How much does a dated HVAC system hurt your space? Probably more than you think.
Updated: Feb 18
Around the country, people are preparing for a summer season with more people spending their time indoors than ever before in response to social distancing guidelines in place to prevent further spread of COVID-19. While on paper, spending the summer at home seems fairly simple, but aspects of buildings might not be ready for the increased loads, in addition to new sanitation regulations.
In an interview with ACHR NEWS, M. Dennis Knight, PE, FASHRAE, principal/engineer at Whole Building Systems in Charleston, SC pointed out a number of considerations operators have to consider for the future of their spaces.
According to Knight, building HVAC systems that have been shut down could be in trouble, as their integrity “can deteriorate rapidly” in a number of ways for a number of different reasons.
Smoke detectors and other sensors can get covered in dust, biological growth can occur in cool or even slightly moistened areas, filter linings can become contaminated due to the lack of airflow to keep particles in motion.
Many owners are already making changes on the fly to help solidify the integrity of their building.
"We have already seen greatly increased advertising and interest in enhanced filtration, ultraviolet lamps, ionizers, and other air cleaning technologies. Given the current climate, it seems probable this will continue for at least the short term, and probably the long term as well," Jon Alexander, PE, CGD, principal and senior mechanical engineer at Tec Inc. Engineering & Design said in an interview.
In the coming months and years, more properties are going to require upgrades to their HVAC systems, perhaps now with more urgency than ever previously experienced. We've put together a few ideas that are picking up steam around the industry.
Buildings moving towards high-quality HVAC systems for their tenants
Prior to COVID-19 any tenant’s decision to move into space were based on a building’s amenities, like an updated fitness center, access to private green spaces, or a scenic rooftop patio. However, in the coming months, the quality/modernity of a building’s HVAC system is likely to be one of the items that drive a tenant to select their space.
In an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, HVAC engineers and real estate managers alike recognize the impact coronavirus is certain to have on the wants and needs of building tenants.
Many of the country’s commercial office buildings designed before 1989 (63% of offices) were designed before the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers put standards into place for a building’s HVAC system.
While these buildings might still be taking proper maintenance measures, the modern standards including large intake vents on a building’s exterior, wide ventilation shafts, and powerful fans to create movement aren’t all components that exist within dated spaces.
Keeping your ducts in a row
While some offices stayed open in a limited capacity, it’s recommended that any building experiencing short or long term absences take the time to consider the functionality of their HVAC systems.
As much as possible, owners should keep their systems in constant circulation. This both mitigates the amount of build-up from a stationary system and keeps new, clean air flowing through spaces.
When social distancing and stay-at-home orders went into effect in March, many offices quickly shut down in-person operations, resulting in the shutdown of many HVAC systems.
Upon reopening, it’s wise for owners to seek commercial cleaning services to ensure their system is running smoothly, especially with so many members of our society rightfully concerned about the health standards of their space.
Adding UV lighting to your HVAC equation
For years, healthcare facilities have used ultraviolet light as a method of air purification within HVAC systems. Ultraviolet lighting, often referred to as UV lighting, produces a strong enough emission to eliminate molds and bacteria that enter the HVAC system over time.
This application is now being considered by more and more faculty types as an effective means to clean air.
A study conducted by Duke University in 2012 showed that UV lights killed 97% of bacteria that were resistant to antibiotics, known as the hard-to-kill superbug bacteria.
The two types of UV lighting for HVAC system sanitation are coil sanitizing and air sanitizing lights.
In May, Tec Inc.'s Senior Electrical Engineer Brandon Sargent, PE, LEED AP BD+C explained the different types of UV lighting, how they're already being used by other industries and the benefits owners receive from the solution.
For owners of aging buildings, especially those who haven't renovated their HVAC systems since their opening, it's a good time to get an evaluation of their system. For those interested, Senior Mechanical Engineer Jon Alexander, PE, CDG can review systems and recommend upgrades based on his findings.
At the very minimum, building owners and operators should replace the air filters around their space, which reduces the risk of harmful particles being inhaled by occupants.
Jon Alexander, PE, CGD
Principal | Senior Mechanical Engineer
Interested in the newest trends in the industry, especially with regards to developing technologies, the team relies on Jon to bring state-of-the-art expertise to our clients' HVAC design. Jon has a key role in our leadership, often taking the initiative to lead the team through complex projects, including renovations of schools, churches, hospitals, industrial plants, and commercial projects.