Good IAQ: One Amenity Hotels Can’t Do Without

1/16/2007 By Dave Matela

Respiratory illness, allergies and asthma. Most hotel operators would consider these ailments to be unwanted guests. But hoteliers who do not pay close attention to their HVAC air filtration system may be placing these disorders on their room service menus.

More than one-quarter of respiratory illnesses in the United States can be traced to poor indoor air quality (IAQ). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that indoor air is often two to five times more polluted than outdoor air—a statistic that becomes more shocking when you consider that Americans spend about 90 percent of their time indoors. Unfortunately, poor IAQ is so prevalent that the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology notes that 50 percent of all illnesses are either caused by or aggravated by poor IAQ.

So, what’s in this “polluted” indoor air? Smoke, fumes, dust, bacteria and other contaminants—many of them a fraction of the size of a grain of sand. And, the average person breathes in about 16,000 quarts of air each day with about 70,000 of these visible and invisible particles entering our respiratory system. It’s no wonder that:

• 20 million people, or about 6 percent of the U.S. population, suffer from asthma. • 20 percent of the U.S. population is affected by allergies, the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the United States. • 70 percent of the U.S. population is afflicted by respiratory illnesses such as the common cold or flu each year.

Poor IAQ is more than bad for one’s health; it’s also bad for business. In fact, total costs to the U.S. economy from poor IAQ range as high as $168 billion per year thanks to direct medical care, absenteeism and “presenteeism”—when people come to work even when they’re sick. Review the following statistics about the overall U.S. workforce, and consider the potential effects of poor IAQ on hotel employees:

• One EPA study found that for every 10 workers, poor IAQ caused an additional six sick days per year. • According to the American Lung Assn., U.S. adults miss approximately 14.5 million work days due to asthma. • Sinus infection sufferers miss an average of four work days each year. • According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, numerous studies place average productivity losses due to poor IAQ between 3 percent and 7 percent.

Hotel Guests Speak Out

Just as important as healthy, productive employees are satisfied guests. But some hotel guests find room for improvement at the inn. More than two-thirds of frequent travelers polled in a 2005 national survey say they are concerned about air quality in the country’s hotel rooms. They identified odors (68 percent of respondents) and “stuffiness” (59 percent of respondents) as being the most frequently encountered IAQ problems.

Sixty percent of the travelers surveyed said they have experienced a range of problems such as poor sleep, runny or stuffy nose, dry nose, sneezing, headache, cough and sore throat as a result of staying in a hotel room with poor IAQ. Indeed, the issue of bad hotel room IAQ is of such concern that 42 percent of survey respondents have actually complained to hotel management about air quality conditions in their hotel rooms.

Air Filtration is Key

Ideally, airborne contaminants should be eliminated or significantly reduced by a hotel’s HVAC system. There are a number of things hotel operators can do to improve their IAQ—from periodic monitoring of IAQ conditions and checking HVAC systems for mold and other contaminants to the simple act of upgrading their air filters. In fact, effective air filtration provides the primary defense against indoor particulate pollutants and helps minimize exposure to particles that can be present in bad indoor air. Fortunately, with today’s higher standards in air filtration, it’s possible to produce cleaner, purer air and reduce IAQ problems.

Hotel operators wishing to improve their IAQ with effective air filtration have a choice of many new filter designs that provide high particulate filtration efficiency. Upgrading the air filtration system from flat fiberglass to pleated filters with a minimum of MERV 8 performance is a good first step in an effort to improve IAQ. Based on ASHRAE Standard 52.2-1999, MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) is assigned to filters depending on the filter’s efficiency in three different particle size ranges. A MERV of 5 is least efficient, while a MERV of 16 is most efficient.

In addition to improved IAQ, there are other benefits from upgrading a hotel’s HVAC air filtration system. One can reduce HVAC energy consumption by choosing filters with low resistance to airflow. One can reduce operating costs by using longer-life pleated filters. Upgrading filters in the hotel’s central HVAC system can also help qualify for LEED credits and other green building milestones.

The good news for hotel operators? From an employee health and productivity standpoint, studies have shown that improving the indoor environment can lead to as much as a 20 percent improvement in worker productivity. In addition, more than half of the travelers polled in the survey mentioned above said they would become loyal customers of hotels that provide advanced in-room air filtration to minimize allergens, dust and odors. Those numbers are nothing to sneeze at.

David Matela, who can be reached at dmatela@kcc.com, is a market manager with Kimberly-Clark Filtration Products, a supplier of HVAC filter media, where he is responsible for marketing and sales. Matela has been with Kimberly-Clark for 11 years, working in consumer product development and nonwovens material and process development, an area in which he holds eight patents.


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