Indoor air quality (IAQ) has always been important for public health, but COVID-19 has brought increased attention to it — and for good reason. Healthier buildings mean healthier occupants.
In fact, research has shown that people spend around 90% of their time in indoor spaces, so good IAQ is key to maintaining health.¹ Plus, there are more threats to IAQ than COVID-19. These include allergens, mold, cleaning products, and more.²
In support of improving IAQ, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced its “Clean Air in Buildings Challenge,” calling for building owners and operators to take steps to make their buildings healthier. This challenge is part of a larger initiative put forward in President Biden’s National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan. The challenge outlines four key actions:
In the challenge, the EPA details extensive HVAC system upgrades and filtration changes for buildings. However, it recognizes that these changes may be cost prohibitive. The changes may also be unnecessary for some business owners since every building is different. Location, space, and occupancy all vary. Furthermore, due to current supply chain issues and extensive lead times on materials and equipment, upgrades may take more time than a building owner has available.
In the above situations, temporary solutions are a viable option. Sunbelt Rentals can help by offering standalone air filtration systems that can be put in place when disease rates are higher, as a stop gap until a permanent solution is available, or to supplement the system to meet a building’s IAQ goals.
These units filter the air even when the permanent HVAC system is not running — for example, when the thermostat is satisfied, or the building is unoccupied at night or on the weekends. This can be an effective and efficient option for improving IAQ. Timers or manual operation during peak hours of traffic or occupancy, concentration in specific areas or gathering spaces, and reducing additional load or strain on existing HVAC systems are all benefits of standalone units.
As part of the proposed clean indoor air action plan, the EPA recommends assessing the existing HVAC system and its functionality to determine what changes are necessary to meet the recommendations of the “Clean Air in Buildings Challenge.” This is important to ensure your permanent HVAC system is running to its maximum efficiency.
To enhance air filtration and cleaning, the EPA suggests installing minimum efficiency reporting value or MERV-13 air filters that are sized for the HVAC system. Compared to filters with lower MERV values, MERV-13 air filters can capture particles as small as .3 microns. This makes them an effective means to improve indoor air quality and reduce the risk of airborne pathogens, including COVID-19, from affecting building occupants.
Adding a much more efficient filter sounds like a simple task, but this may require upgraded blower motors and increased power consumption. It also may be necessary to have a professional consultation with mechanical specialists.
Some buildings may have HVAC systems with the ability to accommodate the larger, thicker MERV-13 filters. However, compared to lower-rated filters, these filters generate more turbulence and static pressure as air flows through the filter. This causes drops in airflow throughout the system due to higher static pressure or the resistance to airflow. Sunbelt Rentals can help alleviate this problem and prevent costly changes to the permanent system by installing standalone indoor air quality units.
For buildings that are not able to implement MERV-13 filters into an existing HVAC unit, Sunbelt Rentals offers air scrubbers as an alternative for select rooms or for an entire building. This equipment takes in air, running it through a pre-filter, HEPA filter, and post-filter to remove 99.97% of contaminants. The system then distributes clean air throughout the space.
The EPA also recommends improving ventilation by increasing the volume of outdoor air being delivered into the building to enhance air filtration and cleaning. This is especially important if the building is prone to higher levels of airborne particles or if the existing HVAC system cannot provide the airflow needed for the size of the space.
Generating the appropriate air changes for the size of the building can help address the challenge of bringing in clean outdoor air. Air changes are the total volume of air within the space, in cubic feet, changed out 100% by the multiple — one air change, two air changes, and so on. Determining and addressing air changes helps ensure that a facility is increasing the outside air used by the HVAC system. The minimum varies according to the type of building and the building’s intended use.
For example, half an air change every hour would be a minimum for a commercial structure. In a healthcare setting, a minimum of two air changes of outdoor air per hour and two total air changes is recommended.
Today, regulatory bodies are suggesting much higher levels than the minimum amount of air changes per hour within occupied buildings. Schools and other educational facilities are suggested to have an ACH rate of five or more, and restaurants are suggested to have six to eight air changes per hour.
Sunbelt Rentals offers ventilation solutions to bring more fresh air into a building. This air will likely add to the cooling demands for the space and may require some supplemental HVAC needs to offset the fresh air being introduced. It is also recommended to filter this air as well.
For more information on climate control solutions to help address the “Clean Air in Buildings Challenge,” contact us.
¹ Klepeis N.E., Nelson W.C., Ott W.R., Robinson J.P., Tsang A.M., Switzer P., Behar J.V., Hern S.C., Engelmann W.H., The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): A resource for assessing exposure to environmental pollutants.
² Indoor Air Quality in Buildings: A Comprehensive Review on the Factors Influencing Air Pollution in Residential and Commercial Structure, Mehzabeen Mannan and Sami G. Al-Ghamdi*