As the threat of wildfire continues to intensify across the United States and Canada, the fire season poses significant challenges for commercial properties, impacting not only the environment but also critical infrastructure within buildings. Wildfire smoke contains various particulates, gases, and chemicals that can infiltrated your buildings and negatively impact indoor air quality and affect the proper functioning of your HVAC system.

In this article, we delve into the detrimental impact of fire season on commercial HVAC systems, exploring the risks posed by wildfire smoke and the measures businesses can take to mitigate them. By understanding these challenges and implementing proactive strategies, commercial property owners and managers can safeguard their HVAC systems, maintain indoor air quality, and ensure the uninterrupted operation of their businesses.

Potential hazards wildfire smoke poses to HVAC systems

Wildfire smoke poses significant dangers outdoors, but it also can dramatically reduce air quality indoors and quickly degrade HVAC systems. The following are key areas that are prone to damage from wildfire smoke.

Clogged filters and restricted airflow

One of the immediate consequences of wildfire smoke is the rapid accumulation of fine particles within HVAC system filters. These particles, including soot, ash, and other contaminants, can quickly clog the filters, reducing their efficiency and impeding the proper airflow through the system. As a result, HVAC units must work harder to maintain temperature control, leading to increased energy consumption and higher utility costs.

Ductwork contamination and system damage

Beyond clogged filters, wildfire smoke can also contaminate the ductwork of HVAC systems. Soot and residue settle on the inner surfaces of ducts, forming a layer that can obstruct airflow and compromise indoor air quality. Additionally, the corrosive nature of smoke can damage sensitive electronic components within the system, leading to malfunctions and costly repairs.

Indoor air quality and occupant health

Wildfire smoke can introduce harmful pollutants into indoor spaces, affecting the overall air quality and potentially compromising the health and well-being of building occupants. The presence of fine particles, VOCs, and other toxic substances in the air can trigger respiratory issues, allergies, and other health concerns. Maintaining optimal indoor air quality becomes paramount for businesses to provide a safe and comfortable environment for employees and customers.

Mitigation strategies for business continuity during and after an event

There are strategies to take to minimize contaminants during a wildfire smoke event and steps to remediate any damage once it passes. When wildfire smoke is at its peak, make sure to minimize the amount of airflow into a space by using these tactics:

  • Shut down any outside air dampers. The automatic smoke detectors in the system will automatically shut off the unit thinking it is damaged. This can create false service calls.
  • Put blower fans in Auto mode instead of On mode. This ensures fans are only running when they need to cool the space and will minimize the amount of smoke coming in.
  • If you smell smoke, verify that it is from the wildfires and not the unit before making any service requests.

After the threat of wildfire smoke has passed and outdoor levels return to normal, it is important to immediately address and clean areas within the HVAC system. This not only helps to improve indoor air quality, but it also helps to ensure that the HVAC system will be prepared for the next wildfire smoke event.

Regular filter inspections and replacements: Increase the frequency of filter inspections and replacements during and after fire season. This helps to prevent clogging and ensures optimal airflow and system performance.

Ductwork cleaning and maintenance: Conduct routine professional cleaning of ductwork to eliminate accumulated soot and residue. This improves indoor air quality and preventing potential down-stream system damage.

Air quality monitoring: If possible, employ an air quality monitoring system that tracks pollutant levels, detects issues promptly, and take necessary actions to protect occupants and HVAC systems. These systems can provide alerts before it becomes noticeable to employees and customers.

Collaboration with HVAC professionals: Establish strong partnerships with experienced HVAC professionals well before wildfire season to ensure timely inspections, maintenance, and repairs. These experts can provide valuable guidance on system optimization and recommend appropriate measures to safeguard against wildfire smoke damage.

As the frequency and intensity of wildfires continue to escalate, commercial property owners and managers must be aware of the adverse effects of fire season on HVAC systems. By taking proactive steps to address the risks associated with wildfire smoke, businesses can safeguard their investments, maintain optimal indoor air quality, and ensure uninterrupted operation, even during challenging fire seasons. By prioritizing the well-being of occupants and the functionality of HVAC systems, commercial properties can thrive in the face of fire season challenges and promote business continuity.

Well-functioning HVAC is essential to the success of any modern-day facilities portfolio. To make sure your HVAC system is meeting your needs, consider working with a team of dedicated experts. Get in touch with SMS Assist to learn more about our programs: weknowFM@smsassist.com.

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