Adjusting our outlooks on air quality post-pandemic.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything this past year it has shown us exactly how vulnerable we are, individually and as a society. While some of us experienced only mild symptoms, that only made it easier for the virus to spread through our populations as we tried to keep things as “normal” as possible, the virus could take an otherwise healthy person and absolutely debilitate their health, and that risk and the spread rates combined to totally stalled our economies and societies.
As control measures have started to take significant effect on the virus spread and vaccination rates continue to climb, many employers and employees are looking to re-enter the workplace, but not without some trepidation. Employers don’t want to take more losses by reopening too soon, and employees aren’t excited to expose their health (especially if their jobs can be safely done remotely from home). This has caused a renewed focus on creating a safe, healthy, and disease-free workplace environment for employees and customers.
Air Filtration Upgrades
With COVID-19 being an airborne virus, there has been significant worry regarding indoor spaces. Airflow is an important part of any indoor environment, which logically leads the public to worry if indoor systems could be possible vectors for community spread.
Can we install better HVAC systems or filters that would help to stop or kill the virus?
Green energy and sustainable energy advocates and organizations have been arguing for better filtration and air quality treatments for years, and the argument was usually based on overall cost savings as better filtration and equipment efficiency reduces wear and maintenance costs on expensive HVAC systems and other equipment. Air filtration systems are measured on a scale called “minimum efficiency reporting value” or MERV, and pre-pandemic most standard indoor spaces measured around 6-8. Previous to the pandemic, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) recommended building standards of 13 or better, especially in large cities, often to reduce the effects of high pollution.
But basically, yes. The Epidemic Task Force concluded in its studies that existing buildings should use a combination of improved air filters and air cleaners to raise their MERV score to 13 or above. Realizing that existing office buildings have extensive HVAC systems and trying to rip those out and replace with a fully new system would be prohibitively expensive for most building managers, the desired effect and efficiencies can be achieved by other less invasive means, keeping everyone healthier!
Increasing Outside Air Intakes
In the past, building owners have typically been focused on minimizing outdoor air to control temperature, but the pandemic has definitely shifted their outlook. Fresh air is where we have been able to live a little and exercise and breathe.
Building managers should evaluate their outdoor intake systems and possibly increase it as a mitigating factor since a group of people recycling air in an enclosed space really helps a virus spread among us. Excess humidity should be avoided however, both for the sake of virus transmission and to not overload the HVAC system itself.
Ionization Devices and Technologies
Ionization has long been an idea for improving air quality in the workplace and the technology is still developing and improving. While a new technology’s efficacy at destroying a novel virus is definitely a tough thing to prove using the scientific method (due to time lag in testing) the theory and preliminary evidence show positive results using needlepoint bipolar ionization (NBPI) methods. NBPI systems are designed to use an electric charge to convert oxygen molecules to charged atoms (called ions), which are effective at neutralizing viruses, bacteria and odors.
In regards to COVID-19, the early research shows that the ions will break down the virus by chemically reacting with the cell membrane of the virus to puncture the protein spikes, then attaching themselves to the contaminants, which makes the particles large enough to be caught in HVAC filtration systems.
Keep in mind that while ionization tech is still being studied and improved, it has had some safety concerns in the past, primarily to do with ozone emissions. The CDC has confirmed that the majority of their risks have been resolved, but it is still important to understand the technology you are adding to your building.
UV Germicidal Irradiation
UV irradiation has been a known method to reduce airborne disease and increase air quality. Tests have shown that the COVID-19 virus is so far not an exception to the rule, though most research on the subject is through earlier coronaviruses.
Experts recommend implementing this technology in tandem with air filtration as this is most definitely not a substitute for filtration, rather an enhancement to your system. UVGI systems also require a proper design for your specific spaces, so be sure to talk to an expert.
Testing, Calibration, and Proper Maintenance
HVAC systems, even under ideal circumstances, are subject to wear. Regular testing is absolutely crucial to keep your systems running properly and effectively. Any buildings that have been under significantly reduced occupancy should be tested prior to occupants returning as some system problems will have gone unnoticed.
Technicians should be familiar with your building’s system enough to identify problem spots to keep an eye on as well as all sequencing operations to ensure ideal efficacy. Without sufficient testing and appropriate modifications and maintenance, all of the above measures that a building manager may have taken could be for nothing, as it all has to be functioning properly as one full system.
Building management is often a balancing act between providing the best possible spaces for your tenants or employees and cost savings, and the new sustainable systems were often looked at as an unnecessary luxury item in the past. The pandemic has proven that investing in safe workplaces is the most important way to keep them open and profitable. It’s worthwhile for a business manager to consider their building’s air quality systems because without people and their health, there’s no business to manage. Contact Airtek for a solution to assist your business with safer and healthier indoor air quality.