Slowing The Spread of Covid-19 In Commercial Buildings

Coronavirus and HVAC

ASHRAE’s Epidemic Task Force recently released a 41 page article to help educational buildings resume occupancy during Covid-19. The article covered a vast array of topics from determining building readiness to mechanical maintenance. ASHRAE’s report is for educational facilities, but it can apply to commercial buildings. In this article, we take a closer look at the Coronavirus and HVAC. We highlight the key points every facility manager should know to help keep their tenants safe. Below are 6 things you can begin implementing at your facility:

1. Increase Outside Airflow

The updated guidelines first call for buildings to increase the outside air to the maximum allowable per Air Handling Unit (AHU).  Make this change within reason and without compromising comfort (which is especially important in areas where extreme thermal differential is common).
As part of this change in airflow, we recommened you utilize outdoor air quality sensors to monitor the pollution of outdoor air.

2. Disable Demand Control Ventilation     

You heard that right, if your building uses demand control ventilation to adjust outdoor airflow using sensors, you should disable it during the pandemic. This will allow you to introduce the maximum outdoor airflow into your building.

3. Upgrade Your Filters

The updated guidelines recommend using the highest MERV filter possible that your HVAC equipment will allow. We recommend you use a HEPA or MERV 13 filter. If your system can handle the pressure drop then a MERV 14 is preferred.  An increase in filtration will result in a loss of capacity. To address this, use portable electric heaters in the winter and lower AHU discharge temps in the summer.
The guidelines also recommend introducing portable HEPA/UV Machines in classrooms that have a minimum of 2 air rotations/hr.

4. Change Heating and Cooling Start Times

Move the startup time of your HVAC system by a few hours. Example: if you normally start it at 6am move it to 4am. The idea is that this will create a “thermal lag” which will minimize HVAC operation when the building is occupied.

5. Install UV/C Lights

As we have covered in the past, studies on UV/C lights have shown they are capable of killing the Covid-19 virus. A recent story on NPR also covered how one man is using UV/C lights in his business to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.  The guidelines note that UV/C lighting is destructive to filter media, so precautions should be taken to ensure they don’t shine on filters.

6. Know Your Energy Recovery Systems 

If you have energy recovery systems, it may be difficult to get clean air changes. For more information and some tips, see ASHRAE’s 29 page in depth look at Energy Recovery Systems during the pandemic.

Have Questions?

For a more in-depth look at the Coronavirus and HVAC, we recommend you read through the ASHRAE article on re-opening schools. As always, we are here to help you keep your occupants safe and comfortable. If you have questions about anything in this article reach at 1-800-237-3141, email or chat with an agent. Our team is here to help!