Factors that affect indoor air quality

Indoor air quality has always been a concern in healthcare settings and controlled industrial environments (e.g. ‘clean rooms’) but the COVID-19 pandemic has raised awareness of the threat of indoor air contaminants.

That can include viruses and bacteria, but also other irritants like dust and pet hair, and potentially harmful gases like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ozone.

But what are the main factors that affect indoor air quality? There are three main groups of risks – and not all of them derive from inside the building.

In this article we’ll take a look at the three major factors that affect indoor air quality, and break them down into some specific sources of contaminants.

 

Indoor

Indoor activities can have a direct impact on the quality of the air in the room, and this is especially true in sealed environments, such as interior rooms with no windows or artificial ventilation.

Some examples of indoor sources of air contamination include:

  • Human activity (personal hygiene, smoking)
  • Maintenance work (new carpet/furniture, pest control and redecoration)
  • Cleaning (surface sprays, agitated dust, artificial odours)
  • Equipment (e.g. toner particles from printers and photocopiers)
  • Leaks and spills of liquids
  • Number of people in the room (especially if very high)
  • Temperature/humidity – see HVAC Systems below

Behavioural change and best practice can mitigate some risks, but in any indoor environment you should monitor air quality for any dangerous deviations, even where HVAC systems are used to improve ventilation.

 

Outdoor

It’s quite possible for activities outside the premises to have an impact on indoor air quality, especially around main entrances and open windows. This is one reason why designated smoking areas are not immediately adjacent to entrances and exits.

Other risks in this category include:

  • Airborne contaminations (pollen, vehicle exhaust particles, other air pollutants)
  • Nearby emissions (delivery/loading bays, waste disposal activities)
  • Building exhaust emissions that re-enter the premises
  • Mould and mildew from stagnant water (Legionella risk)
  • Soil gas (e.g. from pesticides or underground storage tanks)

Always monitor air quality around entries and any large windows that are routinely opened, to highlight risks arising due to nearby outdoor activity, especially persistent activity that creates an ongoing threat.

 

HVAC Systems

Finally, HVAC systems are intended to improve the comfort and safety of occupants, but when poorly maintained they can lead to a variety of indoor air pollution risks:

  • Poor distribution of fresh air around building
  • Transported dust from inside ventilation ducts
  • Poorly maintained filters in need of cleaning or replacing
  • Biological risks from poorly cleaned ducts and humidifiers

Again this last risk raises the chance of a Legionella outbreak, in the presence of stagnant water and moist dirty surfaces, and HVAC systems should not be overlooked in the pursuit of clean, dry indoor air.

 

Find out more about how you can improve the indoor air quality of your property with a HVAC system by giving The hebs team a call on 0151 2360707.

Maintain your drains for Spring

As we move towards the Spring months, it’s one of the most important times of the year to maintain your drains.

The Winter brings some of the worst weather conditions overall, but Spring can bring a sudden spike in rainfall, as the warmer air can hold more moisture.

Because of this, February is usually quite dry in colder years, while March often stands out as unusually wet compared to the surrounding months.

This is compounded by delays to building maintenance in the inclement Winter months – so if you’ve been thinking “I’ll wait until the weather improves” now is the time to get any blocked or slow-flowing drains cleared out.

 

What are the risks for blocked drains in Spring?

Springtime poses several different risks for blocked drains, including the heavier rainfall totals mentioned above, and delayed maintenance to unblock drains in Winter.

Some other threats to look out for include:

  • Any remaining blockages due to fallen leaves in the previous Autumn
  • Sludgy deposits left behind by Winter grit/salt or thawing snow/slush
  • Larger detritus dropped into drains and gutters on windy Winter days

You may simply not have noticed your drains are clogged, due to staying indoors in bad weather, or poor visibility on dark and foggy days.

With more hours of daylight to use in the Spring months, take the opportunity to give your drains a good inspection – or call out the hebs Flowtech team on 0151 2360707 to take care of it for you.

 

What if my drains are blocked?

A blocked drain can be a big problem in terms of flooding and damp masonry, but it’s a relatively easy issue to fix.

The hebs Flowtech team use cutting-edge technology to reach the drain or gutter, whether it’s at roof level or below ground, and remove any solid debris that’s blocking it.

Usually there will be some sludge clogging the pipe or gutter too, and we use high-powered jets to blast this away without damaging the drain itself.

We pride ourselves on a job well done, which is why in our case studies you’ll see all kinds of gleaming grates, grids and gutters, drains and downpipes, which we always aim to leave looking as good as new.

 

Don’t delay drain maintenance

Nobody knows when the next downpour is coming, so if you think you have a drainage problem, don’t delay in calling us out to take a look.

It’s likely to take just a few hours of drain maintenance to get things flowing freely again – compared with a potentially costly repair to masonry due to damp problems caused by overflowing rainwater.

How work from home will shape the future of residential and commercial construction

One trend that has emerged from the Coronavirus pandemic is an immediate and substantial increase in the number of people who work from home.

During the first national lockdown in the UK, employees were asked to work from home wherever possible, to reduce social interaction in the workplace and therefore reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The UK has had a legal provision in place for many years that allows employees to request flexible working conditions, but the past 12 months has served as a ‘proof of concept’ for large-scale homeworking nationwide.

 

Who works from home?

ONS figures published in July 2020 showed that in April, when the first national lockdown had just been imposed, nearly half (46.6%) of UK employees did at least some of their work at home.

Of those, 86% did so directly because of COVID-19. In London the proportion of people working from home was higher at 57.2% and a staggering 91.6% cited Coronavirus as the reason why.

While many people will be able to return to the workplace as the pandemic eases – perhaps over the course of 2021, thanks to the vaccination roll-out – the past 12 months may have highlighted previously unconsidered benefits of homeworking for employees and employers alike.

 

What does this mean for residential construction?

The most direct implications of all this are for the future of residential construction post-COVID-19.

For those forced to work from home over the past year, the challenge has been to find a suitable workspace, free from distractions, while still achieving a clear divide between work and ‘home’.

Residential developers will need to factor this into more future builds, whether this means creating additional space for a work area in the kitchen, reception room or master bedroom, adding an extra room for use as a study, or even construction a garden building.

Mains electricity and high-speed internet are a must in any such area, and a landline telephone socket may also be beneficial, so buyers and tenants have no reason to reject their potential future workplace.

 

What about commercial construction?

There are fewer obvious implications for commercial construction, but if a significant proportion of clerical workers move to be home-based, this could lead to a drop in demand, making it more important to create attractive and well-appointed workplaces.

More people working from home for only some of the time might increase the need for flexible workspaces and hotdesking, rather than workstations reserved for a specific person.

As such, commercial developers might find even greater demand for open-plan offices, which can easily adapt to the precise mix of individuals who are working in the office on any given day.

See what The hebs Group can do for you with our professional and reliable construction services readily available for any type of residential or commercial project.  Call us today on 0151 2360707 to get in touch.

 

The importance of Construction Material Testing

Construction Material Testing, or CMT, is the process by which materials are tested before they are used in new building work, refurbishments and extensions.

The precise definition of CMT depends on the job and on the materials used. For example, you might need to test the tensile strength of a load-bearing building material, or the porosity of a material that will be used in a very humid environment.

However, the intended outcome is always the same: to ensure that materials are safe and reliable, and that they will do the job for many years without expensive maintenance, without damage to the building, and without endangering property or human life.

 

Types of Construction Material Testing

There are two main types of Construction Material Testing:

 

Laboratory Testing

A lot of CMT happens in the laboratory, before materials are shipped or even specified. This allows precise characteristics to be listed on product datasheets, so that you can choose the correct materials for the job without needing to test them yourself.

Alternatively, you might request a sample or buy a small quantity of a particular product, carry out laboratory testing yourself, and only then specify it for use at scale across your project.

In some cases, laboratory testing is used as a follow-up if field testing of construction materials proves inconclusive, or if the results obtained are on the border of acceptability.

 

Common Types of Laboratory Testing

There are many types of laboratory testing but some of the most common construction materials tested in the laboratory include:

  • Asphalt
    • Bulk specific gravity
    • Density
    • Flow
    • Gradation
    • Stability
  • Concrete/Masonry
    • Absorption
    • Compression strength testing
    • Efflorescence testing
    • Flex strength testing
    • Structural masonry testing
    • Tensile strength testing
    • Unit weight
  • Soil
    • Bearing ratios
    • Chloride testing
    • Classification
    • Compressive strength testing
    • Hydraulic conductivity
    • Permeability testing
    • pH testing
    • Swell testing

This is not an exhaustive list, but it shows some of the physical properties that can be verified in the laboratory, before a particular product is used on a job.

 

Field Testing

Field testing is an important on-site process, especially in industrial developments such as utilities, transport infrastructure, airports and so on.

Like lab testing of construction materials, field testing depends on the specific materials already on-site or intended for use in new development, and can include asphalt, concrete, masonry, timber, soil, steel and more.

Common characteristics checked using field testing include strength, compaction, moisture and air content, and wherever possible these are verified via a combination of visual inspection and non-destructive methods to avoid damage to the materials in situ.

 

Why is CMT important?

Testing construction materials gives developers confidence that they are fit for the job. Testing by manufacturers also allows the correct products to be specified upfront.

On-site testing ticks the necessary health and safety boxes and allows developers to offer guarantees over many years, without facing costly remedial work in the future.

For all of these reasons and more, you should always be aware of your obligations, but you should also see CMT as a way to protect your investments and your workforce alike.

 

For more information about our construction services, give us a call on 0151 2360707 and we’ll be happy to help with your enquiry.

The surge for pre-prepared cladding after lockdown

Signs are strong for a quick resurgence in the pre-prepared cladding market once the UK’s national lockdown ends in the coming months.

As more of the most vulnerable individuals receive their vaccinations against COVID-19, activity should begin to increase across the construction sector, especially once the national lockdown officially ends.

In previous periods of easing restrictions, we saw a surge in pre-prepared cladding activity, and this is likely to be repeated as the vaccine programme progresses.

This is in part due to continuing efforts to replace Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding that does not meet building regulations, in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

But it is also a hallmark of the industry’s appetite to continue new construction, refurbishment and other work on building fabric, despite the challenges that the pandemic has presented over the past year.

Major milestones in making buildings safe

The end of 2020 saw some major milestones reached in replacing ACM cladding, as the government published figures for the progress achieved so far:

  • 100% of social sector high-rise buildings have work underway or completed
  • 95% of all ACM-clad high-rise buildings have work underway or completed
  • More sites with remediation underway than ever, despite COVID-19

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “This is a big step forwards. While there is still more to do, we are helping make the highest risk buildings with dangerous cladding safer, more quickly.”

The government is also funding the replacement of other kinds of unsafe cladding, and by January 15th nearly £100 million of the available £1 billion Building Safety Fund had been allocated to remedial work.

Significantly, the government has also stressed that work should carry on during the pandemic, on sites where it can be carried out in a COVID-secure manner.

Post-pandemic plans for pre-prepared cladding

Pre-prepared cladding has advantages for COVID-secure construction sites, as it reduces time spent cutting panels and installing brackets on-site, which can also reduce the number of personnel who need to be in the work area at any one time.

But even as we move into the post-pandemic era, the cost benefits, time savings and ease of installation of pre-prepared cladding will continue to present a compelling proposition for building contractors.

If you would like to know more about the benefits of pre-prepared cladding for your building project, please contact hebs Group by calling 0151 2360707 and we will be happy to discuss the options with you for new-build, refurbishment and retrofit work.

What to know about AI-based maintenance

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an emerging trend across many areas of business and AI-based maintenance stands to become a valuable technology in the years to come.

Already, AI is enabling smarter maintenance and facilities management, especially by optimising scheduled maintenance and identifying a need for reactive and responsive repairs.

The true value of AI goes beyond simple automation, as machine learning allows systems to become more and more sophisticated over time, as well as becoming more attuned to the specific needs of your equipment and your estate.

As a result, AI-based maintenance can spot complex patterns and predict the ‘unpredictable’ failures that simple computer programs and human monitoring would miss.

This maximises uptime, as well as allowing maintenance resources to focus on the genuinely unavoidable outages to restore equipment to working order faster and with less cost involved.

How AI-based maintenance benefits from Big Data

Assets and equipment generate more data than ever before, much of it fed back to base automatically via the Internet of Things (IoT).

But manually monitoring the IoT across a large estate can represent a significant administrative burden for facilities management – which is where AI can help.

AI-based facilities management uses intelligent analytics and iterative learning to analyse Big Data returned via IoT devices over the cloud, and can highlight any emerging causes for concern before they can lead to a costly business interruption.

This enables benefits by keeping equipment working, but it’s not as simple as a binary ‘on/off’ state. Equipment can be flagged for attention if it is performing inefficiently, enabling a pre-emptive tune-up that cuts down on wasted energy and lost productivity.

Manual maintenance vs. automated interventions

AI-based maintenance can be both manual – using automatically generated status reports and failure forecasts to identify where human attention is required – and automated, for example by adjusting demands across multiple devices to balance the load.

This delivers ‘best of both’ benefits, by eliminating human intervention where it is not needed, and making best use of human capital in facilities management and maintenance when manual repair is essential.

At hebs Group our complete maintenance services include careful monitoring of mission-critical equipment and estate-wide facilities management.

This ensures we can take pre-emptive action against any emerging faults, providing manual maintenance and emergency repairs by skilled engineers where necessary, so that you can avoid business interruptions and maximise your productivity and profit over the long term.

 

Call us on 01512360707 and a friendly member of our team will be happy to help with your maintenance enquiry.

Flowtech clear a channel to fix blocked drains in Broughton

The hebs Flowtech team were recently called out to fix blocked drains in Broughton at the premises of the Local Medical Committee (LMC) on Garstang Road.

Although the leafy suburb north of Preston is a scenic location for Broughton Ambulance Station, the surrounding trees mean fallen leaves present a constant risk of blocked drains.

In this case, an accumulation of dead leaves and other debris had built up over time on the roof of the building, including in the drainage channels that run the length of the sloping roof.

This led to a further problem, as the downpipes were also blocked, leaving nowhere for rainwater to go in a controlled way.

Flowtech’s engineers were called out to assess the situation and take the necessary action to restore drainage to the Broughton LMC’s roof.

How to fix blocked drains on a roof

The problem in this case was not difficult to diagnose, thanks to the build-up of fallen leaves on the roof of the building and especially in the drainage channels.

As a result, we were able to quickly take action to clear the blocked channels, as well as to restore free-flowing drainage into the downpipes.

We removed the debris and dead leaves from the channels, as well as from the rest of the roof, to ensure it is as long as possible before it can begin to build up again.

In addition, the Flowtech team jetted the downpipes to make absolutely certain they were clear of any partial blockages, to maximise the amount of water that can drain from the roof of the LMC.

Don’t neglect blocked rooftop drains

It’s easy to overlook blocked rooftop drains, including roof surface drainage channels and the downpipes they empty into, especially if you don’t regularly access the roof or have a direct view over it from above.

Look out for any signs of rainwater overflowing the roof edge, instead of being guided into the downpipes as intended.

Overflow may occur in the same or similar place each time it rains, as the excess water finds the lowest point of the roof edge, and this can lead to damp problems as parts of your building’s masonry receive a regular soaking.

 

If you have any concerns about roof drainage, downpipes or run-off water removal from anywhere on your premises, contact hebs Flowtech today on 0151 2360707 and we can arrange a visit to fix blocked drains in Broughton and the surrounding area.

 

Top 2021 trends in facilities management

The full year of 2020 was disruptive for businesses around the world, as the novel Coronavirus gained global attention soon after New Year’s, developing into the COVID-19 pandemic by spring.

It’s not yet clear whether we can expect a return to normality in 2021, although the availability of multiple COVID-19 vaccines should mean restrictions can ease in the coming months.

As businesses return to normal levels of productivity and profit, what will this mean for facilities management? Here are some of the top trends in FM for 2021.

FM Outsourcing

Outsourcing often starts small, with a single task outsourced to a specialist third-party provider. But over time, organisations recognise the scalability of outsourcing and the combined benefits of appointing a single provider to oversee multiple tasks.

FM outsourcing in particular is a good way to achieve this, and experienced Integrated Facilities Management (IFM) providers like hebs Group can handle complex needs to relieve you of the burden.

This will likely be a hallmark of the ‘Build Back Better’ trend in 2021, as businesses look to reduce their time and money spent on non-core activities, so they can focus on what they do best.

Health & Safety

The COVID-19 pandemic put health & safety far out in front as the number one priority for all workplaces, with the advent of the concept of being ‘COVID-secure’.

As we move beyond the pandemic with the help of vaccinations, businesses of all sizes will be more aware of the risk of infectious disease, as well as the operational impact of employee absence.

While health & safety does not necessarily fall within the remit of FM, the boundary will only become more blurred in the post-COVID era, a trend that is likely to emerge noticeably over the course of 2021.

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is nothing new for FM but in recent years it has reached true maturity, with more assets than ever equipped with wireless connectivity.

IoT allows equipment to automatically report back data, including fault reports and maintenance requests, as well as efficiency data like power consumption and unscheduled downtime.

After the events of 2020-21, with many companies opening a greater number of smaller, more remote premises, the IoT has the potential to come into its own as a way to bring together FM across entire estates and reduce the admin burden.

Want to know more?

This is just a snapshot of some of the biggest trends in facilities management in 2021 – if you’d like to discuss your specific needs and how hebs Group can help you this year and beyond, get in touch today by calling 01512360707.

How thermally driven air conditioning works

Thermally driven air conditioning is an alternative to conventional HVAC systems which makes use of solar energy as a way to drive the cooling effect.

It reduces reliance on energy from the mains grid as the primary method of powering the system, which in turn makes it a good candidate in remote locations.

But it’s also finding favour in areas where mains power is easily accessible, but you’d like to reduce your spending on energy or cut your carbon footprint.

While the technology has been around for years already, ongoing research has improved the processes to a point where it is now a highly cost-efficient way to tackle energy consumption, carbon emissions and potentially to help combat climate change in business.

 

How thermally driven cooling works

Thermally driven air conditioning is sometimes referred to as liquid desiccant evaporative cooling, or just thermally driven cooling.

In hot and humid areas, it brings dual benefits, as the process not only cools the air, but also dehumidifies it.

This is achieved using a liquid desiccant to draw moisture out of the air, which is then evaporated to get rid of excess heat.

If you’ve ever used a portable air conditioner or a cheap domestic air conditioner, you’ve probably used a basic version of the same principle, by filling a tank with water or ice which is evaporated to lower the ambient air temperature.

 

Benefits of thermally driven air conditioning

To summarise the benefits of thermally driven air conditioning we’ve already mentioned above:

  • Can be used in remote locations or to reduce reliance on mains power
  • Reduces energy consumption and carbon footprint
  • Lowers ambient humidity as well as air temperature

Combining these qualities, you can see that thermally driven cooling is not only good for the comfort of the people inside your premises, but can be good news for your business and the environment too.

This is why, especially at a time when more organisations are doing what they can to prevent climate change, thermally driven AC is seeing growing awareness and interest from businesses of all sizes.

 

Find out more

If you’d like to know more about thermally driven cooling and AC, please contact hebs Group by calling our team on 0151 2360707 and we will be happy to discuss the technology with you.

We can give you an honest assessment of whether solar driven air conditioning suits you, or make recommendations of other more appropriate methods of HVAC for your premises if needed.

The benefits of using living materials for construction

The idea of using living materials for construction has been around for many years, yet it is still relatively unusual to see green roofs and living walls on buildings in the UK.

But as we move through the 21st century and face a variety of environmental challenges, there are several good reasons why using living materials in construction could offer a partial solution.

We all know plants are good news in terms of reducing the amount of CO2 in the air, but the benefits of biological building materials go beyond that.

 

Capturing carbon

The ability of green roofs to capture carbon is already well known, but using living building materials in urban areas is especially beneficial.

Roofs and walls offer large areas where biological matter like grass, moss and small plants can be cultivated in a deliberate way.

In dense urban areas like city centres, this can vastly increase the amount of CO2 being scrubbed from the air – improving air quality and the health of local residents and workers.

 

Reducing flooding

Green roofs can act as sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDS), especially when the correct kind of breathable and water-permeable membrane is used as a base layer.

They add an element of control to the way rainwater runs off the roof – often the first hard surface rainfall hits, which can raise the risk of flooding on premises where the run-off is not well controlled.

In this way, green roofs can reduce the flow of water to a more manageable level during a downpour, as well as guiding run-off into the gutters and drainpipes, and ultimately into the sewers so it leaves your property quickly and safely.

 

Thermal control

Finally, in this list one of the big benefits of living materials in construction is thermal control of the building’s interior.

Organic matter has a naturally insulating effect. That means living walls and green roofs can help to keep interiors cooler on hot summer days, and warmer on cold winter days.

If you’re thinking about intelligent building controls, solar shielding and other systems to reduce HVAC spending and cut carbon emissions from business premises, green roofs and living walls should be on your list to at least consider – the argument in favour is persuasive.

 

To find out more about any of the above, contact hebs Group today by calling 0151 2360707 and we will be happy to talk you through our capabilities in this area, to bring your premises up to date for the 2020s.