How HVAC Filtration Systems Shield Against Airborne Threats

Commercial building with maintained HVAC systemsEver since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring of 2020, our understanding of how improper ventilation can help diseases spread—and how adequate ventilation can stifle them—has advanced by leaps and bounds.

We all know about washing our hands, masking up, and being careful about what we touch to minimize our risks of COVID, influenza, or even just seasonal colds, but the pandemic also encouraged research into an aspect of public health that had long since been neglected—the importance of adequate HVAC filtration.

Can your HVAC system make you sick?

History has shown us that without proper care, attention, and maintenance, the climate control systems we depend on to keep us warm or cool or keep fresh air circulating through our buildings can make us sick. In 1977, for example, scientists traced a newly discovered type of pneumonia, dubbed Legionnaires’ Disease, to the cooling tower of a hotel in Philadelphia.

If your building’s HVAC system goes without maintenance or if your building’s ventilation system is poorly designed, occupants can be exposed to mold or moisture growing in the HVAC system or ductwork. Accumulation of dust and particles or a buildup of indoor air pollutants can also irritate people’s lungs and cause respiratory problems. Scientists studying the 2004 SARS epidemic discovered that HVAC systems could potentially spread a virus through high-speed air flows.

From residential tenants to commercial office workers to faculty and occupants in schools and hospitals, if an HVAC system goes without maintenance or if your building’s ventilation systems cannot adequately exchange indoor air with fresh outdoor air, it can actually adversely impact the health of the people inside.

Conversely, well-maintained HVAC systems and thoughtfully implemented air filtration and ventilation systems are powerful tools to reduce airborne illness or prevent airborne illness altogether.

Exploring How Airborne Diseases Travel

Scientists studying air filtration and transmission of pathogens had their work cut out for them throughout the pandemic years. Does fresh air help with COVID? Can COVID travel through air vents? With the world on lockdown, and office buildings and schools across the world sitting empty, scientists needed to know—how do you reduce airborne contamination and make these buildings safe to work and live in?

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was understood that COVID could travel through the air, but it took more research to learn how far coronavirus particles could travel or how long they could persist in the air.

In general, there are two forms airborne pathogens can take—droplets and aerosols. Droplets, such as those produced by sneezing and coughing, are large and heavy and transmit illness over short distances. Aerosols, however, are much smaller and can remain suspended in the air for minutes, hours, or even days—and can be produced by infected people just by breathing.

With the study of COVID-19, scientists at the World Health Organization initially held that COVID was spread through droplets before further research showed it could be spread through aerosols as well—making ventilation and airflow as essential for stopping its spread and enforcing its spread as masking and social distancing.

How to Control Airborne Pathogens with HVAC Filtration

HVAC filtration systems keep the air in your buildings fresh by regularly exchanging indoor air with fresh outdoor air. During the COVID-19 pandemic, building owners could improve their HVAC filtration systems and reduce airborne illness by:

  • Increasing the rate of exchange with fresh outside air to reduce the recirculation of indoor air throughout the building, removing aerosolized pathogens and drawing in cleaner air to replace it.
  • Minimize airflow speeds to prevent the high-speed circulation of pathogens and minimize HVAC system interruptions to increase the replacement rate of indoor air.
  • Replacing fixed-speed fan motors with variable-speed ones for more precise airflow control
  • Installing high-performance air-purification systems, such as mechanical filters that trap virus particles in fiber-based materials or membranes, ultraviolet irradiation systems that kill virus particles, high-intensity targeted heating, ozone generators, or ionized purifiers.
  • Setting up airflow management systems that rely on vertical laminar airflow at a slow, steady speed to direct potentially contaminated air away from people
  • Using High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters
  • Using air supply diffusers and exhaust grilles

These technologies and system improvements not only safeguard against extant and future COVID-19 variants but also prevent the spread of other respiratory illnesses that can be passed along via aerosolized particles.

HVAC filtration can prevent airborne illness, including influenza, the common cold, COVID-19, tuberculosis, measles, and whooping cough (pertussis). Now that scientists have a better understanding from practical data on how proper air filtration and thoughtfully designed ventilation systems can reduce the transmission of airborne disease, you can take the initiative to continue safeguarding your occupants’ health.

Split-System AC and Air Filtration

In a previous blog post, we discussed the benefits of split-system AC units for commercial properties, including their improved energy efficiency and modular nature as potential advantages over centralized, single-unit HVAC systems.

Split AC units can also help prevent airborne illness. Using split-system AC to control airborne pathogens takes advantage of their modular nature to control the airflow of individual rooms or zones independently. Used properly, split AC units can offer enhanced flexibility in directing conditioned air where it is needed and prioritize removing aerosolized pathogens from high-traffic areas in your building.

Split AC Unit Installation and Services

Ensure Proper HVAC Filtration and Public Health

Using your HVAC to control airborne pathogens and keep your building’s occupants safe and healthy depends on keeping your air circulation and ventilation systems well-maintained and making use of cutting-edge equipment to promote better indoor air quality.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses worldwide have grown to understand just how important optimal indoor air quality is, not just for occupant comfort, but for public safety as well. Chiller Systems Service is here to help commercial and industrial customers across Colorado find and implement the best and most cutting-edge solutions for HVAC filtration, committed to finding elegant, turnkey climate control and airflow solutions that make the most out of our customers’ budgets.

To discover the right HVAC filtration solution for your business, contact our experts today.

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