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Improving IAQ in the New Normal

December 1, 2020
Office IAQ

When it comes to health and infection control in today’s buildings, a layered approach is essential—and indoor air quality is a key component. Read about the role of IAQ, ways to get started and how HVAC experts at Carrier can help.

Building owners and engineers recognize that the built environment is complex and evolving. Each building presents unique challenges that vary from hour to hour and season to season. The outbreak of COVID-19 has added to this complexity.

Health experts agree that the risk of indoor disease transmission differs based on occupant density, work- and traffic flows and the presence of “hot spots” such as food preparation areas. Social distancing, handwashing, disinfectant practices and the use of personal protective equipment are also factors.

COVID-19 Transmission

Contact, droplet, airborne and surface transmission are all possible ways the disease spreads. In July 2020, more than 200 scientists and engineers concluded that “there is every reason to expect” that SARS-CoV-2 transmission by airborne microdroplets is an important transmission pathway, recommending additional focus on effective ventilation and measures to enhance airborne infection control. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) responded by concluding that short-range aerosol transmission in crowded and inadequately ventilated indoor spaces over a prolonged period of time with infected persons “cannot be ruled out.”  

A recent evaluation of virus containment in air-handling systems recommends a number of measures to improve an HVAC system’s effectiveness in reducing transmission. While analysis is ongoing, these findings reinforce the role of buildings in defending against COVID-19 transmission. A renewed focus on indoor air quality (IAQ) is fundamental to this defense.

Carrier HVAC

The Impact of IAQ

As building owners and engineers reopen their facilities, plans for occupant safety and wellness will vary widely. Some owners may seek specific actions to reduce opportunities for disease transmission while others may pursue a more holistic approach.  

In addition to its role in infection transmission, poor IAQ can lead to headaches, fatigue, lack of concentration, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. IAQ optimized for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon dioxide and outdoor air ventilation, conversely, has been shown to improve cognitive functioning of office workers across nine measurements—including crisis response, information usage and strategy. 

Options to Assess IAQ and Occupant Safety

Often, the first step in reopening a building is to return the HVAC system to its original, commissioned state. “Tactical commissioning” of building systems ensures they are operating per design conditions and operational strategies. This is usually accomplished with the help of a certified commissioning provider, a test and balance company and/or a building automation systems company. 

A tactical commissioning can create substantial energy savings or improvements to IAQ. If the objective is reducing the risk of infectious aerosols, then recommendations for reoccupancy often key on improving ventilation, pressurization, airflow distribution and optimization, mechanical filtration, ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) and humidity control.  

To understand these opportunities, owners may require several levels of review, each different in time, expense and comprehensiveness.  

Basic Assessment: Usually intended for single sites and smaller buildings, a basic assessment includes a limited site walk-through and a facility interview to identify issues and solutions. 

Observational Assessment: This review type includes visual inspections; photographs; annotated floor plans; spot checks of indoor air and water quality, temperature and humidity; hand-washing support; and observation of worker and patron flows.  

Detailed Assessment: This option expands on the observational assessment for a more thorough review that includes interviews with building occupants; testing IAQ and water for contaminants; reviewing temperature and humidity trends; and assessing emergency preparedness, occupancy flow and physical distancing potential.   

Comprehensive Assessment: This study builds on the detailed assessment by including the planning and execution of recommendations. All costs and operational savings are shown so building owners can estimate payback. 

Custom Assessment: A custom assessment can help building owners establish a plan based on their unique occupancy requirements and built environment.

Carrier Global

Healthier Air. Healthier Buildings.  

There’s no single solution for moving forward safely in a post-pandemic world. A layered approach accounting for various scenarios and each building’s uniqueness must be implemented. Still, research on disease transmission and IAQ suggests building owners and engineers seeking to prepare facilities for reoccupancy may consider prioritizing indoor air quality – and the experts at Carrier are available to help.  

Through an industry-leading suite of advanced solutions and services, Carrier’s Healthy Buildings Program helps deliver healthy, safe, efficient and productive indoor environments at a time they’re needed most. The program includes technologies to help improve IAQ by increasing outside air, improving temperature and humidity levels, managing occupancy density, optimizing energy efficiency and enabling touchless interactions. 

Learn more about the Carrier Healthy Buildings Program and connect with your local expert today. 

*This article is sponsored by Carrier Commercial

More from Carrier Commercial: Improving IAQ in the New Normal: Smart Questions for Building Owners