By Dan Forino, BCxA President
One of the questions we’re asked again and again since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic is, “how do I know it is safe to return to work?” As it turns out, Commissioning Providers (CxPs) have an advantageous skill set to help owners and Operators assess the situation, and support a prudent return.
When the pandemic first occurred and facilities were being shut down and/or triaged, owners reached out to their trusted CxPs for support. There was no bid process or negotiation, just a call for help and agile, swift, collaborative effort. Collectively we rose to the occasion and responded because … that’s what we do.
For many clients, especially those with with reduced or skeleton crew operations staff, we CxPs have an opportunity – one can even say an obligation – to support the restart of buildings, utilizing our expertise in the operation and maintenance of the system.
Here are some specific, system-focused suggestions:
An existing building audit can help to identify system loads, modifications made to maintain minimal loads, circuits/systems that may have been temporarily de-energized. Providing your clients with a one- or two-day assessment of recommended maintenance to bring their buildings back to the “new” normal operating conditions is a great way to provide added value.
Owners ask, “What should I do to improve my building’s filtration?” There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, unfortunately. ASHRAE recommends utilizing a MERV13-16 filter or equivalent, capable of capturing the smaller airborne virus contaminants. It can be assumed that lower efficiency filters (MERV 8 and lower) which allow larger particles to pass through won’t be very effective, while a higher efficiency filter which is not compatible with your system may result in premature preloading, requiring increased maintenance. A high efficiency filter “crammed” into an application it was not designed for will likely be ill-fitting and result in air bypassing areas that are not sealed.
Establishing a filter audit and maintenance plan goes a long way toward ensuring a cleaner indoor environment. Focus on a review of existing filtration condition and fit, potential upgrades, replacement protocol to eliminate downstream contamination and disinfecting and disposal of filtration…if you’re fortunate enough to have a flexible system.
Ultraviolet Germicidal (UV-C) Emitters:
There are also other types of filtration including UV filtration, which operates at a germicidal UV frequency to kill virus particulates. These can be installed as a whole UV sanitization unit or attached to your cooling coil/installed downstream in the ductwork for specific areas.
Pay special attention to the location requirements for required exposure time and required air speed (fpm). As these are typically specialty systems installed in sensitive areas, ensure you have allocated the resources for training of maintenance personnel due to the potential harmful nature of the UV lighting exposure.
Owners also ask, “Can we do IAQ testing to confirm my space is acceptable for re-entry?” Typically, IAQ testing is completed prior to occupying a space to confirm that construction particulates and chemicals have been ventilated and will not impact the occupants. As a result, it is not a very effective tool for COVID identification. The better recommendation would most likely be to perform an IAQ flush-out utilizing as much clean outside air as possible for 1-5+ days, to assist in flushing out contaminants.
Increased Outside Air:
One recommendation, as possible within each building, is to determine the maximum allowable outside air that can be utilized for your HVAC systems during normal operation. This requires an evaluation of the existing system conditions/capacity, allowable indoor conditions, and the required programming and validation effort. The CxP can provide all of these answers via simple load and space calculations, along with ensuring that the proper safeties and checks are available. Keeping HVAC systems operating 24/7 will also encourage the movement of air particles and discourage the settlement of virus containing particles on surfaces and in ductwork.
Commissioning providers are also experiencing increased requests for re-balancing and balancing verification because many owners and occupants are adjusting their existing program space to accommodate decreased occupancies, increased air exchange rates in common areas, and an increased focus on space pressurization.
Last but not least, encourage participation, innovation and outside of the box thinking for how to maximize the health of the indoor environment and also ease the concerns of occupants. That typically comes with signage and sharing of information on how the design and commissioning process is helping to promote their health and safety.