New normal demands new HVAC systems

by Ram Chella on December 18, 2020

2020 has been a tough year for people all around the world. The pandemic has locked up people inside their homes for most of the times. It spared no one - Schools, Offices, Hotels, Restaurants, Malls, Gyms and every other businesses were hit hard hit by the pandemic & lockdown. People are wanting to get back to normal but they are concerned about the air quality at workplace & schools.

Prior to the Covid pandemic, no one really cared about building ventilation systems and HVAC unless they were broken down or temperature inside the buildings was extremely hot or cold. Since Covid, need for indoor air quality improvements has gone through the roof. 

The modern office buildings rely on HVAC systems for their heating, cooling and ventilation as there are no natural ventilation option is available. Also winter season makes it harder to keep windows open even if they were present. So the air flow is determined by a centrally controlled heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system.

HVAC's most of the times recirculate the indoor air to maintain the temperature in the buildings. HVAC's are not equipped to remove germs from its air circulation. It is a potential threat that it could actually enhance the spread of airborne infections inside the buildings. 

A ducted HVAC system creates air currents more likely to carry larger viral particles even further. As we are approaching 2021 and schools and offices are expected to open gradually, the concern around indoor air quality is spiking up. 

What measures are the businesses taking to protect their employees and customers? What are the improvements needed for the building's Air Handling Units (AHU)? 

"The more unknown something is, the scarier it gets, so air quality is like the monster in the closet," says Mr Wallis, who is the founder of air quality monitoring business Reset.

Businesses & schools need to have an increased focus on the HVAC system in their buildings, not just in terms of the virus that causes Covid-19, but the common cold and other airborne pathogens that might be being blown around on the ventilation system's jet streams.

 

"We're now having more conversations about air quality, and we know that Covid is a factor," says ClimaCell director Ayala Rudoy. "People are generally more aware of their surroundings, and what they're breathing in."

So how can the HVAC systems be improved?

  • Ventilation - Reconfigure the HVAC systems to increase the exchange rate, bringing in more fresh air to reduce the amount of recirculated air that potentially carries viral particles.
  • Purification - The Indoor air needs to be purified from infectious germs like bacteria, virus, fungus, molds & spores. 

Improving the ventilation alone can not solve the issue as the recirculation of the indoor air can not be completely eliminated. Also in centralized air handling units the air travels long enough to infect people with single pass of air. So purification of the indoor air becomes a mandatory action to maintain a healthy indoor air quality.

Air filters also might help, though they’re not always practical. A HEPA, or High-Efficiency Particulate Air, filter effectively removes small particles — 99.7 percent of particles 0.3 microns. A MERV, or Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, filter removes larger particles, 0.3 microns to 10 microns. A MERV filter rated 17 or higher is considered HEPA-like in efficiency. But most commercial buildings have MERV filters rated 12 or lower. Unfortunately, most of the germs are too small for these filters to be effective. These filters can only collect germs , they can not kill or eliminate them. There’s no guarantee a HEPA filter would stop the spread of airborne transmission. 

An intriguing technology, UVC light, is a type of germicidal lamp that zaps microorganism including coronavirus. It’s been used since the late 1800s to kill microorganisms — bacteria, mold, yeast  and viruses — that affect indoor air quality. UVC refers to ultraviolet light with wavelengths between 200 and 280 nanometers. If installed properly into the HVAC systems this is the best way to eliminate harmful pathogen from the indoor air circulation. 

Businesses and schools are exhibiting great interest to reconfigure and enhance their HVAC systems and investing improving their indoor air quality, making their places safe for people and children to come in. 

Psychotherapist Danielle Sandler says that with many people nervous about having to return to the office, employers have to take any concerns about air quality seriously.

Is it too much to ask for a safe indoor and a germ free air to breath?

 

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