Reopening Your Building

As we move towards the coming months we are beginning to think about getting back to work and a “new normal” that protects people from illness in the workplace. It is important to start now to develop a plan for building re-entry.

To date, there is no conclusive proof that COVID-19 has been transmitted through a ducted HVAC system. Experts have stated that airborne transmission of COVID-19 is possible due to the ability for small droplets of virus to stay airborne for a period of hours under certain conditions. However, there are prevention & mitigation strategies that can help reduce potential COVID-19 contamination of your HVAC system. None of these mitigation tactics are guaranteed to prevent transmission of COVID-19 and some have their own disadvantages. It is important that any of these mitigation strategies are combined with a more comprehensive building plan that includes preventing primary COVID-19 transmission, which is primarily through person-to-person contact & persons in contact with contaminated surfaces.

Atomatic has put together some guidelines to help you prepare the HVAC systems in your commercial building for the safe return of tenants and building personnel.

First and foremost, it is important to continue with regular maintenance on the HVAC systems. If your building has been vacant it’s especially important to make sure all systems are running properly. Maintenance will guarantee that your building will be ready when it’s time to start moving back in.

Many of our standard maintenance procedures are recommended as part of a plan to prepare buildings for reentry including:

  • Replacing filters to promote cleaner air
  • Check and verify economizer operations for appropriate outside air
  • Replacing belts to keep blower and exhaust motors running for proper air circulation
  • Cleaning condensate pans
  • Cleaning condenser coils

Procedures that can be added to your standard maintenance that will increase cleanliness and peace of mind include:

  • Sanitizing evaporator coils
  • Vacuuming  and sanitizing return air grills
  • Cleaning outdoor air dampers in air handlers
    • Should my HVAC equipment be cleaned and sanitized?
      • Some of our customers are asking us to clean and sanitize system components prior to starting up their air conditioning systems. We can’t be sure if any COVID-19 particles have remained viable in your system during the lockdown. Yet even beyond eliminating virus particles, there is certainly a benefit to cleaning condenser coils and other system components. Cleaning your system makes it operate more efficiently and keeps the system in good operating condition.
      • If you want additional peace of mind (especially if there have been confirmed cases of the virus in your space), Atomatic can complete a deep clean of evaporator coils and other system components where virus particles might be present.
      • For commercial systems, the ideal time to do this work is BEFORE you bring your employees back to work in your place of business and turn on the air conditioning system.
      • Keep in mind that sanitization of system components is a one-time cleaning, and does not provide any long term protection against future exposure to the virus.

Additionally, there are system upgrades available that will help provide cleaner and safer air to your building:

  • Utilize Higher Efficiency Filters
    • Should we install higher efficiency filters to prevent spread of the virus?
      • High efficiency HVAC filters can capture small particles (such as viruses) and remove them from the airflow in your space. Some are considering upgrading to high efficiency filters with the hope that they will reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, but they can’t eliminate the risk entirely. The COVID-19 virus is tiny and it’s possible that some particles may pass through even the highest efficiency filters.
      • It is also important to consider the operational impacts of using higher efficiency filters to your air conditioning system:
        • Higher efficiency filters are dense and don’t allow as much air to penetrate, which leads to decreased air flow through your system. If you were already struggling with a system that wasn’t performing well, it’s likely your system will have even more trouble cooling your space with high efficiency filters installed.
        • Your system will run longer to achieve the set temperature, which uses more electricity and creates wear and tear on fans and other parts of the system.
        • High efficiency filters trap more dust and debris so they must be changed more frequently.
      • According to the National Air Filtration Association (NAFA): “In order for filters to have any impact on infectious disease transmission, transmission has to occur through the airborne route, filters have to be properly installed and maintained in appropriate systems to treat recirculated air, and filters have to be appropriately designed for the building in which they are used. More importantly, in most buildings and in most situations, filters may be considerably less effective than other infection control measures including social distancing, isolation of known cases, and hand-washing.”
    • Bottom line: If you are thinking about adding high efficiency filters to your system or building, call us to discuss your situation.
  • Installing UV  Light Technology
    • Does UV technology kill the COVID-19 virus?
      • UV systems use ultraviolet (UV-C) light to kill and deactivate microbes, including viruses, that may penetrate filters and get into HVAC systems. There are different types, including upper air and surface-cleaning UV disinfection systems.
      • According to ASHRAE (as reported in ACHRnews): “the germicidal wavelength can kill 90 percent of all microorganisms living on HVAC air ducts and evaporator coils, depending on wavelength intensity and length of exposure.”
      • However, it’s important to know that although this technology has been shown to be effective in killing other types of coronaviruses, there has not been sufficient time to definitely prove it to be effective against COVID-19.
    • Bottom line: You’ll need to weigh the cost of installing HVAC UV products versus the potential benefit, which is not guaranteed.
  • Increasing Humidification Levels
    • How do humidity and ventilation affect COVID-19?
      • Recent research has shown that increasing indoor humidity levels can help to deactivate the virus.
      • During the winter months when our spaces are kept closed and heated, humidity levels tend to drop to levels between 20 and 40 percent, which are ideal conditions for the COVID-19 virus to thrive and remain viable for longer periods of time.
      • According to the research, adding moisture to the air may damage the outer membrane of the virus, and also make “droplets” less likely to linger in the air. Increased humidity has the added benefit of moisturizing our mucous membranes, which increases your body’s ability to fight the virus.
      • At the same time, it is important to avoid adding too much humidity to a space, which can cause damage to furnishings and finishes.
      • Humidification technology can boost humidity in your space to optimum levels, however you will need to consult with an HVAC expert to determine the optimum level for your space.
      • ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) also recommends increasing ventilation (adding more outside air) to dilute any particles that may be present. There are HVAC solutions that can add more outside air to your space and you will need to speak to an HVAC expert to determine the best option for your space.
    • Bottom line: It’s smart to have your indoor air quality evaluated and consider humidification and added ventilation. Atomatic can help you with that.
  • Bipolar Ionization
    • Should we consider other indoor air cleaning technologies, such as ionizers?
      • Integrated into HVAC systems, the technology utilizes specialized tubes that take oxygen molecules from the air and convert them into charges atoms that then surround and deactivate harmful substances like airborne molds, bacteria, allergens and viruses. The charged atoms attached to expelled breath droplets and dust particles that can transport viruses. These small units can be placed within your air distribution system and destroy any particles that manage to penetrate your filters.
      • There is some evidence that ionizers can help destroy virus particles similar to coronavirus, so it may be an option worth considering if your system can accommodate the equipment.
    • Bottom line: If you’re interested in ionization technology, give us a call to find out if it may offer some benefit for your system.
  • Air Purification/Air Scrubbing

If you’re interested in learning more about these technologies click on the links below.

Atomatic is here to help you get back to work.  Give us a call or send us an email if you would like more information.

Stay Safe

Your Atomatic Team