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Crisis Leadership: Guidance on Evaluating and Preparing Your Facility’s HVAC Systems for the Return to the Office

Insights blog - Crisis Leadership - Gannett Fleming.
Authors: Robert Weidner, P.E., LEED AP, CxA, Principal Project Manager & Mechanical Practice Leader, Gannett Fleming and Carlos Gendron, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, AtmosAir Solutions

While the COVID-19 virus will dictate when we head back to offices, schools, convention centers, and other places of commerce, the time to prepare is now.

The shift back to business will come with a host of challenges—perhaps one of the most significant being employee anxieties as we emerge from isolation and enter a world where the coronavirus will remain prevalent. Places where we once worked, shopped, and enjoyed leisure activities in comfort may bring unease after weeks or months of social distancing. The new normal will require the development of new protocols and the adoption of game-changing technologies.

Aiding Recovery

In the HVAC world, technologies such as filtration and ultraviolet treatment systems are commonly used in healthcare and commercial environments to capture or neutralize contaminants at the air handling unit level to keep them away from building occupants. However, it is less common to have systems in place to sanitize the air, neutralizing viruses, bacteria, VOCs, and molds. Until now, the demand just hasn’t been there to integrate this technology at a broader scale. As we now prepare to shift to life in a post-pandemic world, employees and building visitors will have expectations for a safe work environment. Now is the time to take measures to increase comfort and safety for the eventual return to the office.

Nature’s Way

There’s a lesser-known HVAC technology known as bipolar ionization (BPI) that can improve indoor air quality. BPI uses ionization tubes in an existing HVAC system to neutralize contaminants at their source to purify the air, negatively affect bacteria and viruses, eliminate odors, reduce dust and mold particles, and break down toxic compounds and gases.

Ionization is nature’s way of cleaning outside air. In pristine natural settings, higher ion levels are more prevalent than where there are people and pollutants. BPI mimics this process by producing positive and negative ions that attract, bind, and neutralize contaminants found in the indoor environment.

Although there are numerous ways to improve indoor air quality, many of the methods require additional outside air, higher air circulation rates, increased filtration levels, and higher indoor humidity. All these items require both high up-front costs and long-term operational costs. BPI offers a more cost-effective initial investment and less installation time. With proper application, it can reduce energy costs.

5 Steps to Implementing BPI

  1. Contact a design professional to analyze the building’s HVAC systems to determine how BPI could best serve the facility. 
  2. Quantify the sizing parameters for the BPI systems, considering air quantities, duct or plenum sizes, and noted physical restrictions.
  3. Work with the BPI manufacturer and the manufacturer’s representative to properly size the respective systems.
  4. Provide engineering documentation and product information to the selected installing contractor or in-house maintenance crews. 
  5. Commission the installation of the BPI system to assure proper operation and system control.

An outside partner can be a significant asset in preparing your HVAC system for the battle against COVID-19 and other viruses. Contact Bob Weidner, Gannett Fleming’s mechanical practice leader and Carlos Gendron, AtmosAir Solutions vice president, sales & marketing, for additional guidance on readying your building’s HVAC system for the return to the office.

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