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How Proper Building Ventilation Can Help Stop the Spread of COVID-19

As the weather gets colder, we are spending more time indoors. Considering indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air, this can be dangerous for the spread of COVID-19.

This contaminated air will continue to circulate throughout public spaces without proper building ventilation.

Most states have placed strict guidelines on business operations. To stay open, business owners must take the initiative and keep their public spaces compliant with these regulations.

It's clear by now that these restrictions are not going away any time soon. While trials for new therapies and vaccines are continuing, the timeline is uncertain.

In the meantime, scientists are looking for other long-term methods of stopping the spread of this highly-contagious disease. Proper building ventilation is one-way business owners are working to protect their spaces.

There are various technologies that can achieve this goal. In conjunction with practices like mask-wearing and social distancing, the use of proper HVAC systems to purify and filter the air can be a game-changer in large public spaces.

Keep reading to learn more about proper building ventilation and how it can help mitigate the spread of Coronavirus in your business.

The Spread of COVID-19

Relatively speaking, experts know little about the novel Coronavirus.

Scientists continue to work to understand how this virus spreads. Researchers have drawn some inferences from other viruses, including the SARS outbreak from 2003. This virus is genetically similar to the COVID-19 virus.

The incubation period for Coronavirus can be up to 14 days. This means that an infected person can be COVID-positive yet not show symptoms for up to two weeks. 

Some positive people do not show symptoms at all or may experience very mild effects. As such, asymptomatic spread is one of the main reasons, this disease has wreaked havoc around the world. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns that close contact increases the likelihood of infection.

The main form of COVID-19 transmission is through droplets and particles that are released by an infected person has released. The largest particles transmit as droplets—like those resulting from sneezing or coughing. They tend to fall more quickly and live on the ground or on other surfaces.

Meanwhile, smaller particles (also known as aerosols) can travel through the air. Both can live in their respective environments for long periods of time and can contaminate other people who disrupt these environments. 

It is thought to be uncommon that simply touching these droplets alone can cause transmission. Rather, it is the common human phenomenon of touching one's face that can spread the virus from surfaces to the respiratory system.

This means it is possible to become infected with Coronavirus, even if no already-infected people are nearby.

The easy spread of the virus is why "community spread" has increased in many areas across the globe. This refers to a situation where many people in one area are infected with the virus, with some unsure of where and when they contracted the virus.

Resulting Business Closures

There has been an overwhelming rise in cases over the course of 2020. This is coupled with the generally little information known about Coronavirus.

Thus, many states have elected to issue wide-spread restrictions in various areas of society—all in the hope of curbing the virus's spread. Unfortunately, almost nine months later, there is no end in sight.

Many areas of the country are experiencing a "second wave" of the virus. Closures and restrictions have been reinstated accordingly. There are various steps in place at the national, state, and individual business level to stop the spread.

In both the first and second waves of the virus, many states have issued "stay at home" orders and placed restrictions on business operations.

This is especially true for places where large groups of people tend to gather and linger. Examples of these include:

  • Malls
  • Museums
  • Places of worship
  • Theaters
  • Gyms
  • Schools
  • Airports
  • Arenas

For some businesses, this has resulted in overall closure for a period of time. For an unfortunate many, recovering financially from these challenges was not possible. These businesses were forced to close permanently.

Governors have struggled with reopening states, as well. Most have elected to reopen in stages, with stringent guidelines for business operations in place. These must be followed in order for businesses to stay open.

Though cumbersome, these rules are designed to keep the risk levels of contracting Coronavirus in these spaces as low as possible.

It is the responsibility of each business to play its part and meet or exceed these guidelines at all times. Threats of steep penalties and other disciplinary actions hang over these businesses. State governments and agencies enforce Coronavirus regulations.

These regulations are also true for employees returning to the workplace. To protect all occupants of the space, proper regulations must be adhered to.

Combating the Spread of COVID-19

There is still a wide range of ongoing research on the spread of Coronavirus.

However, scientists have discovered some components of how the virus spreads. This is crucial for indoor environments, where the risk of transmission is much higher.

While a few pharmaceutical companies have begun developing a vaccine, this process moves slowly. In addition to approval processes, the supply chain for actually distributing a vaccine is challenging. 

The CDC has stated that the COVID-19 can be commonly spread by airborne transmission. The virus can remain in the air for hours. As such, there is a greater chance of airborne infection when an indoor space is occupied for long periods of time.

Places like schools, offices, storefronts, lobbies, and other high-traffic areas are especially vulnerable. 

Many of these spaces do not have proper building ventilation systems in place to combat this threat. Their air exchange rate is not high enough to mitigate the spread of infectious droplets that travel through the air.

This is why it is essential for businesses and indoor public spaces to take proper precautions to limit this spread. These measures include:

  • Limiting capacities
  • Staggering work schedules
  • Mask wearing
  • Increased hand washing/sanitizing
  • Social distancing
  • Limiting the use of shared spaces
  • Reconfiguring spaces/furnishings
  • Proper cleaning and disinfecting
  • Adequate air ventilation and filtration

While all these measures are critical for limiting the spread of Coronavirus, air filtration is one of the most important. Proper building ventilation filters the air before it circulates through spaces. Bacteria, pathogens, and viruses (including the one that causes COVID-19) are filtered out.

However, there are further benefits to air purification in the context of COVID considerations. As chemical cleaning products have become more widely used, there has been greater exposure to harmful agents. Proper building ventilation reduces byproducts and fumes resulting from these chemicals.

The New Indoors

All summer long, experts have urged the increase in outdoor dining as there is a much less chance of spreading the virus under these conditions.

Of course, most of these restaurants have implemented strict cleaning, mask-wearing, and social distancing requirements. But this may not be enough to protect patrons as the outdoor dining experience begins to change shape.

As the weather has gotten colder, coupled with a rise in infection levels, this has become more of a struggle. In the effort to provide more comfortable outdoor dining conditions, some businesses have raised structures to protect from the elements. However, many of these structures have reduced the airflow that inspired outside dining in the first place.

This has lead to a delicate balance. On the one hand, patrons should be as comfortable as possible in trying to enjoy some semblance of a normal dining experience. On the other hand, if these structures go unchecked, they will likely recreate many of the concerns that traditional indoor dining presented.

As such, if these encasements are raised, proper ventilation goes along with it. They may be able to skirt some of the traditional ventilation requirements. However, if a Coronavirus outbreak occurs in their restaurant, business owners can face shutdowns or other costly regulatory action.

This means it is critical for business owners to ensure all of their public spaces are up to compliance. There are portable versions of much of the equipment needed to ensure proper building ventilation.

Business owners with larger outdoor spaces may consider using devices designed for the right size room, based on the conditions. Using larger units does not necessarily produce greater results. Rather, the units take up more space, create more noise, and cost much more than what is required. This can be counterproductive in ensuring a positive experience for your guests.

However, it is important to keep in mind the exhaust factor. If not properly vented, some of these units can produce ozone, which is harmful to human health.

The Importance of Proper Building Ventilation

Maintaining proper building ventilation requires increasing the amount of outdoor air coming indoors. It is one of the most effective ways to decrease the transmission of airborne contaminants.

Experts recommend that ventilation systems should begin working at least two hours before a space is opened to the public and continue on at least two hours after this space is closed.

With cold weather quickly approaching, more people are spending time inside. As such, the need to keep indoor spaces as clean as possible is more important than ever.

This process is easier said than done. Key components of implementing proper building ventilation include:

  • Increasing ventilation
  • Adding advanced filtration
  • Correcting humidification
  • Introducing UV lamps
  • Ionizing air particles
  • Improving the mechanical hygiene of existing HVAC units 

Of course, this method alone is not enough to combat the spread of Coronavirus. But when used in conjunction with other methods, it can be significantly effective. Proper building ventilation can help protect people, even when indoors.

Maintaining proper building ventilation is a balancing act. Fresh air needs to be brought in with no contaminated particles in it. At the same time, existing particles from the air need to be removed.

The key to proper ventilation is the air exchange rate. This refers to how often new air from outside replaces old air inside. Experts recommend 3-6 air exchanges per hour. 

This could be as simple as opening all windows and doors to allow as much outside air as possible to exchange with inside air. However, this is not realistic for most businesses and homes due to weather, pollution, and the entrance of unwanted guests (bugs, birds, etc.)

As such, using high-grade filters to clean the air that already exists inside a space is the next-best option.

Putting Plans into Action

Masks are generally effective at stopping large air particles that may contain pathogens. However, they are only partially effective against aerosols.

Aerosols smaller particles that can travel through masks and can still disseminate viruses. Targeting these smaller particles has proven to be one of the biggest challenges in the attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

This is where proper building ventilation is key. With this air purification technology, particles are diluted and ultimately removed from the space.

HVAC filters and portable air cleaners are two common ways of achieving this. These methods ensure proper ventilation while reducing airborne virus contaminants.

Smaller, indoor spaces have struggled quite a bit in this area. Implementing safe, Coronavirus ventilation measures is difficult and expensive.

It can be hard to increase airflow without compromising the comforts of indoor operations. These businesses would lose the ability to control temperature and avoid outdoor air pollution.

Luckily, portable air cleaners can help purify the air in these settings where outdoor ventilation is not possible. This technology can be especially beneficial for smaller businesses. Many of these do not have large HVAC systems and cannot afford to install them—especially during a pandemic.

But when possible, using HVAC systems to perform air purification can make a lasting difference. 

In large buildings, the existing HVAC systems typically already filter the air before it is distributed. These systems can be found in buildings like offices, schools, and large commercial spaces.

Upgrading the filters in these systems to their highest efficiency can help reduce the spread of airborne disease.

In homes, windows and doors should remain open whenever possible. Using fans or air conditioners (with proper vents) can also help with ventilation and circulation. In addition to portable air cleaners, high-efficiency furnace filters can be beneficial in a home setting.

Air Filtration Technologies

One main area of weakness that has been exposed by the Coronavirus pandemic is the lack of adequate HVAC systems in many buildings. Especially in older or multi-use spaces, there may not be proper ventilation systems in place.

By improving ventilation and filtration, business owners can reduce the risk of spreading the virus in their spaces. 

There are various methods of air filtration to reduce exposure to Coronavirus. The best course of action for every building and room will differ, so it is difficult to place an umbrella solution to the problem. 

However, experts have outlined important steps for public-facing spaces to take. The major authorities here are The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), along with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

They set the proper building code standards for states to adopt. These organizations have played a leading role in setting air filtration guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

No minimum ventilation rates have been officially established, as data is largely nonexistent. But ASHRAE, in particular, has worked to set recommendations in this area.

ASHRAE has an epidemic task force in place to help implement important readiness measures. They have made a variety of resources available regarding building readiness, mitigation strategies, and guidelines for various industries regarding Coronavirus responses.

As they are the main authoritative body in terms of air filtration and ventilation technology, ASHRAE holds its own technical committee. They provide training, standards and guidelines, and handbooks. You could also go back and review past conferences and their key speakers.

Making use of this information can be highly effective in achieving the overarching goal of reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Proper Building Ventilation in Action

A recent example of this comes from a popular gym in Virginia, where a trainer inadvertently exposed 50 athletes to Coronavirus. Yet, none got sick.

This facility reopened during the state's Phase 2 in June after state-mandated closure. The gym's owner consulted with experts on ventilation COVID guidelines prior to reopening. This is in addition to implementing increased cleaning and distancing protocols.

Proper building ventilation was essential to readying the gym for reopening. This is especially true in a setting with lots of sweating and heavy breathing.

In September, the gym owner's worst nightmare came true: one of the gym's coaches tested positive for COVID-19 even though the trainer had exposed 50 gymgoers, not one developed symptom.

Luckily, the gym was compliant with ASHRAE standards, even with some of the doors closed. This is thanks to the owner's due diligence in ensuring ventilation and filtration were up to snuff prior to reopening.

In combination with the gym's distancing and cleaning regimen, the air purification protocols made a huge difference in the lives of 50 human beings.

Other gyms, schools, and similar high-traffic facilities have also followed suit.

It's especially informative to compare these stories with other cases that did not have such positive outcomes. In Washington state, a choir practice lead to 53 confirmed or suspected Coronavirus infections and two deaths.

Throughout the practice session, choir members were diligent in avoiding close contact. This was not enough.

The airborne properties of the virus, coupled with the projecting nature of singing, facilitated the infection of more than 50 people. The effects of the indoor choir practice differed drastically from the fate of the Virginia gymgoers.

Proper ventilation can go a long way in mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

MERV Air Filters

There are various methods of air purification to assist your business in proper building ventilation.

In conjunction with other measures, it can be the difference between a Coronavirus outbreak and a non-event. Upgrading your unit's air filters can help decrease the likelihood of your space spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.

It's true that air filtration units typically already exist in larger HVAC systems. But increasing the efficiency of these units to their highest potential can be key in mitigating the spread of contaminants.

The degree of air filtration can be classified by its minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV). Most filters have a MERV range from 1-16, with 1 being the weakest and 16 being the strongest level of filtration.

MERV 13 or greater filters ensure recirculated air is at least 80% free of contaminants. The ASHRAE recommends those with MERV 14 or greater.

Upgrading these filters is relatively inexpensive. However, it is important to consult with an HVAC expert as increased-MERV air filters need higher air pressure. If a system is not equipped to handle this, higher-MERV filters can damage HVAC fan and motor systems.

Upgrading these MERV filters are a good solution for those systems that are not designed to be compatible with HEPA filters.

HEPA Air Filters

When possible, a better option is High-Efficiency Particular Air (HEPA) and Ultra-low Particulate Air (ULPA) filtration units that capture and remove airborne virus particles.

These are even more effective than MERV filters at reducing airborne viruses. These filters are considered the "gold standard" of air filtration.

When these units are well-designed and well-positioned, they can reduce exposure to the virus. They work by forcing air through a fine mesh, trapping over 99% of air particles and viral pathogens. 

These particles move in what is known as "Brownian motion," where they stumble around and crash into the fine mesh fibers. The higher the efficiency of the filter means, the more tightly-woven these fibers are. Thus, it becomes more difficult for particles to pass through.

These filters are extremely effective in removing potentially harmful particles. They are designed for use in places like hospitals or schools where continuous air purity is needed. It is also helpful in the homes of those with severe allergies or chronic respiratory illnesses like COPD or asthma.

HEPA filters have been used since the post-World War II era to target and remove pathogens in the air. Considering the Coronavirus pandemic, many school systems have begun to use this technology in addition to existing HVAC systems.

Just look at New York City, the nation's largest public school system—they have purchased 30,000 units as of November 2020.

The Role of Humidity

Scientists know Coronavirus lives best in dry environments. However, too much humidity can also be a bad thing. The American Society for Microbiology recommends keeping indoor levels between 40 to 60 percent.

The air acts like a sponge. Relative humidity refers to the amount of water vapor actually in the air, as compared to its capacity. For example: when the humidity level is at 100%, the sponge is fully immersed.

This becomes especially important as the weather gets colder. Warmer air is a larger sponge than cold air—meaning it can hold more water vapor. So as winter takes over the country and people begin to heat the air, inside environments get more humid.

Keeping Humidity Balanced

Humidity can play a role in the transmission of viruses in three main ways.

Primarily, humidity can alter the human body's defense system. In the respiratory tract, there is a layer of mucous that tracks particles as they go into the lungs. It is then pushed back up to the throat, where they are then swallowed and avoid infecting the respiratory system.

But with dryer air comes less mucous in the respiratory tract. This means that fewer contagions are encapsulated and prevented from entering the lungs. These particles can descend into the lungs and wreak havoc by causing respiratory infections (like Coronavirus).

In addition, the structure of the virus that causes COVID-19 does not fare well in high humidity. At close to 60% humidity, the virus decays faster. This property is unique to this virus, and scientists do not know for sure why this happens.

Finally, relative humidity can also affect the lifetime and distance traveled by droplets.  When the air has low humidity levels, larger droplets evaporate faster. The particles that are left are smaller and more difficult to catch.  

All things considered, higher levels of humidity decreases the chance of virus transmission. But at the same time, too humid of an environment can breed other pathogens. Levels above 60 percent can allow for the growth of mold, mildew, bacteria, and other viruses.

There is limited data on the effectiveness of this technology. However, experts believe maintaining safe levels of humidity is one solid way to help stop the spread of the virus. 

UV Lamps

Some consumers and business owners have looked for nontraditional ways to disinfect their spaces.

The use of UV lamps within HVAC systems is one example of this. 

The FDA and CDC have concluded that the use of UV-C radiation can be a successful disinfectant. This technology can disable up to 99.99% of microorganisms in the air, water, and on some surfaces.

This technology has been used for decades and is also known as "germicidal" lamps. Radiation from UV lamps is commonly used for air disinfection. They can prevent bacteria, viruses, mold, and other dangerous contaminants from growing inside of air systems.

UV lamps are employed inside air ducts to achieve this purpose. Studies show radiation from these lamps has destroyed the protein that coats the SARS-Coronavirus. This renders it inactive.

However, please note this is not the same as the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2). This does not mean UV lamps wouldn't be effective in combatting this virus. It just means that less information is known due to the unprecedented nature of the disease.

UV lamp radiation can only be effective in deactivating the virus if directly exposed to it for a sufficient duration. Many of the UV lamps currently on the market (for home use) are on the lower-dose end of the spectrum. To be effective in a large space, it would require longer exposure.

It's important to remember that exposure to skin/eyes can be harmful, and burns can result from improper use.

Plus, not all UV lamps are created equal. Though they are FDA-regulated, they can differ between models. The range of wavelengths and type of radiation (visible or infrared) they emit may vary.

It's important to check out the different UV lamps on the market and find the best fit for your home or business needs. 

Air Ionization

Bipolar ionization works by electrically charging air particles. This way, they are attracted to the opposite charge. Ionized particles can then attach to contaminants (including airborne viruses), making hydrogen bonds impossible.

Viruses like the one causing COVID-19 cannot remain viable without hydrogen bonds. So once the particles are ionized, they are neutralized and then removed by static electricity.

From there, they are more easily captured by air filters. They become stuck to collector panels inside the air system where they can be safely removed.

Air ionization can be a great solution for places like restaurants. These businesses may be struggling without large HVAC systems to efficiently improve indoor air. It can also be used in addition to existing large air systems.

This technology is not new on the scene. Bipolar ionization is already in use in spaces, including hospitals, airports, hotels, and schools where traffic is high.

However, despite the prevalence of technology and encouragement from the CDC, there is not a lot of data to back it up. Plus, there can sometimes be dangerous byproducts.

This is why it is essential to consult an expert in the field. It allows you to ensure the safety and effectiveness of any upgrades to your air system.

Maintenance

The Coronavirus pandemic has forced many business owners to confront their ventilation and air purification systems. While some have determined their systems were not efficient enough, others may have found they do not take good enough care.

Even the best HVAC systems in the world will not perform well if not properly maintained.

Although implementing higher-efficiency filters can help reduce the spread of airborne contaminants, there are some caveats to this. When systems are working harder to push air through the filters, the system itself becomes less efficient.

This is why it is important now more than ever to ensure systems are running at their best. With HVAC systems taking a beating over the past year, they must be properly optimized for best success. Supplementing systems with smaller, portable units may be a good solution rather than overloading existing units.

Adding in these upgrades to your air system are investments into the health and safety of everyone who enters the building. To protect your investment, you must keep up with routine maintenance. Be sure to set up a schedule with HVAC technicians to make the most of your air system.

Beware of Ozone Generators

There is some widespread misinformation regarding the use of ozone generators in the fight against Coronavirus. While this technology has shown potential success in cases in Japan and Spain, it is very dangerous.

Ozone is a gas with three oxygen atoms, unlike the normal oxygen molecule with two atoms. The chemical is unstable and highly reactive. 

Most people experience ozone as "smog" at the ground level on poor air quality days, which is very unhealthy. High exposure to the gas can be very dangerous.

Treatments using this gas can be risky.

Three patients in Spain with COVID-19 cases severe to the point of respiratory failure were given this treatment. This oxygen-ozone therapy is also known as ozonated autohemotherapy.

It has been used in the past to treat other conditions through blood infusions. But when a facility in Dallas, Texas, was shut down by a federal court, they tried to offer the same treatment.

Ozone generators are used to produce this dangerous gas. The EPA warns against using these devices in occupied spaces, as they can be harmful to human consumption.

The FDA has given similar guidance. The regulatory body even called it a "toxic gas with no known useful medical application" in their codes. For it to be at a useful concentration, the levels required far exceed human or animal-safe zones.

But in order for ozone generators to be used at a level that is safe by public health standards, they are not effective enough. They cannot remove viruses, bacteria, mold, or other pathogens at these levels.

Experts advise it is best to avoid ozone generators altogether in the battle against Coronavirus.

Lasting Effects of COVID-19

Even once the immediate effects of Coronavirus are behind us, many think that humankind is fundamentally changed by the circumstances of the disease.

For example, some companies have completely given up hope of ever returning to the office. They have decided to make the work-from-home mentality a permanent one and thus solely rely on remote workers moving forward.

For those that do return to the office and for various other public spaces, major changes will occur. The pandemic may inspire businesses to pay more attention to their air ventilation and filtration systems. This is true for both new and existing buildings.

For those HVAC and other filtration systems in place, the need to keep up with maintenance will be more prominent than ever. This way, systems will be ready to go in the event of another major airborne event.

In addition, ventilation standards may change. This can go beyond Coronavirus concerns.

For example, CO2 deaths and illnesses could be lowered by better ventilation systems, as well. The gas is impossible to detect to the naked human senses.

With better ventilation standards, this harmful gas can be better flushed out of public spaces. It also shines a light on building design. It will be interesting to see how architecture responds to design issues presented by the pandemic.

Spaces that take these things into consideration may have a higher selling point moving forward than those that do not.

Turning to the Experts in Proper Building Ventilation

Improving your home or business' air ventilation system can be an easy solution to mitigating the spread of COVID-19. That said, it is not easy to do alone. With so much on the line, it must be done effectively.

In Michigan, major companies with at-risk spaces have turned to Technical Hot & Cold for expert service. This ensures their HVAC systems are ready to protect valued customers against infection. These businesses include:

  • Restaurants like Dairy Queen, Tim Hortons
  • Hotels like the Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn, Mariott, Residence Inn
  • Gyms like Pure Barre
  • Stores like 7-Eleven

Technical Hot & Cold have worked hard since 1991 to provide effective solutions to any HVAC needs, any make, and model. They even stock those hard-to-find parts that other suppliers may struggle with. 

Technical Hot and Cold can ensure your home or business is properly equipped with the best air ventilation system to respond to the Coronavirus pandemic accordingly. With their help, you can keep your space as safe as possible.

Be sure to contact a trusted HVAC company with years of experience that can analyze the needs of your space and respond accordingly. 

Request an HVAC Quote Today For Your Space

While there is relatively little information known about the COVID-19 virus, scientists have begun to make headway on ways to help reduce the spread. 

Ensuring proper building ventilation is another key measure to help combat the spread.

Of course, no one method alone will solve the problem. But practicing CDC-approved methods, including handwashing, mask-wearing, and social distancing in addition to improving ventilation, will certainly help. 

Contact an HVAC expert today for more information on updates you can make to your system. In Southeastern Michigan, speak with a technician for a free consultation on your commercial air ventilation needs.  

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