Improper Air Flow Can Have Deadly Consequences

Take an HVAC lesson from Grandpa and avoid being smacked by a windmill.
Improper Air Flow Can Have Deadly Consequences
Jack Zohner

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Windmills are typically 20 to 50 feet tall with blades spanning 6 to 10 feet or more. There is something nostalgic about seeing a windmill in operation as the blades spin consistently and pump water; especially when it is pumping water into a cattle tank.

It all seems somewhat harmless, but as winds become gusty, the entire top of the windmills can rotate suddenly as they adjust to the direction of the wind. That simple detail almost killed Grandpa Zohner.

Grandpa had climbed to the top platform of the windmill near the blades and was performing maintenance when a gust of wind caused it to rotate quickly and hit him hard enough to break his nose. He somehow hung on to the windmill and prevented a fall that probably would have killed him. Grandpa weakly climbed down the narrow ladder and was taken to the doctor.

Grandpa had insurance for injuries from moving farm equipment, but the insurance company said the windmill was not considered moving equipment so there would be no coverage. Grandpa explained it had to be considered moving equipment because it hit him. Grandpa had a great sense of humor.

Grandpa learned a valuable awareness lesson that day and never was hit in the face again by a windmill. The odds of us getting hit by a windmill changing directions are slim, but we are at risk in so many other areas. Those risks can sneak up on us. We can reduce risks by constantly being aware and adapting.

Negative air pressure

For instance, a sign there is a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is when restaurant front doors are hard to open because there is a negative building air pressure pulling against them. We have all experienced that at one time or other as we struggled opening those doors. Odds are extremely good that negative air pressure is a result of improper air flow balance of the kitchen exhaust hood.

Negative air pressure pulling against doors is also pulling carbon monoxide flue gases out of flue pipes on furnaces, fireplaces or water heaters, etc. The end result is typically high levels of carbon monoxide in the entire building.

The reason kitchen hood air flows get out of whack is typically untrained staff cap off the designed fresh air openings since the hot or cold air makes them uncomfortable. They do not realize exposure to the carbon monoxide they just caused is worse than being uncomfortable.

Awareness of negative air pressure on restaurant doors tells me to avoid those restaurants until the indoor air issues are corrected. The solution of course is the kitchen hoods need to be balanced out properly to meet design and city code.

Temperature issues

Awareness can also improve comfort and quality of our lives too. Restaurants and bars have other indoor air issues. For instance, have you been blasted by cold air as you sit there? The solution is to have properly designed air registers that are directed and balanced in a way the air is evenly distributed. Cost is fairly minimal. Responsible and aware managers should sit in every seat so they understand what we experience as customers; then take corrective action if necessary.

There are often temperature issues in buildings because thermostats are set wrong. I’ve seen everything from 65 degrees to 85 degrees for settings on thermostats that had those extreme ranges.

One of the most memorable temperature complaints I was asked to check out was at a nurse’s station in a hospital. Two nurses were sitting side by side. Both were glad I was there to correct things because “it was so uncomfortable.” One explained she was cold and had a sweater on. The other said she was hot and there was not much else she could do to cool off.

A recent survey indicated 90 percent satisfaction is possible if temperatures are kept between 74 and 78 degrees with properly designed heating and cooling systems. Awareness of those settings can keep everyone more comfortable.

Air quality

Let’s talk about air quality in our homes. A telltale sign there are air quality problems is dust on furniture. If furniture quickly gets a layer of dust, there may be multiple problems. The best improvement is adding an air filter that removes 95 percent or more of the contaminants. Of course the air should be “scrubbed” by continuous fan operation through these high-efficiency filters. It’s also good to have the ductwork cleaned.   

Being aware of our surroundings can make us more comfortable and maybe save us from getting smacked by a windmill.

About the author: Jack Zohner is the owner of John Henry’s Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning in Lincoln, Nebraska.



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