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1st February 2021 - back to news index

Indoor Air Quality: A New Challenge for the HVAC Industry

As reported previously, indoor air quality has always been important for health, and keeping your staff healthy is a key way to maintain and increase productivity. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has added a new dimension to this.

Early in the year, some restaurant customers in Guangzhou, China, were infected with coronavirus apparently by another customer. The journal "Emerging Infectious Diseases" published findings suggesting it was possible that the air-conditioning system could have played a part in this early infection. Both mainstream and social media reported this as proof of causation, although scientific research is still ongoing.

Subsequently, the World Health Organisation has said that they cannot rule out transmission of COVID and other coronaviruses via droplets in the air in "crowded, closed or poorly ventilated settings". In relation to the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) industry, Alfonso Oliva, Market Intelligence Consultant for the UK's Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) stated that "Awareness of the health consequences of pollutant exposure, either organic or chemical, has increased," and emphasised the need to consider this from the design stage./p>

One challenge is how to reduce the chances of diseases being transmitted through such systems. This is accompanied by other concerns, such as environmental and economic factors involved in design and specifications of commercial HVAC systems. One suggestion is to increase use of outdoor air ventilation, higher efficiency filtration and purification. This would help, but would also increase electricity consumption, as the higher air pressure needed for efficient filtration requires more powerful fans. In warmer climates, natural ventilation is the traditional way to remove moisture, prevent stagnation of indoor air and reduce the spread of airborne disease.

Poor ventilation can increase exposure to all kinds of disease-causing contaminants, and various standards exist for different industries. Aeroplanes use HEPA filters that remove over 99% of bacteria and viruses. The buildings with the most stringent regulations are healthcare facilities while homes and hospitality buildings need to apply less rigorous standards. But observance of these standards varies greatly.

Because needs differ, there is no single system to suit everyone and customised ventilation systems could prove prohibitively expensive. Regulations are sure to be strengthened after COVID-19, forcing developers to comply more effectively with indoor air quality requirements. For now we must await results of current research, while the HVAC industry works to find a compromise between all these important issues.

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