Abstract This field study of 37 small and medium commercial buildings throughout California obtained information on ventilation rate, temperature, and heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system characteristics. The study included seven retail establishments; five restaurants; eight offices; two each of gas stations, hair salons, healthcare facilities, grocery stores, dental offices, and fitness centers; and five other buildings. Fourteen (38%) of the buildings either could not or did not provide outdoor air through the HVAC system. The air exchange rate averaged 1.6 (s.d. = 1.7) exchanges per hour and was similar between buildings with and without outdoor air supplied through the HVAC system, indicating that some buildings have significant leakage or ventilation through open windows and doors. Not all buildings had sufficient air exchange to meet ASHRAE 62.1 Standards, including buildings used for fitness centers, hair salons, offices, and retail establishments. The majority of the time, buildings were within the ASHRAE temperature comfort range. Offices were frequently overcooled in the summer. All of the buildings had filters, but over half the buildings had a filter with a minimum efficiency reporting value rating of 4 or lower, which are not very effective for removing fine particles.
Most U.S. commercial buildings (96%) are small- to medium-sized, using nearly 18% of the country’s energy, and sheltering a large population daily. Little is known about the ventilation systems in these buildings. This study found a wide variety of ventilation conditions, with many buildings failing to meet relevant ventilation standards. Regulators may want to consider implementing more complete building inspections at commissioning and point of sale.