Even months into the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the medical community continues to learn about the symptoms, long-term effects, and spread of COVID-19.
ASHRAE, The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, has delivered a couple of official statements based on what is known about the disease. In part, ASHRAE has concluded that:
It is not recommended that HVAC systems be shut down. Unconditioned air can encourage viral spread in poorly ventilated areas and there is a risk to residents and employees in other ways, such as thermal stress and lowering resistance to infection.
You can learn more by visiting ASHRAE’s website and the article ASHRAE Issues Statements on Relationship Between COVID-19 and HVAC in Buildings.
A standard, ducted HVAC system creates air currents that could carry aerosolized virus particles through a building. But HVAC systems can also be quickly modified to aid in stopping the spread.
HVAC systems can be adjusted to reduce the amount of recirculated air that may contain viral particles. Technicians can reconfigure ducted systems to increase the rate of exchange with fresh air from outside the building.
Adjusting the settings in commercial buildings can also help. Instead of shutting down HVAC overnight and on weekends, allowing the HVAC to run without interruption increases the overall volume of replacement of air and minimizes airflow speeds.
Replacing fixed speed motors with variable speed motors can provide for greater control of airflow and better humidity control, both of which help reduce the risk of viral spread.
Upgrading HVAC system filters can also help. While no HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) or MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) filter can guarantee trapping free viral particles as small as the coronavirus, they do help. Moisture droplets containing viral particles from a sneeze or a cough can be trapped by the premium filters available today.
Finally, we may soon see far-UVC light installations make their way into commercial spaces. These will be advanced versions of the germicidal lamps that have been used to zap microorganisms since the 1800s.
Researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center have demonstrated that using far-UVC light (222 nanometers) causes no damage to the skin or eyes while providing a defense against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
“Based on our results, continuous airborne disinfection with far-UVC light at the current regulatory limit could greatly reduce the level of airborne virus in indoor environments occupied by people.”
You can learn more at the Columbia University article: Far-UVC Light Safely Kills Airborne Coronaviruses.
As the world gains experience with the current pandemic, it’s becoming clear that the need for the HVAC industry to address infectious diseases will be an ongoing challenge far into the future.
ASHRAE has taken the lead by creating an Epidemic Task Force and developing an Emerging Issues Brief, a COVID-19 Resources webpage, and more.
Existing technologies and new technical approaches are all being put to the test to see which methods will yield the best results. This includes techniques like filtration, irradiation, thermal sterilization, ionic purifiers, ozone generators, and more.
Additional approaches being pioneered are designed to help prevent viral spread within buildings. These include air curtains at doorways, air gate doors between rooms or in corridors to reduce airflows from section to section, and over pressuring above suspended ceilings to prevent air from flowing through suspended ceilings from one room to another.
While the current pandemic is affecting global supply chains and negatively impacting residential HVAC installers for the short term, the market overall is still expected to grow by a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 4% by 2024. The three main factors driving the market forward are:
You can learn more by reading the MarketWatch article COVID-19 Impact on the HVAC Market.
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