More and more North American companies are following a trend that was established in Europe several years ago. Corporate sustainability. Most, if not all, Fortune 500 companies have sustainability initiatives in place which go far beyond just a few paragraphs in the company annual report. And corporate sustainability directors are actively looking for ways to meet their company’s goals and objectives.
Air filtration can be a big and often overlooked opportunity for sustainability. The potential savings depends on the importance of indoor air quality (IAQ) to the facility owner/operator. Today many corporations, not just hospitals and schools, have recognized the impact that good IAQ has on health, productivity, and absenteeism. It is for these companies that the biggest savings exist.
Facilities have found that replacing 80-95 percent efficient cartridge and bag filters with high efficiency air cleaners can dramatically reduce carbon footprints and lower CO2 emissions. When you examine energy, materials and all the associated hidden costs, such as time spent replacing filters every month, air filtration represents a big chunk of a building’s total operating costs. When compared to 80-95 percent efficient bag or cartridge filter systems, energy-saving alternatives such as polarized-media air cleaning systems can yield savings of as much as 2/3 of the cost of filtration, which is roughly 15 percent of a building’s total operating cost.
Where are the savings?
Well first, today’s newer air cleaners – like polarized-media electronic air cleaners – operate with a much lower static pressure than conventional high efficiency filters. Lower static pressure means less fan energy required to push air through the HVAC system. Because HVAC accounts for about 40 percent of the energy used in U.S. commercial and residential buildings, HVAC systems are a good target for cost reductions and savings on a facility’s annual operating budget. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, adopting energy-efficient design and technologies in new construction buildings can cut energy costs by as much as 50 percent. And in existing buildings, renovations that replace older systems with more efficient technology can yield savings of up to 30 percent.
Secondly, some air cleaning systems can reduce outside ventilation air requirements. Ventilation standards specify a certain number of cfm per person for various types of buildings. For example, in office spaces and schools, the HVAC system must bring in 13 to 16 cfm/person of outdoor air, depending on occupant density. Reducing outside ventilation air can mean significant additional savings in the energy required to condition incoming outdoor air.
Third, some filtration systems – like polarized-media air cleaners – can extend routine service and replacement intervals from once every several months to once every several years. There’s a good deal of work that goes into filter service, including:
- Schedules for filter replacements need to be regularly maintained.
- System static pressures should be monitored to ensure optimum operating conditions.
- Prior to the service date, orders must be generated and placed for replacement filters.
- New filters have to be unloaded, inspected, received, sorted, and stored.
- Conventional bag or cartridge filters can take up a lot of space which people must work around until the service date.
- A maintenance team or filter service company must perform the actual filter replacements. Labor costs are increased when filters are bulky and filter racks are difficult to access.
- And finally, the old, dirty filters must be disposed of and hauled away.
It’s safe to say, if this list of tasks needs to be done only once every few years instead of a few times a year, there’s money to be saved.
Besides energy and operating cost savings, some air cleaners also earn LEED points. This can be important if the facility is trying to achieve LEED certification or design to LEED standards. LEED requires a minimum filter efficiency of MERV13.
To determine if a new filtration system would benefit your facility, compare the initial price of a new system to the trade-offs found in life cycle costs and operating costs. Potential cost savings increase as the need for high efficiency filtration increases. In some cases a new high efficiency filtration system can pay for itself in just a few years.
For many companies, controlling costs is critical. But even in those companies that prefer to buy the cheapest filters available, the existence of sustainability initiatives within the firm means the company has broader goals. And it’s increasingly common to see sustainability initiatives trump cost initiatives, sometimes even shortcutting established capital expenditure processes altogether.
Are you a candidate?
- You use high efficiency filters today (80 %+).
- There are specific air quality issues you need to address, such as odors or contaminants in incoming ventilation air.
- You are interested in LEED certification or carbon credits
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author Robert F. Goodfellow, is Vice President of Marketing with Dynamic Air Quality Solutions and a certified indoor air quality professional with over twenty years experience in the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration industry. Contact him at rgoodfellow@DynamicAQS.com