Can HVAC measures help Restaurants Re-Open and Stay Operational?
Updated: Feb 18, 2022
With the country still trying to find its footing in its attempt to re-open day-to-day commerce in the wake of coronavirus, hard-hit businesses like bars and restaurants are dealing with tricky circumstances that affect their ability to continue operations.
Here in Columbus, a number of restaurants have been forced to shut down operations for multiple days after members of their staff came into contact with or suffered an infection of COVID-19; after such a lengthy layoff between days of operation already this year, these businesses deserve solutions that will give them a re-opening that lasts.
As an MEP firm, of course, one of the areas we know best is air conditioning, air handling, and HVAC unit functionality as a whole, an area we believe with proper focus, can greatly mitigate the risk of aerial spread. We've spent much of the last four-to-five months rallying as a team to find creative and innovative solutions for our clients.
In restaurants, a positive case can quickly result in multiple days or weeks of a shutdown, which is a major threat to local enterprises in every town/city across the world. In general, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that keeping a constant stream of ventilation going when customers are indoors a bar or restaurant is crucial.
Keeping windows open while the air conditioning continues to run might have some incurred costs, it gives spaces the benefit of cycling out air that might hold contaminated particles, including the COVID-19 virus. The CDC also suggests providing as much socially distant outdoor seating as possible to protect all diners.
After working with some of our restaurants on solutions to help better protect their customers into the future, we wanted to assemble a few ideas to share with others.
Ductwork is the way to go, as long as it’s possible
Ensuring a building’s systems are running smoothly is always a crucial first step, but making sure a building has the RIGHT system should also be a priority. For restaurant owners, this could mean it’s time to consider making an upgrade to something that can provide value and withstand the elements.
Restaurant owners who don’t currently have ductwork as the transport method for their HVAC unit may consider investigating the value of adding one of these systems. After all, they may help lower the risk of disease spread within their dining room.
In an interesting case study from a restaurant in Guangzhou, China published by The New York Times, a less-effective air conditioning system actually played a role in spreading the coronavirus to seven occupants in the idle air of a 73-person dining room.
With their simple wall-mount air conditioning unit across the dining room from the building’s exhaust fan, a person sitting in a central part of the restaurant seemed to have spread the disease to the handful of additional patrons. The problem was the lack of circulation, as the lone air-pushing factor didn’t keep fresh air in a cycle, rather pushing contaminated air over the rest of the dining room.
Proper ductwork can be a strong first step in trusting air handling units to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. With the introduction of ductwork, buildings have an expanded ability to circulate air, with vents in multiple locations frequently producing new, filtered air into a given space.
Ultraviolet Light is a Strong Practical Solution
Installing ultraviolet lighting in the ductwork of a restaurant does come with upfront costs, but it can be a key factor in continuing day-to-day operations.
The radiation from this lighting, while safe for humans, does a great job eliminating harmful particles from otherwise purified air.
In a conversation with Tec Inc. Engineering & Design’s Brandon Sargent, PE, LEED AP BD+C in June, he suggested that this technology could be a big step towards improving interior conditions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Air Quality Matters, so Air Purification can help keep more people safe
In addition to taking measures to upgrade the interworkings of an HVAC system, considering the addition of one or more air purifiers to a restaurant can be a noninvasive way to help promote air quality. The units start around $100 on the low end with premium options reaching the $600-plus mark, though a variety of options exist in between the two price points.
According to the Atlanta hub of the popular food blog Eater, a handful of restaurants in Georgia’s capital are already making changes to install high-grade air purification systems.
While keeping tables at least six-to-eight feet apart is still a priority for these restaurants, getting creative with air purification methods now can save them from losses down the road caused by another illness-related closure.
Engineering reviews can answer a lot of questions (and perhaps save restaurants time and money)
Trying to decide what's best for an individual restaurant's air handling and air quality factors can be an overwhelming task for a general manager or owner to tackle.
Consulting a mechanical engineer can go a long way towards finding a solution that solves a business's challenge and helps keep a restaurant running time through a time of great confusion and uncertainty.
On our own team, John Milenius, PE, LEED AP has the experience working on hundreds of HVAC challenges and has spent much of the last five months finding creative solutions to help keep our clients operate. Contact Tec Inc. Engineering & Design if you want to find an air handling solution to help keep your bar or restaurant running.