According to the guidelines released by the World Health Organization, indoor airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 continues to be a high risk. People that spend extended periods of time in poorly ventilated and crowded rooms are particularly more vulnerable. Proper maintenance of air conditioning, heating and ventilation systems can help in reducing the spread of coronavirus by improving ventilation, purifying air, and managing airflows.
Safety experts, building managers and others can take various steps to optimize airflow and ventilation to limit the spread of viruses in their facility. Keeping an HVAC system well-maintained should be a priority for building managers.
HVAC Systems and Airborne Infections
There are several factors that come into play in measuring the efficacy of an HVAC system in preventing the spread of airborne infections. The age and type of HVAC systems tend to vary widely between buildings. For instance, emergency response facilities and hospitals have advanced filtration and ventilation systems as compared to schools, apartment buildings, retail facilities, fitness centers, and office buildings.
However, there is no denying the fact that HVAC systems can prevent the spread of viruses by creating optimal temperature, humidity, and complete distribution of fresh air.
Role of HVAC Maintenance in Preventing Covid-19 Spread
Air conditioning and heating systems are vital to our daily lives. These systems help create an indoor environment that suppresses or discourages the viability and growth of molds, bacteria, and viruses. In fact, in optimal humidity and temperature, the baseline resilience of immune systems of occupants is bolstered. This improves health outcomes even if the individual does get infected.
However, fresh air intake quantity and quality is key to this result. Other things to take into account are airflow patterns, air circulation, temperature, and humidity. Building managers should consider air treatment and air filtration strategies as well depending on the function and purpose of the building. Maintenance of these systems is integral to keeping them in good shape.
Performing a Cleanliness and Maintenance Check
You should have a commercial facility maintenance and engineering services provider look into the ductwork and interior air handling units. The recommended cleaning schedule for ductwork cleaning before covid was 3 – 5 years. However, the ductwork should be cleaned before reopening a building post-covid.
You should also have professional building maintenance and engineering technicians perform an inspection to determine that all air filters are clean or replaced. Pressure gauges should be checked across the filter bank. Filters should be replaced if the pressure drop suggests a loaded or dirty filter.
Ensuring Adequate Air Intake
Fresh air is important to maintaining a healthy IAQ (indoor air quality.) You should have an experienced commercial building maintenance and engineering company determine the amount of fresh air drawn into the system. You should have them inspect the operation, positioning of fresh air and mixed air intake dampers, and control sequence for ensuring the right balance.
Air balancing agents may also be engaged for measuring the amount of fresh air that needs to be drawn into the building. You should consider having the ratio of fresh air in your building increased to prevent stale or infected air from circulating. A mechanical consulting engineer should be able to help you determine the extent of fresh air that can be brought into the system to maintain comfortable environmental conditions.
Inspect return air intakes and air diffusers throughout the building. You should ensure that they are clear of blockages and have not been tampered with.
Importance of Humidification Equipment Maintenance
You should ensure the humidifier is cleaned, maintained and operating properly, if the HVAC system has humidification equipment. Humidifiers need considerable maintenance. Building operators used to defer maintenance costs and efforts by decommissioning them earlier. However, they are important in today’s post-pandemic times.
Buildings with frequent and varied occupancy should maintain proper humidity levels. Relative humidity level between 40 – 60% is ideal for overall human health and immune system performance. It is vital that the effects of indoor humidity on building envelopes be considered during frigid winter climates. Building managers should understand that proper humidity and temperature levels can bolster immune systems and help keep occupants healthy, even if it cannot prevent the direct spread of infections.
Reviewing Set Points and Control System Sequences
Besides maintaining the HVAC system, facility managers also need to ensure that the control systems are set straight. The building maintenance and engineering services company you call for maintenance should be able to help review the control systems that bring the mechanical systems to life in your building. These are the HVAC system’s brain and nervous system.
Without the right control system, you are invariably left with an ineffective collection of ducts and pipes. You need to ensure that the system is capable of adapting to changes in indoor and climate activities to provide adequate cooling, heating, and ventilation.
There is a significant impact on a system’s effectiveness by the way it is controlled and operated. A system won’t run effectively or efficiently if the decision and programming points built into the control system are not set correctly. This is a crucial job and should be performed by an experienced and knowledgeable commercial facility maintenance and engineering services provider.
The right professional can help ensure the system reacts appropriately during certain conditions. You should upgrade the control system if necessary. This would help you notice significant improvements in energy efficiency, effectiveness, and indoor air quality.
Reviewing Energy Consumption Data
A system that is properly maintained will take adequate amounts of energy. Cooling, heating, ventilating, and humidifying consume energy. Building managers can benchmark appropriate consumption by scheduling a review of energy consumption data. This should also allow facility managers to see spikes and step changes that have occurred over a period of time.
There is a lot that energy consumption can talk about a system’s efficiency. Your system is probably not working as it should if the energy consumption is on an upward trend or has otherwise shifted from its original points.
Additional Steps to Mitigate Virus Transmission Indoors
There are several steps that a capable and professional facility maintenance and engineering services provider can take to help prevent the spread of coronavirus in a building. For instance, the technician that visits your facility should be able to configure the ducted system for increasing the rate of exchange with fresh air and reduce recirculation.
They may also adjust settings to help maintain efficiency by increasing the replacement of air and minimizing airflow speeds. In certain cases where a building has an inflexible or an old system, the technician might consider upgrading the HVAC hardware. They may include the following to ensure increased efficiency and better system performance that will eventually work towards reducing the spread of airborne particulates:
- Enhancing the control of airflow by installing variable-speed fan motors in place of fixed-speed fan motors. This will allow for lower speed airflow.
- Installing better airflow-control systems that allow for smooth adjustment of airflow and are more sensitive to pressure.
- Installing air purification systems with higher performance.
HVAC maintenance in commercial buildings impacts the indoor air quality and is critically important to ensuring the safety of employees who are gradually returning to physical workspaces. Upgrading and maintaining HVAC systems in the building demonstrates the commitment of employers to put safety first.
Co-Owner of Servi-Tek Facility Solutions since early 2006. Bryan has focused on all aspects of growing the business, but is highly skilled in Finance, Accounting, Strategic Planning, Organization Development, Mergers & Acquisitions, Contract Negotiations, Company Culture, Human Resources and Marketing.