April 14, 2017

An Ounce of Prevention

O’Neal Flat Rolled Metals’ huge, uninsulated facility in Garland, Texas, had a problem that many facilities share: The area’s abrupt temperature changes and high humidity caused condensation that damaged its metal product and created slip hazards for employees. Condensation, essentially, turned the concrete floor “into a skating rink,” said Senior Vice President Phill Cavender. But after O’Neal installed four Big Ass Fans in the facility’s warehouse, the excess moisture was eliminated.

Many people know that Big Ass Fans fight condensation by using air movement to dry the moisture after it forms. However, when used correctly, or when paired with special controls that sense weather patterns and predict impending condensation, Big Ass Fans can also prevent condensation from forming in the first place by keeping surface temperatures above the dew point.

How “sweaty slab syndrome” develops

More than other work environments, un-air conditioned facilities such as factories, warehouses and distribution centers are at the mercy of climate and weather. Maintaining a reasonably comfortable temperature inside for workers is always the first priority. However, humidity also represents a major challenge, in terms of product integrity, and more importantly, in terms of worker safety. And in much of the country, spring and fall bring a combination of warm, humid days and cool nights that can lead to a major problem: condensation.

Condensation forms because cold air doesn’t hold as much moisture as warm air. When warm, humid air comes in contact with a cold surface and becomes colder, it reaches a point of saturation – the dew point. Below the dew point, air loses its ability to store moisture and deposits it on the colder surface.

In spring and fall, it’s common for the surface temperature of equipment and concrete floors to be below the dew point. When warmer, wetter air moves in, a slick layer of condensation can form over them. In spring, especially, condensation is problematic for industrial facilities because large, dense objects are slow to react to temperature changes. A roll of sheet metal might hold a cool temperature for days or weeks after the weather warms up, and it could take a month or more of warm weather for the core temperature of a concrete slab to rise above the dew point — typically, the floor’s temperature will trail that of the air by as much as 20°F. The slick layer of condensation that forms as a result is often referred to as “sweaty slab syndrome,” and it represents a serious safety concern for workers.

Slip-and-fall accidents tied to wet floors take a heavy toll not only on the worker; they are also one of the leading causes of workers’ compensation claims every year. In order to have a safe working environment, condensation-related problems need to be addressed.

Many industrial facilities like O’Neal Flat-Rolled Metals know that Big Ass Fans are a simple, cost-effective way to dramatically reduce condensation — and the injuries and claims that come as a result. Big Ass Fans reduce condensation by moving stagnant warm air off the cold concrete before it has a chance to cool down enough to leave puddles behind. Using fans to get the warm air moving also helps warm the floor above the dew point, which effectively stops the cycle of condensation. As an added benefit, Big Ass Fans help prevent the growth of mold spores that can develop anywhere that dampness is an issue by their ability to circulate air in every corner of a space.

We’ve doubled its value. Nobody was going to move into a building that has a sweaty floor, but we’ve taken care of that. David Goal, VP of Special Operations

Drying Condensation

One company tested the effect of a large-diameter HVLS fan on drying times in neighboring bays. Boyd Metals, a full-line steel service center with facilities in four southern states, had frequent condensation problems because of trucks delivering materials from colder climates to their facilities down South. The moisture was a hazard that was costing them money, because of rusted tubing. So at its Fort Smith, Arkansas, facility, Boyd installed an HVLS fan in one of two adjacent bays. In the bay with a fan, the drying time was four hours. The one without took a day and a half to dry.

Steve Kindle, their corporate operations manager at the time, was impressed. “The fans move enough air that they dry up the floor and the product noticeably faster,” he said. And during the hot summer months when temperatures can climb above 100°, the workers really appreciate them, said Kindle.

Large-diameter HVLS fans offer numerous benefits and come at a variety of price points. But for many workplaces they may not be the ideal solution. As one Houston non-profit found out, well-designed and constructed mobile floor fans can also make a big difference.

The Houston Food Bank’s warehouse in Houston, Texas, has to deal with the intense heat and humidity of the Gulf Coast. But its problems were compounded by the fact that it has a dry dock that is located next to a cold dock. According to Director Scott Fortin, a door between the two is heavily used, and as the forklifts go back and forth through the door, it’s like opening a refrigerator hundreds of times a day, according to Fortin. “That cold air comes out and into the dry warehouse. So you have cold air, between 40° and 50°F, hitting non-conditioned air, on top of the humidity, and it just makes for a perfect storm” of condensation, Fortin said.

After applying for a grant from fan manufacturer Big Ass Fans, the Food Bank received several sturdy floor fans. “The air movement from the fans keeps the floor dry, and makes it a safe work environment for our staff and volunteers — and for forklift operators, too,” Fortin said.

Preventing condensation before it starts

Overhead and mobile fans like those used at O’Neal, Boyd Metals and the Houston Food Bank provide the airflow needed to dry condensation. But now technology makes it possible to prevent it from forming in the first place. Systems are available that use temperature and humidity sensors to predict the dew point; they then automatically engage fans, vents and heaters to hold the surface temperature to within 5°F of the air temperature.

Preventing condensation means less lost product, fewer shutdowns, and most importantly, safer employees. It can also raise property values.

A 50k-sq-ft distribution facility in McDonough, Georgia, sat vacant for five years in part because of a serious condensation problem that created slick, dangerous conditions. Additionally, the sweat that formed mixed with dirt and mineral deposits, creating an unsightly grime that made the building un-leasable.

Building owner KTR Capital Partners and real estate firm NAI Brannen/Goddard LLC brought the building back to life by installing 21 massive overhead fans and a special controller that predicts condensation events by measuring the outdoor temperature and humidity, the indoor temperature and humidity, and the temperature of the concrete floor. When weather conditions threaten condensation, the fans kick on, quickly blowing rising warm air across the concrete slab and raising the surface temperature above the dew point. The previously unusable building was leased to Home Depot.

Clearly, Big Ass Fans and Yellow Jacket and unique controls offer numerous benefits in the workplace, by eliminating potential hazards and improving worker comfort and safety year-round. When shopping for industrial fans and control systems, be sure to look for a company with a proven track record in delivering the highest quality products, service and guarantees in order to prevent another frequent workplace hazard: maintenance headaches down the line.

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