Indoor Sports And Healthy IAQ

Make sure facilities teams look at these four aspects of HVAC maintenance during the indoor sports season for healthier IAQ.

By Chris Marasco

With schools in the midst of the spring semester, it is important to maintain excellent air quality in the buildings, especially as indoor sports have brought students, players, families, and refs into gyms and common areas.

In addition to potentially more waves of COVID-19, this is also the time when we encounter more traditional seasonal illnesses like the flu, common colds, and stomach bugs. And allergens can make their way into school buildings if not filtered through properly working equipment. Now is the time for school officials to make sure they are on top of their game when it comes to indoor air quality (IAQ). Fresh, circulated air becomes vital to helping players, coaches, and visitors remain healthy.

Photo: Adobe Stock/matimax

For instance, IAQ is vital during basketball games and practices because athletes are close together on the court, and their breathing is usually heavy because of the physical exertion. It is likely basketball players are not wearing masks as a layer of protection against allergens and airborne particulates, so keeping IAQ at a high level is essential to giving players the opportunity to breath fresh, clean air.

Keep in mind, basketball fans are also relying on fresh air to be filtered into the building to create a safe space for family, friends, and classmates. Fans are in close quarters on bleachers, so coughs, sneezes, and allergens brought inside can easily cause trouble for members of the crowd.

Fortunately, proactive measures a can be taken to promote and maintain excellent indoor air quality for athletes and fans. Facilities maintenance workers in schools should take steps to prevent HVAC efficiency setbacks well before the sports season hits by inspecting the unit and its parts. The professionals can be called in to make sure everything is in excellent working order prior to the beginning of practices and games. It is best to have an annual IAQ plan ready to implement as each changing season approaches and different contaminants and particulates enter the HVAC system. And now, with basketball and other indoor sports seasons in full swing, take the time to check the below aspects of HVAC equipment in your sports facility.

Maintain Correct Settings

Fresh air intake requires maintaining the proper HVAC settings and controls. The unit should consistently work as intended, with the correct temperature, air flow rate, and humidity levels remaining steady. If any of these noticeably fluctuates, the controls may need to be examined by an experienced professional to determine if and why they may be malfunctioning.

Malfunctioning settings and controls could put unnecessary strain on a unit and result in not only poor air quality but quite possibly a complete breakdown of the system. Units should be able to push fresh outdoor air into a space and extract indoor air, sending it outside. A controlled ventilation process helps keep fresh air moving throughout such spaces like a school gym, especially during the sports season. This circulation of fresh air is vital to maintaining excellent IAQ and preventing the settling of contaminants inside the building where occupants can be affected.

The humidity level inside a space should be comfortable for occupants but not high enough to encourage the growth of organic materials like mold and mildew. A school is especially no place for mold, as it can result in neurologic symptoms. As the outdoor air becomes drier, it can be tempting to increase the humidity levels, but they should remain steady at between 40% and 60%. Properly functioning controls and settings will help maintain the humidity percentage and keep a building’s air comfortable and safe for occupants.

Check Air Filters

Air filtration is one of the most important factors in maintaining excellent IAQ in school gyms. Year-round, contaminants in outside air travel into or are brought into school buildings. There are seasonal outdoor allergens like certain tree pollens and ragweed, along with pathogens (such as viruses) that may be more prevalent when people spend time indoors. The accumulation of moisture from rain and snow may also be of concern as it can contribute to the growth of mold and mildew, causing potentially severe respiratory issues.

Particulates can accumulate in air filters over time and prevent air from circulating efficiently throughout a space. A crowded gym means many people have walked through the doors with dirt, dust, dander, smoke, and other particulates that can contribute to poor IAQ. School maintenance workers should periodically inspect air filters and select
quality replacements to ensure the air contains no contaminants or harmful concentrations.

Upgrade HVAC Equipment

As advances are made in HVAC equipment, upgrades may be a great option for increasing IAQ levels to an excellent rating. Schools should plan well in advance for equipment upgrades or consider adding upgrades as their budgets allow.

For example, Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization can be introduced to HVAC systems for an additional layer of filtration. No ozone or harmful byproducts are produced with this technology, and it uses positive and negative ions to help filter out particulates. UV lights can also be used in the filtration process.

Upgrades may include focusing on parts for specific areas of the HVAC system, or there may be situations where a full unit replacement is necessary.

Scheduled And Seasonal Maintenance

Staying up to date on maintenance and sticking to a schedule can help pinpoint potential issues before they become pricey setbacks. Performing an annual maintenance checklist should include a seasonal-specific inspection that double-checks setting accuracy, control functionality, visual appearance, and sound consistency.

HVAC experts should also be scheduled for a seasonal inspection to make sure everything is completely in working order inside and outside, so athletes and fans can enjoy practices and games with excellent indoor air quality.

Marasco is the product manager at Modine Manufacturing Company. Having been with the company for over six years, he was previously application engineer at Modine. The company specializes in thermal management systems and components, bringing highly engineered heating and cooling components, original equipment products, and systems to diversified global markets through its four complementary segments: CIS; BHVAC; HDE; and Automotive. 

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