Reopening amid New COVID-19 Indoor Air Guidelines

COVID-19 has shined a spotlight on indoor air quality and ventilation. Due to factors relating to COVID concerns, experts from the commercial building industry, U.S. EPA Energy Star program, and American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) met in May to discuss how to best operate HVAC and related systems, and to offer recommendations on Building HVAC Operations amid COVID-19.

Here is a summary of some of their findings provided by Mona Kelley, managing member and regulatory affairs specialist with the Lake Wales, Florida-based Natural Air E-Controls.

Some essential tips from ASHRAE to prepare buildings for occupancy re-entry:

  • Flush the air and water systems;
  • Assess air filtration systems;
  • Ensure that HVAC systems undergo maintenance, cleaning and are operating normally;
  • Consider installing a SMART whole building ventilation controller system.

Experts recommend using simple measures to decrease exposure to air pollutants such as:

  • Cleaning;
  • Not allowing smoking;
  • Using dehumidifiers in high-humidity areas;
  • Installing carbon monoxide and radon monitors; and
  • Ensuring adequate ventilation through air exchange options.

In examining research from ASHRAE, CDC, WHO, and OSHA among others, the experts found that HVAC is not a major transmitter of viruses including COVID-19; transmission is mainly from person-to-person close contact over extended periods. However, since many viruses, including COVID-19, are spread by airborne transmission, HVAC measures should be taken to reduce potential exposure.

HVAC can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by incorporating best practices that focus on SMART whole building ventilation in order to dilute airborne viruses and filtration to remove dust and airborne particulates.

Experts analyzed the energy use impact of three measures to reduce virus transmission risk and recommended:

• Extending HVAC hours to provide additional outside air for several hours both before and after occupancy each day;

• Upgrading to MERV 13 from MERV 8 filters; and

• Letting in an additional 50% outside air above minimum standards.

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