Many of us sighed a breath of relief as we turned the page from 2020 to 2021. We are now watching the Covid-19 vaccine roll out across the country and the world, and many of us are looking forward to the relief that could bring in the coming months.
In the meantime, we must stay vigilant and take the necessary precautions to stay safe and healthy. For many commercial building owners, this might mean prioritizing air quality because air quality can affect the transmission of airborne pathogens.
As the president of an HVAC management platform, I've seen that many building owners and managers are now having conversations surrounding air quality and how they might be able to improve it. What can be done to improve the air quality inside buildings of all sizes and types, especially those in the public sector?
I have a few recommendations based on my experience in the HVAC space. However, it's also important to keep in mind that while air cleaning or filtration can help reduce airborne contaminants, it's not enough to completely prevent exposure to Covid-19. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "When used along with other best practices recommended by CDC and others, filtration can be part of a plan to reduce the potential for airborne transmission of COVID-19 indoors."
Sometimes, the first step is the most simple and logical. Ensuring high air quality in a building requires preventative maintenance, which starts by inspecting the HVAC system to confirm it is working properly. If it has sat idle for some time, this is especially important. Any items that come up as questionable or are working suboptimally must be remediated directly.
Filtration of the air in public buildings is key. Filters are a relatively easy way to help clean indoor air because they can help collect particles that would otherwise move through vents, ductwork, and buildings. For an air cleaner to be effective, the filter should remove small airborne particles (in the size range of 0.1 to 1 micrometers), the EPA reported. The EPA and CDC also recommend upgrading your commercial building's air filters "to the highest efficiency possible that is compatible with the system and checking the filter fit to minimize filter air bypass."
I've found high-efficiency particulate air filters (also known as HEPA filters) to be the most effective. You can also consider using ultraviolet coil purifiers, which use UV sterilization technology to help prevent the growth of microbes on the evaporator coil of heating and cooling systems. Germicidal ultraviolet light works with your filtration system by fighting mold and bacteria growth on your system's coil. Some purifiers use low-mercury lamps that provide high ambient temperature operation.
Another method for air quality improvement includes the exchange of air from inside the building with the air from outdoors. A ducted HVAC system can be configured to boost the rate of exchange with fresh air from outside the building, thus reducing how much air is recirculated throughout the inside.
Air duct cleaning and disinfection is another consideration; a disinfectant can be used in the ducts and coat their surface. This treatment can sanitize in addition to removing debris in the ducts.
Finally, undertaking an upgrade of an existing HVAC system is an avenue that can be explored, especially for building owners who are working with antiquated or suboptimal systems. Dated HVAC systems often cannot keep up with today’s indoor air quality demands, and old systems can be incompatible with modern add-ons such as air purifiers and ventilators.
We have been forever changed by the pandemic of 2020. As we leave 2020 behind, keep air quality top of mind. From my perspective, clean air is a necessity, and those who own and operate HVAC systems will need to ensure their systems are running in a way that is healthy and safe for tenants and anyone who enters their buildings.
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