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Reviewing ASHRAE’s Guidelines for 2021 and Their Impact on the Return to Normal

Updated: Feb 18, 2022

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, ASHRAE released a series of recommendations for facility owners and operators regarding the management of indoor air quality and ventilation. These recommendations outlined a series of updates and standards for facilities in order to reduce the risk of exposure to airborne particles amongst occupants.

The virus transmission issue has given mechanical engineers plenty to consider over the past year.

There are increased needs and demand for ventilation systems with air purification capabilities. In some situations, these safety measures are key to re-opening facilities and keeping them open for operations. Global Travel Industry News even listed upgraded air filtration and ventilation units as one of the new mainstays for meetings of the future.

ASHRAE’s guidance through all of these changes has been key. Since last year, their network of engineers, including members of the staff at Tec Inc., continually collaborate on the best methods to improve facilities. They created COVID-19 Task Force dedicated to compiling resources for engineers and facilities alike to use in their efforts to deter occupants from disease transmission.

Some of these new guidelines from ASHRAE also play into modern design trends in the engineering world. Many new apartment and commercial buildings are boasting environmental and health accreditation earned from their selected design according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Further, more building owners are seeking USGBC LEED Accredited Professionals and WELL Certified Designers to help ensure certain facility health measures. ASHRAE’s current standards align with many of the guidelines within this program. For example, ASHRAE’s recommendation of a MERV-13-rated filter correlates with WELL building guidelines.

Across the board, ASHRAE’s recommendations and guidance have an effect across every industry. Their guidelines helped facilities, including schools and nursing facilities, find ways to stay as safe as possible following the outbreak of the pandemic.

Here are a few of the ways ASHRAE’s guidelines have impacted the industries:

GUV Lighting Helps Keep Facilities Open, Reduces Risk of Airborne Contaminants

One of the most effective changes owners can make is the addition of germicidal ultraviolet (GUV) lighting to their new or existing ventilation systems. These upgrades can play a key role in keeping buildings occupied now and add value to a given space in the long run; it can certainly be a win-win investment for owners and operators.

This approach proved valuable for many in the restaurant industry. Restaurants across the world have struggled over the last year with the decline of patrons going out to eat as a result of the pandemic.

This made it imperative for the industry to adjust to avoid further shutdowns. Upgrading ventilation systems, especially with GUV lighting to enhance the elimination of harmful particles, proved to be a valuable investment for owners.

Adding GUV lighting can be a benefit for any indoor air facility, whether it’s senior care, educational institutions, or commercial office buildings. The ability of this lighting system to reduce contaminated particles in the airspace is powerful and makes for a long-lasting and efficient upgrade.

When Professional & Collegiate Sports Returned to Play, ASHRAE Guidance had Major Impacts

In the months since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, ASHRAE’s recommendations began being utilized by operators spanning nearly every industry. These same materials are being used by professional sports teams, allowing for safe environments for athletes to return to play.

“We just want to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can, and we should be doing based on the latest medical advice,” Ryan Hummel, Philadelphia Eagles vice president of facility operations, said in an interview with The Athletic. “The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, Air Conditioning Engineers, we take these recommendations.”

Since last March, ASHRAE continually publishes materials to help owners and operators keep their facilities as safe as possible. It’s been important, of course, for engineers to follow suit and stay up-to-date with the latest articles and journals from ASHRAE.

Teams such as the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Timberwolves, according to a PBS report, are among those utilizing the standards from the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers to allow fans into their stadium and to keep players on the playing field healthy. Including considerations for LEED-certified facilities, as the Vikings' U.S. Bank Stadium has received, are recommended by ASHRAE to minimize the risk of disease transmission.

It’s worth noting that these forms of lighting are becoming more and more common in facilities. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, state and local government entities are finding ways to provide funding for these upgrades, an incentive to create barriers against disease transmission.

ASHRAE's Guidance for Senior Living Communities

Senior living communities were an area particularly affected at the start of the pandemic. Fortunately, ASHRAE quickly provided guidelines for these essential care facilities for some of society’s most vulnerable members.

Some of the most effective methods come from ASHRAE’s essential recommendations for most facilities. For example, the organization recommended that senior care facilities upgrade all air filters to MERV-13-rated options, in addition to adding GUV lighting.

Now, these areas are particularly important to secure, as seniors are among the most at risk of the effects of COVID-19. For this reason, ASHRAE recommended these facilities conduct more frequent air changes. Creating “nearly-negative” pressure bedrooms, the result of air changes in less occupied space, thus greatly improving the air quality of a given space, benefiting the occupants.

A recent Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) committee report explained using, emitting low- and medium-pressure mercury lamps, as well as pulsed xenon arc lamps. Studies have shown that these technologies—continuously emitting or pulsed—are comparably effective for disinfection."

These changes allow for fresh air to more regularly cycle in-and-out of the building. In addition to spacing additions throughout these facilities, the regular air changes allow for fewer particles possibly in the air to cause transmissive issues.

Simplifying Key Terms to Understanding ASHRAE’s Guidance

One issue that can make the ASHRAE guidelines a little trickier to digest are some of the terms utilized to best describe the concepts from the organization. However, early in the COVID-19 outbreak, ASHRAE put together a running list of key terms to help inform owners on some of the content provided. Here is a list of some of the more important terms and their definitions:

  • Building Air Infiltration: When an uncontrolled inward leakage of air cracks and enters in any building element, typically around the doors or windows of a building. This is typically caused by the pressure effects of wind or by the effect of differences in indoor and outdoor air density.

  • CADR: Clean air delivery rate, which is the combined effect of how much air is actually moved through a filter in addition to the amount of air moved through the filter in an efficient manner.

  • Contaminant, airborne: An impurity of any material of an extraneous nature, acting as an unwanted airborne component that may reduce the quality or acceptability of the air.

  • Droplet Transmission: Droplets that carry infectious pathogens that have the ability to transmit infection when they travel from the respiratory tract of an individual, which necessitates the need for facial protection.

  • Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV): The process of exchanging energy normally contained in a building’s exhaust system/air space and using it to treat the incoming outdoor ventilation in HVAC systems. This acts as a way to save energy and potentially money based on ASHRAE’s recommendation to continuously run air conditioning systems to help move potentially harmful particles out of the air at a faster rate.

  • HEPA Filter: High-efficiency particle air filter that removes 99.97% of particulate matter larger than 0.30 microns in size. There are six types of HEPA filters, which are labeled alphabetically from A to F, each with its own distinct characteristics.

  • MERV Ratings: Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, which is the amount/fraction of particles that are removed from the air that passes through a given filter. This is how “filter efficiency” can be measured by engineers and individuals looking to change their filters to a higher grade.

  • Opportunistic Organism: An ordinarily non-infectious agent that becomes infectious when encountered by a person with a compromised immune system. This occurs from a number of novel organisms, especially in aerosolized respiratory viruses that lack a vaccine or immunity within a population.


Contributions from the Engineering Team at Tec Inc.

Executive Vice President

Tim Pool is known for his genuine desire to make Tec Inc. a great place to work. He regularly shares his knowledge with younger staff and walks the walk of an engineer who gives back to our industry and community. Now executive vice president and our director of engineering, Tim runs an internal committee at Tec Inc. dedicated to the future of design; one of our differentiators. Tim is not only passionate about engineering, he also understands the importance of developing meaningful relationships — a value we live by at Tec Inc.

Principal | Director of Mechanical Engineering

Recognized as a pragmatic and skilled expert in HVAC engineering and plumbing design, John focuses on making the most of project budgets and schedules for our clients. A skilled troubleshooter and proponent of increasing energy efficiency, John manages and leads our mechanical engineering staff at Tec. In addition, he is always looking to help future AEC professionals along the way.

Brandon Sargent, PE, LEED AP BD+C Associate | Senior Electrical Engineer

Brandon leads our Pittsburgh office with a friendly flair to his electrical engineering and lighting design expertise. He's often referred to as our office Boy Scout since he earned the Eagle Rank as a young man and is always prepared for any client question or project concern. He's also a leading lighting design expert in our firm and works in collaboration with award-winning lighting designers to provide electrical engineering coordination with drawings and proper power requirements.

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