Ventilation Considerations in the Age of COVID
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One side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been increased attention on the important topic of indoor air quality. The desire to implement proper ventilation strategies is suddenly top of mind for schools, offices, and many other commercial projects, both new and existing.
This movement has resulted in more funding for public projects and more focus from the owners of private buildings with concerned tenants and occupants. And the impact is being felt up and down the supply chain—manufacturers such as Systemair have been ramping up production to keep up with demand and are seeing increased consultation requests.
If you aren’t already thinking about it, there is no better time to consider your building’s ventilation strategy and ensure it’s designed to protect occupants.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Go beyond code: As with many aspects of the building code, ventilation requirements represent a bare minimum and only what’s legally required for your area. As indoor air quality has come to the forefront in recent years, it’s become clear that minimum is not enough to protect occupants from harmful pollutants that can lead to illness, absenteeism, and lower productivity. And because codes take years to gain approval, they don’t always represent the latest recommendations for current viruses and chemicals.
Consult with your manufacturer and look to organizations like ASHRAE, the Indoor Air Quality Association, the U.S. Green Building Council, UL, and others for guidance and support.
Evaluate your current setup: Make an appointment with your manufacturer’s rep (connect with a Systemair rep here) to examine and evaluate your building’s current HVAC system and use guidelines such as those from ASHRAE to help determine how much ventilation can be maximized without dramatically impacting occupant comfort and energy efficiency. If your current system isn’t adequate, the professional can assist with figuring out how to retrofit or replace. For example, schools are an ideal option for a hybrid ventilation strategy, with Systemair’s Geniox units conditioning the common areas like offices, gyms, libraries, and cafeterias and Systemair’s Changeair Series VUV for classroom ventilation.
And be cautious with over-ventilating a space; this can lead to decreased energy efficiency and higher costs with diminishing returns and also can make it difficult to maintain optimal humidity and temperature levels.
Upgrade your filters: Filters tend to be the victim of budget cuts, leading some to rely on lesser-quality MERV-8 filters. ASHRAE now recommends a minimum of MERV-13, which has greater capacity to capture smaller particle sizes. If you do upgrade filters, be sure to check the area around the filter for leakage and remedy if needed.
Don’t neglect maintenance: Speaking of filters and budgets, maintenance is another area often skimped on when belt-tightening. But this can do more harm than good. Change out filters as recommended or sooner if needed; this will not only ensure optimal indoor air quality, but can help your system operate more efficiently.
Factor in layout and occupant numbers: The layout of a room can impact the efficiency of your ventilation system. For example, if there are many large ceiling obstacles that prevent forced air from penetrating the space. Consider these factors when redesigning your system. Also consider how many occupants will be using the space and include those estimates in ventilation calculations.
Ventilate sooner: In the past, it was common to run ventilation like the air conditioning—when the building is occupied. But to keep indoor air diluted and fresh, systems should have a pre- and post-purge or be operated 24/7. In the near future, we may see “pandemic mode” on some controls to help buildings ramp up and keep up during cold and flu season.
HEPA and air purification: HEPA filters have been a popular topic in the discussion of COVID, but they aren’t designed for use with general HVAC systems due to space and static pressure loads. UV light treatments also are a common discussion point for purifying a space, but do present some risks if not done safely. Any UV purification should be specified, installed, and operated by trained professionals.
Don’t be duped: Crises such as natural disasters and the pandemic can bring whiz-bang technologies with boastful promises out of the woodwork. Make sure there is data—not just a sales pitch—behind the product. And be sure to watch for and evaluate trade-offs in efficiency and performance, failures of which can lead to other problems.
Above all, consult with the experts—manufacturers and HVAC engineers—to evaluate which systems are right for your space. They can help determine your needs based on building size, function, occupant numbers, budget, and much more.
To get started, connect with Systemair at firstname.lastname@example.org.