Indoor Air Quality at UM

UM makes upgrades to HVAC systems (updated Apr. 21, 2023)

The University of Manitoba has undergone heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) improvements over the last few years to support optimal quality of air and comfort for students, faculty, staff and visitors to UM campuses.

Recent tests found that 100 per cent of UM’s 140 oldest and most used campus spaces meet the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) ventilation standards in optimal conditions.

UM has reported on air quality previously, recognizing that HVAC upgrades support thermal comfort and fresh air – which has been shown to improve learning outcomes and work performance – and can also support overall COVID-19 safety by removing and diluting aerosols that may contain viruses from indoor spaces.

Improvements to HVAC systems in the 140 tested spaces are expected to be complete by Fall 2023. Over the coming year, UM will complete the same assessment on its remaining 341 learning spaces across campuses and make upgrades as required.

Read the full story about HVAC upgrades here.

Indoor air quality report

The University of Manitoba recently undertook Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) testing within a representative sample of learning spaces across the Fort Garry and Bannatyne campuses.

Environmental consultants from Pinchin Ltd. and UM’s Physical Plant, in collaboration with UM’s Environmental Health and Safety Office, attended the sites to perform the IAQ assessments. A 24-hour assessment was completed for each space, and Pinchin assessed data from both occupied periods as well as the full 24-hour cycle. The work followed the guidance of the most recent IAQ standards for the indicators being assessed.

Results from the 24-hour testing period were within typical and acceptable ranges, indicating good air quality in the buildings for the duration of the testing period.

Indoor air quality report (PDF)

Information on building ventilation and indoor air quality

UM heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are managed in accordance with the requirements for building occupancy and are maintained regularly for filter and operating conditions.

Well-functioning HVAC systems support overall COVID-19 safety protocols by removing and diluting aerosols that may contain viruses from indoor spaces but it is only one strategy; wearing a well-fitting mask and frequent hand hygiene continue to be important.

Indoor air quality assessments

In fall 2021, UM contracted Pinchin Ltd. to conduct IAQ testing to establish baseline levels. Due to limited activity on campus, this testing was completed in older buildings with older HVAC systems.

In March 2022, UM re-contracted with Pinchin to repeat IAQ testing to account for an increase in in-person activity on UM campuses and changes to fresh air intake into the buildings due to colder exterior temperatures. Read the results in the IAQ report.

Building ventilation at UM

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, all UM HVAC systems were set for demand-based operation, where outdoor air intake was based on system need. UM has since enhanced ventilation protocols by reviewing ventilation systems and working to optimize the capabilities of these systems. Some additional measures include: 

  • All demand ventilation systems disabled to keep the air handling operating at full capacity even during low-occupancy periods
  • As seasonal conditions allow, mixed air systems are set to 100 per cent fresh air
  • There are several buildings with CO2 monitors built directly into the HVAC system and actively monitored

With these enhancements in place, operations of the university's ventilation systems align with COVID-19 public health requirements and recommendations, as outlined by COVID safety recommendations.

Ongoing ventilation measures

The followin measures are in place at UM campuses:

  1. Increasing outdoor air intake: As seasonal conditions allow, ventilation systems on campus are optimized within system capabilities to maximize the amount of outdoor air being supplied to classrooms and other building areas. Increased outdoor air supply to building spaces has been identified by COVID safety recommendations as a key measure that may help in reducing the spread of COVID-19 within buildings. 
  2. Increasing air exchanges by extending fan run-times: Operating schedules for ventilation systems on campus extended to include times before and after building occupied hours, and in some cases to run 24/7. This will increase the number of daily air exchanges and ensure that spaces are well-ventilated. COVID safety recommendations recommend this practice to increase the amount of air exchanges within building spaces to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. 
  3. Filters: To ensure ventilation system filtration is working optimally within system designs, filters are checked frequently as part of the regularly scheduled preventative maintenance routines. Routine inspections and maintenance can be helpful in reducing the spread of viruses. In many cases, pre-filters are used to extend the life of the main filter. The ASHRAE recommendations are reviewed and followed as closely as possible.
  4. Preventative maintenance: All campus ventilation systems are catalogued within our Computerized Maintenance Management System and receive regular preventative maintenance service routines, including filter changes, inspections and repairs as needed. Filters are checked monthly and can last from 1-2 months to 6-12 months depending on the area and the outside conditions. 

Future plans include MERV 13 filter testing on UM buildings, the purchase of equipment to measure air changes in spaces where needed, and improvements to the existing IAQ monitoring program.

Frequently asked questions

What is ventilation?

Ventilation is defined by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) as “(1) the process of supplying air to or removing air from a space for the purpose of controlling air contaminant levels, humidity, or temperature within the space. (2) the process of supplying or removing air by natural or mechanical means to or from any space. Such air may or may not have been conditioned.”

What is HVAC?

HVAC stands for Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning. It refers to the systems responsible for the moving air between outdoor and indoor spaces, and the heating and cooling of this air.

What standards do we use for our ventilation system?

UM HVAC systems meet or exceed the ASHRAE standards for building ventilation and filtration at the time of construction or renovation. These standards are supported by the Government of Canada and are part of the guidance for ventilation created by the Public Health Agency of Canada to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

What changes have been made to the ventilation system since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic?

UM HVAC systems are maintained in accordance with the requirements for building occupancy, and are maintained regularly for filter and operating conditions. The UM HVAC systems meet the standards in place at the time of construction or renovation and provide good ventilation to our campus buildings. There are no known deficiencies with our campus HVAC systems that would prevent them from providing good ventilation, and any issues with the systems are addressed in order of priority.

Any disruptions to good ventilation are communicated to the building occupants through the Service Disruption notices. UM employs a series of HVAC professionals in the Operations and Maintenance (O and M) and Architectural and Engineering Services (AES) departments, and those staff are empowered with managing and maintaining the HVAC systems across UM campuses.

In addition to the general condition of the UM HVAC systems, O and M has implemented some additional measures to increase the amount of fresh air being delivered to UM spaces:

  • ongoing filter inspection to ensure they are functioning properly
  • all demand ventilation systems disabled to keep air handling operating at full capacity even during low-occupancy periods
  • as seasonal conditions allow, mixed air systems draw in as much air as possible, dependent on heating and cooling system capacities

What is Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and how does it relate to ventilation?

IAQ refers to the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants. Ventilation and IAQ are closely related, as the ventilation systems play a direct role in supplying air to the building occupants.

What do I need to know about Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) ratings?

MERV refers to the scaled effectiveness of air filters. The scale is designed to represent the “worst-case performance” of a filter when dealing with particles on the ranges of 0.3 to 10 micron. Higher MERV ratings correspond to a greater percentage of particles captured on each pass.

Why does UM not upgrade all buildings to the highest-possible MERV ratings?

Building air handling systems are designed to provide a certain amount of air changes per hour, based on a designed filtration measure. If the filtration level is increased without increasing the speed of the fan or the volume of air pushed through the system, it will result in higher air pressure in the system and less volume of air delivered to the end occupied spaces.

Any changes to filtration level, beyond the designed standard, need to be evaluated to ensure the air changes per hour ventilation level is maintained. Changing the ventilation level may also impact other IAQ indicators to make the overall space less comfortable.

What are the indicators used to measure and monitor IAQ?

Indicators used to measure and monitor IAQ can commonly include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, temperature, relative humidity, particulate matter 2.5 and total volatile organic compounds.

What is the standard air change per hour level in UM buildings?

Different building usages have differing design standards for ventilation rates and air change per hour standards. The ASHRAE recommended that ventilation rates for schools, offices, shops, restaurants and homes vary from 0.35 – 8 air changes per hour.

UM buildings meet the standards at the time of construction or renovation and are maintained regularly by the HVAC professionals within Operations and Maintenance.

How do I report a concern with air quality at UM?

If you are concerned about the indoor air quality in your workspace, contact and a member of the Environmental Health and Safety Office will connect with you to investigate.

What does UM do when/if a poor IAQ condition is found in a facility?

If a condition of poor IAQ is found in a UM facility, the Environmental Health and Safety Office will take immediate action to ensure occupants are notified and cleared from the location if the condition is at a level of concern for health and safety. The source of the poor IAQ condition will be identified and work will be conducted with Physical Plant to assess potential system changes to operate facilities according to workplace standards.

What do IAQ standards mean to my health and safety?

An Environmental Standard for typical good IAQ indicators (e.g., CO, CO2, VOC) is a limit that signals to environmental health and safety professionals when further investigation into air movement and ventilation may be necessary.

These standards are not points at which your health and safety may be compromised, but indicate that some change in controls may be beneficial (examples of control changes may include ventilation or education). These control changes can ensure the indoor air quality is at optimal levels for comfort and can prevent levels that may cause concern for occupant health.

An Occupational Exposure Limit (OEL) is a standard defined under the Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health Act and regulations as the maximum of a chemical or physical hazard a worker may be exposed to for eight hours a day, five days a week.

Ex. CO2 workplace standards


Standard Limit


Environmental Standard

Outdoor Air (ppm) + 700 ppm

American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality [ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 62. 1-2019]

Occupational Exposure Standard

5000 ppm

ACGIH 2019 Threshold Limit Values for Chemical Substances and Physical Agents and Biological Exposure Indices as designated in Part 36 of The Workplace Safety and Health Regulations:

If you have questions about the Indoor Air Quality report, please contact For any concerns regarding environment, health and safety at UM, contact the Environmental Health and Safety Office at