Improving building air quality & energy efficiency

Work is happening this spring at the Main Library to improve indoor air quality and to reduce electricity consumption and waste. 

Air quality and safety: To support safety for our staff and community, we’re reducing the risk of airborne viral transmission by installing an air purification system in our heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. The upgrade also is expected to reduce HVAC energy consumption.

Lower energy use: To support sustainability and stewardship, we’re reducing energy consumption and improving efficiency by upgrading even more fixtures to use LED lighting. This work builds on progress we’ve already made at the Main Library and Maze Branch.

The Board of Library Trustees approved both of these capital improvements at its February 23 meeting.

New HVAC air cleaning system to protect health & safety

As the pandemic continued through summer 2020, library staff investigated ways to improve air quality and reduce the risk of airborne COVID-19 transmission. 

While buildings were closed or open with limited public access, we focused on preventing infection in staff areas by installing air purifiers in specific areas where library staff were stationed to work.

To offer more protection for patrons and staff throughout the building, a local contracting firm recommended a more complete solution: installing a Global Plasma Solutions (GPS) bipolar ionization air treatment system.

How does it work? 

The GPS system ionizes air within the HVAC system, thereby increasing the size of air particles that can then be captured in the HVAC filtration system. It kills surface pathogens, destroys airborne pathogens, sterilizes mold and bacteria, removes odors, neutralizes common industrial gases, reduces dust, pollen, and smoke, and is UL certified to not produce ozone.

It’s also expected to reduce energy consumption, as the HVAC will not need to rely so heavily on circulating outside air through the building.

And there is evidence that this new system increases face mask efficiency. An independent study done by the Center for Health-Related Aerosol Studies at the University of Cincinnati in 2005 shows evidence that unipolarly ionized indoor environments increased the efficiency of an N95 mask by 48.4%, and a surgical mask by 194%.

Will it be installed at the branches?

Work is now underway to install the GPS air treatment system at the Main Library. The cost is currently estimated to be less than $25,000. 

Director of Operations Jeremy Andrykowski says the library has quotes to install the system at Maze Branch, but not at Dole Branch, because of the type of HVAC system in the Dole Center building (which is owned by the Park District of Oak Park).

HEPA air filter
One of the five air cleaning units now at Maze Branch.

“Once we feel the Main Library installation of the full HVAC system is working properly, we’ll make a decision on Maze,” Andrykowski says.

In the meantime, five air cleaning units with H13 HEPA filters have been placed in Maze Branch, which reopened to the public on April 19.

The units can remove 99.9% of particles, including virus carriers, bacteria, and pollutants. Andrykowski says the same kind of units can be placed at Dole Branch when it’s able to reopen.

Major LED lighting upgrade to save energy

Last year, we began replacing outdated and inefficient lighting at the Main Library and Maze Branch, and we will make more progress this spring. 

At the Main Library, we have steadily reduced energy usage by replacing fluorescent and halogen lights with more efficient LED, including in the “artichoke lights” that hang from the ceiling on the Main Library third floor (pictured above).

This not only reduced the energy consumption by 75% in those fixtures, but also allowed us to turn these lights off overnight, saving an additional 25% in reduced use.

We also converted nearly all of the Maze Branch to LED fixtures in 2020, while taking advantage of a rebate on the work from ComEd. 

“This is done to reduce energy consumption and staff labor in maintaining the lighting,” Andrykowski says. “This is because the LED fixtures are more reliable and last longer.”

Maze Branch lighting
Maze Branch lighting has been almost completely converted to LED, which reduces energy use and maintenance.

Switching out bulbs at the Main Library and Maze Branch

By later this spring, the switch to LED at Maze Branch will be complete.

The total upgrade will reduce energy use by an estimated 17,940 kWh each year, equivalent to 211 trees planted to absorb the carbon produced from the blend of electricity in Illinois, according to Verde Energy Efficiency Experts.

And at the Main Library, we are upgrading approximately 240 more light fixtures to LED, mostly in office spaces. These new bulbs are programmable to dim and to sense motion, so they turn off when not in use. They also take advantage of “daylight harvesting,” which means they reduce their output as ambient light increases, further reducing energy consumption and waste. 

Verde Energy Efficiency Experts estimates this upgrade at the Main Library will save 123,552 kWh energy per year, or the equivalent of 1,454 trees planted to absorb the carbon produced from the blend of electricity in Illinois.

While it’s hard to measure the direct cost savings, as the library is part of the Village of Oak Park’s agreement with ComEd, the estimated annual energy savings from this latest upgrade at the Main Library is comparable to $13,591.

Some lighting is required for safety and security overnight, particularly when cleaning staff or contractors are in the building during closed hours. Where and when practical, however, we are ensuring that lights are turned off overnight. 

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