Commercial Office Buildings and Retail Spaces

Commercial and Public Building Air Filters: A Comprehensive Guide

By October 7, 2023 No Comments
18–21 minutes to read

Good indoor air quality in commercial and public buildings is essential to providing a safe, comfortable environment for employees and visitors. It can also have a direct impact on energy efficiency and the long-term structural integrity of the building while reducing the risk of legal and regulatory headaches. 

Think about how poor air quality makes you feel when you walk into an office, store, school, hotel, restaurant, museum, entertainment venue or municipal building. If you notice an odor, high humidity or even signs of moisture or mold, will you feel confident staying there? Will you be productive in such an environment? Would you feel comfortable inviting a client or visitor to that building? How would it affect your perception of the building operator or owner?

Air filters play an essential role in improving and maintaining good air quality. Air filters not only prevent the spread of harmful contaminants, but they also allow cleaner air to circulate continuously through commercial and public buildings, replacing dirty air with healthy, clean air.

Let’s discuss the importance of air quality, obstacles to good air quality, different types of air filters, and factors to consider when choosing, installing and maintaining air filters.

Why Air Quality Matters in Commercial and Public Buildings

First and foremost, poor air quality can have a direct impact on the health of occupants. The sad reality is that indoor air pollution levels are typically much higher than outdoor air pollution levels, especially in urban areas. 

Beyond physical conditions like asthma, headaches, fatigue, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, poor air quality can make it difficult to concentrate. It can affect a person’s mood and increase stress levels. Prolonged exposure to mold, asbestos, radon and other substances can cause cancer and other chronic, long-term health issues.

Of course, if pollutants, dust, allergens, molecular gases and even radiation and cleaning supply chemicals affect a person’s physical and mental health, their productivity is likely to be altered as well. When individual productivity suffers, organizational performance suffers. Given increasingly strict health and safety standards, organizations that fail to meet minimum standards for indoor air quality could face lawsuits and costly fines for noncompliance.

Maintaining proper air quality is also essential in environments such as scientific labs and manufacturing plants to maintain the integrity and performance of technology, equipment and sensitive materials. Major investments in these facilities could be compromised due to poor air quality.

Understanding Air Filters: Basics and Beyond

An air filter is a device used in HVAC and air purification systems to provide people with clean, safe air to breathe. Air filters can take many shapes. They could be as small as a matchbox and as large as a shipping container, depending on the application. 

The air filter is placed in the HVAC or air purification system to create a barrier, which can be made of various types of filter media constructed from fibers produced from synthetic materials or micro-glass fibers. Air filters can also be produced with activated carbon on the fibers or modules or cylinders of bulk activated carbon media. Air filters trap pollutants while allowing clean air to flow through the filter to the indoor environment.

Types of air filters include but are not limited to:

  • Bag Filter and Compact Filter (V-Bank and Box):  Used as high-efficiency final filters or as prefilters for HEPA installations.
  • Panel Filter:  Used as the main filter or as prefilters to extend the life of final filters.
  • HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) Filter:  For very small particles, such as allergens and pathogens.
  • Activated Carbon Filter:  For odors, gases, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

There are several rating systems used to measure the efficiency of air filters in capturing particles of different sizes, including:

  • ASHRAE Standard 52.2 MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value):  capable of capturing particles of certain sizes based on a rating scale of 1-16.
  • ISO16890:  Similar to MERV, but with a focus on PM1, PM2.5 and PM10 sized particles.
  • HEPA:  Air filters tested to a minimum efficiency of 99.97% on 0.3-micron particles. 
  • ULPA (Ultra-Low Penetration Air):  Beginning at 99.9995% efficient and higher for environments that require exceptionally clean air, such as research labs.

Challenges in Maintaining Air Quality in Large Spaces

Many commercial and public buildings are complex structures. They have intricate designs with different spaces serving different purposes. The number and density of occupants will often vary from room to room and change over the course of a day.

This can make it difficult to provide proper air circulation and ventilation, which can then create inconsistencies in air quality, humidity and temperature. Inadequate ventilation can cause pollutants to accumulate, while excess ventilation can drive up energy costs and shorten the life of HVAC and air purification equipment.

The complexity of these buildings and spaces typically contributes to the presence of indoor pollutants of various sizes and types from different sources, which can make air filtration and pollutant control more challenging.

There are also external factors to consider. Remember, the job of an air ventilation system is to remove polluted indoor air and replace or recirculate it with clean, conditioned air, some of which is fresh, outdoor air. Unfortunately, outdoor air isn’t always fresh. Areas with high auto traffic and industrial manufacturing facilities can be surrounded with pollutants. Even areas surrounded by nature could deal with environmental allergens and particles that affect indoor air quality.

To overcome these challenges, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has created an indoor air quality design guide with best practices for design, construction and commissioning. The guide was created for architects, design engineers, contractors, commissioning agents and any professional who is concerned about indoor air quality. ASHRAE Standard 62.1 – Ventilation and Acceptable Indoor Air Quality is also a document commonly referenced.

Selecting the Right Air Filter for Commercial and Public Buildings

There are a number of factors to consider when choosing air filters for commercial and public buildings. For example:

  • What is the size of the structure?
  • What is the purpose of the structure? What is the purpose of each space within the structure?
  • What are the air quality requirements, and airflow requirements, for the people, technology, equipment, and activity within each space? What regulatory standards are you required to meet in your location and industry?
  • What types of pollutants and particles are likely to be found in each space?
  • If you have an existing HVAC and/or air purification system, what types of air filters are compatible?
  • What is the lifespan of each air filter you are considering? What are the maintenance requirements?

Air filter decisions should also be based on an understanding of MERV ratings and the types of filters that fall into the various MERV ranges, from spun fiberglass filters (MERV 1-4) to the highest-rated filters used in sensitive manufacturing and pharmaceutical environments (up to MERV 16 and beyond to HEPA and ULPA filters).

Ultimately, selecting the right air filter for commercial and public buildings comes down to balance. You need to weigh the effectiveness, efficiency, and cost of the air filter, the air quality goals and requirements of your organization, and the health and comfort of the occupants. Regardless of the product you choose, the end result should be clean, safe air.

Innovations and Trends in Air Filtration

The emergence of smart home technology has led to the development of smart air filters. These internet-connected filters are integrated with the Internet of Things (IoT) to provide real-time air quality monitoring data. 

Smart air filters use this data to automatically respond when pollutants reach a certain threshold. For example, a fan or air purification system could be activated, and an alert could be triggered so an operator knows to change a filter. Users can remotely monitor and control smart air filter settings through a mobile app or voice assistant (Alexa, Siri, etc.). Rather than running at the same speed, a smart filter can automatically adjust output based on current air quality data.

Smart filter data can then be used to generate reports and analyze trends for indoor air quality and energy consumption, enabling facility managers to make informed decisions for continuous improvement.

Energy efficiency, sustainability and environmental responsibility have become organizational priorities for most companies. In addition to smart filters, recent innovations in air filtration reflect these initiatives as manufacturers seek to reduce their energy consumption and carbon footprint.

For example, innovative filter media is being made from recycled materials using eco-friendly manufacturing processes. Solutions capable of circulating air with lower pressure and, therefore, less energy are becoming more common. Filtration technologies like activated carbon filters can reduce emissions, which improves indoor air quality and reduces environmental impact.

Implementation and Maintenance Best Practices

Installation and maintenance of air filters in commercial and public buildings are far more complicated than swapping out an air filter at home. These tasks should be handled by highly trained, licensed professionals. A qualified installer will understand how to:

  • Choose the right filter
  • Take all necessary safety precautions
  • Locate and inspect the filter housing, frames and gaskets
  • Repair any damage 
  • Remove any debris or obstruction to airflow
  • Install and secure the air filter
  • Document the entire process
  • Test the system to ensure optimal function

Once new air filters are installed, a comprehensive maintenance plan and schedule should be established. This will enable you to maintain optimal indoor air quality, provide occupants of your building with clean air and protect your investment.

Air filters in commercial and public buildings should be inspected regularly for signs of damage, debris and tight seals. The area around the HVAC  equipment should be cleaned to prevent the accumulation of dust and dirt. Scheduled replacement of your air filters will prevent unplanned expenses and keep your system performing as it should. 

Depending on the equipment in your facility,  air filter professionals will be able to measure the pressure and performance of your system to ensure proper airflow and air quality. They can also alert you to potential violations of health and safety regulations and provide training that makes employees aware of potential problems so they can be reported.

All maintenance work and reporting should be documented to analyze trends and update the maintenance plan if necessary.

Case Studies:  Success Stories in Air Filtration

Perhaps the best way to truly understand the role of air filters and the impact of a carefully planned air filtration system is to see real-world examples of what organizations have been able to accomplish.

    • See how the famous Music City Center in Nashville improved indoor air quality, reduced filter-related costs by 34 percent, and reduced labor hours by 80 percent by converting to a single-stage, MERV-A solution. Read the case study.
    • See how a secondary school in Valencia, Spain protected students and teachers against biological agents by installing Camfil City M air purifiers with Camfil HEPA H14 filters, which are certified according to the EN1822 standard. Read the case study.
  • See how a wastewater treatment plant in Denmark reduced odors and created a more comfortable work environment, installing a stainless steel HDC filter housing unit with cells that are filled with ISO 10121 activated carbon and Camfil CamPure media. Read the case study.
  • See how container manufacturer AMG upgraded the indoor air quality at a new facility to meet compliance requirements by implementing a Gold Series X-Flo dust collection system, which was installed outside to simplify service and maintenance. Read the case study.

Conclusion: Breathing Easy in the Modern World

Maintaining optimal indoor air quality in commercial and public buildings is aligned with public demand for healthy, safe environments and a more sustainable culture. It enables the owners and operators of these structures to reduce energy consumption and save money. It also happens to be a legal and regulatory requirement. 

Modern, high-quality air filters are vital to successful indoor air quality initiatives. Understanding air filter capabilities and options, and choosing the right filters based on the indoor environment, will help all stakeholders breathe easy – occupants, owners and operators, maintenance teams, and compliance teams – and reduce risk for your organization.

We encourage you to explore innovations in air filter technology and consider evaluating your existing system. Instead of reacting to unpleasant odors or visible dust, you can proactively maintain high levels of indoor air quality and performance while extending the life of your system.

If you’d like to discuss the state of your current air filtration infrastructure and opportunities for improvement, please contact Camfil today to schedule a consultation.