Indoor air quality (IAQ) issues can arise in any building — new or old. But they’re not inevitable. In fact, a building owner’s best defense against IAQ problems is a skilled HVAC technician who knows the proper steps to take to ensure a healthy indoor environment.

The important actions technicians can take include:

• Perform proper preventive maintenance of filtration, coils, and drain pans. As its name implies, preventive maintenance prevents and/or fixes most IAQ problems if performed regularly and properly.

Pay particular attention to dirty coils, and drain pans that aren’t draining. These are two of the most common sources of odors, and can be the breeding ground for more serious IAQ issues.

• Ensure that the system has properly designed and operating fresh-air intakes and exhaust systems.

• Ensure that each area is receiving the proper amount of air flow. This is especially critical in high-occupancy spaces, areas around processing or manufacturing equipment, and areas prone to producing moisture or odors.

• Increase the fresh air level in new buildings, or buildings that have just received new finish materials such as carpeting, paint, or furniture.

We have had several instances where we finished our installation and the tenant moved in, and then we started receiving calls complaining that "the air smells." However, after we arrived back on the site we found out there was nothing wrong with the HVAC units or our installation; the smells were coming from new carpet or fresh paint on the walls. All that is needed in these cases is more fresh air until the fumes dissipate.

• Pay close attention to any areas with water intrusion from the outside into the building envelope, or any areas where internal water leaks have occurred, to ensure that no biological growth has or will occur.

• Check the economizers for proper operation. Economizers that aren’t operating properly can lead to “no cooling” calls or complaints of moist, smelly air. Economizers can take time to set up and check, but it’s time well-spent in terms of reduction of callbacks.

• Check the filters regularly and change them as needed.

Dennis Brisbon is the service manager at Kahn Mechanical Contractors, Dallas, TX. The company is Contracting Business’ 2008 Commercial Contractor of the Year. Brisbon can be reached at 214/631-1010 or by e-mail at dbrisbon@kahnmechanical.com