Ventin’ Ain’t Easy


But it should be!

Luxury, low-income, high-rise, low-rise, pre-war, modern, condominium, or coop – regardless of borough or building type, there is something we New Yorkers have in common: we are all deprived of fresh air!

I’m not saying that fresh air is an endangered species in NYC, nor am I trying to portray those scenes from Total Recall where anyone who steps outside turns into this guy.  In fact, as part of the City’s Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, New York progressed by leaps and bounds with respect to overall air quality (Thanks, Bloomberg!). What I’m talking about here is indoor air quality (IAQ).

Based upon this engineer’s experience, more than 95% of all buildings – at least those which possess mechanical ventilation – are not properly ventilated.  This is caused by simple physics: air, just as all other gases, will take the path of least resistance. No matter how large a fan you put on that shaft, air will always want to travel from the upper floor registers and leakage areas before it will travel from that farthest register (i.e., typically those on the first three floors). As a result, most buildings as a whole are grossly over-ventilated while tenant spaces on the lower floors, such as kitchens and bathrooms, are not ventilated at all. Not only is this a major health and safety concern, but it is (technically) illegal.

If you live in a multi-dwelling building, you have the right to proper ventilation. What gives you this right? Well, it’s the combination of the following three policies:

  1. New York City Building Code
  2. New York City Mechanical Code
  3. And most importantly, the Multiple Dwelling Law (MDL), which is usually the most stringent.

The solution is simple – balance the ventilation system!  In the majority of cases, balancing can be accomplished with a basic 3-step process:

  1.    Clean the shaft/duct – remove all dirt, debris, and grease
  2.    Seal the shaft/duct – now that the shaft is clean, repair the shaft and seal all leaks
  3.    Test,  adjust, and balance (TAB) the system – this is an iterative process which begins with the installation of constant airflow regulators (otherwise known as CARs) within each register followed by flow testing and fan adjustments (increase or decrease speed)

However, in order to be successful, owners must treat the situation like any other substantial alteration: HAVE IT PROFESSIONALLY DESIGNED AND MONITORED!

Remember: no matter what your contractor tells you, this work DOES require permitting, and per NYC Building Code, a balancing report for close out! This means that any design/filing should come standard with these requirements in addition to performance specifications.