- Hetal Parekh
Post-Pandemic workplace: HVAC Upgrades for a safer work environment
Current low occupancy makes this the prefect time for commercial property managers and safety experts to test, clean and upgrade their HVAC systems to strengthen their IAQ strategy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been the source of unprecedented interruption affecting all aspects of business, and we are still many months from achieving herd immunity against COVID-19. It’s no longer “business as usual” in any professional setting. As the population gradually resumes working from offices, it becomes pertinent to upgrade the office buildings to ensure the safety of its occupants.
Many organizations such as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), U.S. Green Building Council(UGBC)have published checklists and guidelines for workplaces, highlighting the need for simple upgrades to HVAC and appropriate IAQ strategy to allay health and safety concerns.
HVAC System Upgrades
When it comes to airborne contaminants, your commercial building’s indoor quality is the key metric to monitor and improve. The HVAC system is the priority here as airborne contaminants increase the likelihood and spread of viruses. Periodic IA flush-outs, filter upgrades, testing, cleaning and upgrading HVAC systems, limiting bypass air, and reassessing humidity levels are all tasks that should be on your checklist when preparing your commercial space for employee reentry.
High-speed airflows can carry airborne droplets around the room, especially in closed areas that lack proper ventilation. In addition to minimizing airflow speeds, you can change the settings to increase the rate of exchange to bring fresh air from the outside.
This prevents the recirculation of indoor air that may be contaminated. Furthermore, you can let the HVAC system run on slow airflow settings and high exchange rates for longer periods when space is not in use.
If your HVAC system only has fixed-speed fan motors, upgrade it with variable-speed alternatives to better manage airflow patterns. Encouraging vertical laminar in lieu of turbulent airflow and sustaining steady airspeed is also recommended.
Secondly, mechanical filters and pre-filters are also key for removing airborne contaminants. Higher-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters are more effective when combined with optimized ventilation and setting the relative humidity between 40%-60% will further prevent the airborne transmission of the virus.
As studies continue to be carried out, specifically studying the impact of the coronavirus and how big of a role HVAC plays in its transmission, Ana Maria Rule, assistant professor at the Environmental Health and Engineering department at Johns Hopkins, suggests that property managers utilize their systems to minimize the spread.
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