing mould infestations.

3. The building was impacted by a significant leak or flood in the past

If you have occupied a commercial building for some time and/or you know of its history from a prior owner, you may be aware of a significant leak or water event that impacted it in the past.

Here, it is smart to find out all you can about any remediation work that was done (or not) after that event.

Poorly done remediation or a lack of remediation can leave trapped moisture or even cover it up with insulation or vapour barriers that actually end up encouraging mould growth rather than repelling it!

4. Workers are complaining of health symptoms

When mould infestation gets bad enough, it becomes possible to sense it immediately upon entering the infested space.

Headaches, runny noses, watery eyes, coughing and sneezing, headache, mental fogginess, daytime sleepiness, skin itching, rashes and respiratory symptoms can all signal that there is a mould problem.

The more workers are affected, the more likely it is the root cause of the health symptoms is mould in the building.

5. Employee health insurance claims are on the rise

Another possible indication that your building has a mould problem is when you see an ongoing increase in worker sick days and employee health insurance claims. Mould can cause health issues ranging from mild to severe.

On the mild end of the spectrum, persistent low-grade health symptoms like those described in number four above may interfere with productivity.

As the mould issue becomes more serious, worker sick days and health insurance claims may increase as occasional health symptoms become chronic and more severe.

6. There is visible discoloration or staining on surfaces

Yet another way that mould announces its presence is through visible discoloration and staining on surfaces.

Seeing darker patches, small dark dots, white powdery “dust” or what appears to be staining may actually be mould spores growing and spreading.

Is It Mould or Something Else? 5 Common Workplace Indoor Air Contaminants

Mould problems tend to be headline-grabbing by their very nature. Everyone is afraid of mould, especially when it is the dreaded black mould.

But mould isn’t the only type of indoor air contaminant that can cause air quality and structural issues in the workplace.

The five most common types of indoor air quality contaminants in the workplace are these:

  1. Microbials: bacteria, fungi, mould, mildew

  2. Volatile organic compounds: off-gassing from office equipment, cleaning supplies, solvents, pesticides, adhesives and glues, disinfectants, etc.

  3. Particulates: dust and dust mites, tobacco, combustion byproducts

  4. Harmful/radioactive gases and vapours: ozone, radon, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide

  5. People: use of personal care products including fragrance, deodorant, aerosols

Before assuming your workspace has a mould problem, it is worth doing an indoor air quality test to accurately determine the true cause of the symptoms you are observing.

Improving Workplace Indoor Air Quality

Today, many effective aftermarket tools exist to clean, filter, ventilate and purify your indoor air at work and at home.

Conducting an indoor air quality test will pinpoint the critical indoor air quality concerns and remediation needs to help you choose.

Get in Touch

Right now and through the end of February, save 10 percent off the cost of any of our three popular professional indoor air duct cleaning services.

Contact us online or give us a call at 905-544-2470.

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Pregnant? Don’t Let Toxic Indoor Air Harm Your Baby!

pregnant woman with hand on belly

Last year, Ontario made global news headlines when study results were published linking toxic indoor air to preterm deliveries and low birth weight.

More than 25,000 moms and infants participated in this study.

Exposure to airborne toxins delivered a 30 percent increased risk of low birth weight and a 20 percent increased risk of preterm delivery.

Here in Ontario, sulphur dioxide and other common toxins emitted by smelters, industrial plants and vehicle emissions are of particular concern. All can readily pass across the placenta to affect your unborn baby, as the research demonstrated.

What can you do to protect your family and your unborn child? Let's find out!

Where Are the Toxins Coming From?

The study traced the majority (67 percent) of the sulphur dioxide and associated toxins to Ontario’s utility plants and smelters.

Twenty-five percent was traced to emissions from other industrial sources.

The remaining 8 percent was found to come from vehicle emissions.

What Can You Do to Limit Your Exposure?

No matter how much you want to safeguard the health of your unborn baby, it simply isn’t feasible to stay indoors all day.

However, this is what the research team recommends when air quality alerts are issued. Stay indoors with the windows closed and keep windows closed when travelling as well.

Of course, this still doesn’t address the fact that outside air can easily become inside air, entering through leaks and cracks, wafting in through open doors and entering through vents and ducts.

It also doesn’t even touch on recent findings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that indoor air in North America is already up to 5 times more toxic than outdoor air!

Here, it almost seems laughable that the recommendation is to stay indoors. You are going to need to do a lot more than that to make sure you and your family have safe air to breathe!

How to Clean Up Your Indoor Air ASAP

Fear can be motivating. But it can also be paralyzing. The truth is, we have a global air quality issue on our hands today and sometimes it seems as if it is only going to get worse.

What you need to know is that there is a lot you can do to clean and purify your own personal air supply, even though you can’t always control the choices others make that may affect you.

The steps we are about to outline here will clean and purify your indoor air starting the very day you do them.

1. Schedule your indoor air duct cleaning and sanitizing service

(If you don’t have a central or ducted HVAC system, go ahead and skip ahead to step 2 here.)

Indoor air duct cleaning and sanitizing has only started to become popular in the last few years. The main reason it wasn’t popular before now is that no one really knew this service existed!

Today, thanks to a number of new research studies like the one we mentioned in the introduction here, plus other information available online, more is now known about how to remove toxins from our indoor air. This is how indoor air duct cleaning became common knowledge.

A professional air duct service typically takes less than half a day. Our team comes in and sends a tiny camera up into your air ducts. Then we look at the view with you and decide how to proceed.

If we see dirty, clogged ducts (which is usually the case), we roll in our negative pressure industrial rotobrush vacuum and pull all the dirt out. Then we send in a sanitizer to remove any remaining dust mites, bacteria, mould and mildew.

You really want to have your ducts cleaned before you do any of the other steps. This way, trapped toxins cannot be reintroduced into your indoor air when your HVAC system cycles on.

2. Install a heat recovery ventilator

A heat recovery ventilator is another one of those so-called new appliances that aren’t really new. It is just now getting the publicity it deserves thanks to new airtight construction standards designed to help reduce energy costs.

All new Toronto-area construction is now required to include a heat recovery ventilator to recycle heat energy and ventilate indoor air so it never gets stale and toxic.

3. Install a HEPA air filtration system

HEPA filtration is still the gold standard for removing airborne solids and particulate matter. A HEPA filter can remove solids as small as 1/100th of a single human hair! But HEPA filters are so dense that most residential HVAC appliances cannot work with them.

Installing a standalone HEPA air filtration system is a handy workaround.

4. Install an ultraviolet air purification system

HEPA filtration will take care of airborne particles. But for gaseous and liquid particulates, you need UV air purification instead. UV air purifiers use ultraviolet band-C light to neutralize harmful toxins by changing their molecular structure.

Like a HEPA filtration system, a UV air purifier can be retrofitted to work with any existing HVAC system. Both systems can work easily together with your HVAC units to filter and purify your indoor air.

5. Schedule your HVAC preventative maintenance and tune-up

Finally, if you have been putting off having your heating and cooling system serviced, it is time to get a date on the books.

The number one reason to do this is simple safety: the longer your HVAC goes without surface, the higher the likelihood of incomplete combustion sending toxic emissions into your indoor air. As well, clogged air filters, dusty blower motors and dirty coils represent a serious indoor air quality and home fire risk.

Get in Touch

Are you ready to clean up your personal indoor air supply but aren’t sure where to start? We can help!

Contact us online or give us a call at 905-544-2470.

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Want Cleaner Indoor Air? Why Just Upgrading Your Furnace Filter Isn’t Enough

furnace filter closeup

It seems like an easy fix.

You are tired of sneezing your way through spring, summer, fall and winter (while listening to your family suffer similarly).

So you decide to give your furnace filter an upgrade.

Maybe you will even treat yourself and get one of those high-density HEPA-rated furnace filters to catch all the tiny particles that keep invading your lungs.

Unfortunately, this is likely to cause as many problems as you assume it will solve. Most residential HVAC systems simply aren’t designed to handle high-grade air filters.

But there is still a lot you can do to clean, filter and purify your indoor air and feel better. Read on to learn how.

The Problem of Runtime

Runtime is problem number one when you are trying to put your furnace filter in charge of cleaning up your indoor air.

Runtime means the amount of time your furnace is actually on and running.

With Canada’s winters being what they are, your furnace is probably powered up all season. But how often does it actually cycle on (run)?

The air you are breathing inside your space is being filtered only when your furnace is actually cycling.

Some homeowners mistakenly decide to fix this issue by leaving their HVAC system in “on” mode rather than using the “auto” setting.

This may filter your air continuously, but wait until you see your power bills! There definitely is a cheaper way to achieve the same result (keep reading to learn about what to do instead).

The Issue of Airflow

Runtime isn’t the only obstacle you will face when trying to assign your furnace filter the job of cleaning your indoor air.

There is also the issue of airflow.

With insufficient airflow – exactly the type you will get when you try to pair a high-grade filter with most residential HVAC systems – yet again you end up with too little indoor air actually getting filtered.

You also end up with hefty power bills once again.

The Issue of MERV Ratings

The number one reason upgrading your air filter alone isn’t likely to upgrade your indoor air quality is that most residential (and even some commercial) HVAC systems simply are not constructed to handle super-dense air filters.

The MERV rating on your furnace tells you how much air filter density it can handle. Go higher than that and your risks of everything bad increase.

You will pay more for power.

You will burn out your blower motor faster.

You risk a home fire if your furnace overheats trying to push air through a dense filter.

And you still won’t get the air quality improvements you are going for.

What to Do Instead to Improve Indoor Air Quality

So now you know why simply changing out your furnace air filter alone is not likely to deliver the air quality improvements you want to experience inside your space.

Happily, there are other things you can do to achieve this same goal. And none of them carry the risks or expense we just described.

1. Add an external central HEPA filtration system

Did you know you can add a HEPA filtration system that will work with any make/model of ducted (central) HVAC system?

In this way, you don’t have to concern yourself with runtime, airflow or MERV ratings. The HEPA filtration unit does the heavy lifting of filtering out tiny particulates on the front end.

HEPA filters are the gold standard because they can catch floating particulates as small as 1/100th the size of one hair on your head!

Your HEPA filtration system will also keep working even when your HVAC system is not cycling.

2. Add an external ultraviolet air purification system

The external HEPA filtration system we just described takes care of airborne particulates (tiny solid particles) that are so concerning to human health today – and especially to the health of babies, children, the elderly and any family member with immune function issues.

But it doesn’t do anything about airborne liquid or gaseous toxins.

For that, what you need is a separate system called an ultraviolet air purifier.

This system uses the most powerful band of ultraviolet light (C) to neutralize the harmful properties of airborne liquids and gases. Formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, benzene, radon – these are just a few of the very common toxins ultraviolet air purifiers are designed to neutralize.

3. Add a heat recovery ventilator

There is one more step we strongly recommend if what you are seeking is a permanent solution to your indoor air toxicity issues.

That last step is to install a heat recovery ventilator. The HRV, as these units are nicknamed, is fast becoming the poster child for indoor air filtration – so much so that in Toronto, all new-construction buildings must include one.

Heat recovery ventilators do three things to clean up your indoor air: they continually exhaust stale toxic air, bring in a steady stream of fresh oxygenated air and help balance humidity levels inside your home.

HRVs are also great tools for lowering your power bills because they can move heat around to reduce the burden on your furnace and air conditioner to do the same.

4. For bonus points: schedule an indoor air duct cleaning

If you really want to reset your indoor air quality and experience what life is like when you have a continuous supply of fresh, pure air to breathe, the only thing for it is to schedule an indoor air duct cleaning and sanitizing service.

Do this BEFORE you do any of the other steps on this list.

Why? Duct cleaning pulls out trapped duct toxins, sanitizes your entire duct network and leaves you with a clean air slate in your space.

Get in Touch

Contact us online or give us a call at 905-544-2470.

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