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Safely Reopen a Business: 8 Steps to Improve Ventilation

Safely Reopen a Business: 8 Steps to Improve Ventilation

By Vanessa Peng

As we slowly transition back into the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses are incorporating new safety measures into the work environment. These include maintaining social distancing measures with the spacing of furniture, installation of barriers, and providing personal protective equipment or face coverings for employees, among other protocols.

A crucial step to a healthy building that many business leaders neglect is proper ventilation. Poor ventilation produces air that can be toxic or can lead to recirculation of germ-infested air. Increasing the ventilation rate in your building ensures stagnant, potentially unsafe air is being circulated. There are several standards for ventilation that have been established for decades by trusted organizations, namely the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released ventilation guidelines for businesses that are committed to protecting their employees from the threat of contracting Coronavirus.

ASHRAE Standard 62.1 & 62.2 – Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality

Since 1973, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, or ASHRAE, has published standards for ventilation. They are known as ASHRAE Standard 62.1 & 62.2, or Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality. The standards could serve as ventilation requirements for commercial buildings. 

Keep in mind though, while ASHRAE has said facilities have the right not to follow standards set by organizations such as theirs, the standards were written in such a way as they could be easily adopted into mandatory codes. While rules for commercial ventilation requirements vary between states, ASHRAE Standard 62.1 & 62.2 have been the most established and followed in relation to proper ventilation for commercial buildings. 

The standards are updated frequently, with the most recent version being 2019. ASHRAE says the standards specify “minimum ventilation rates and other measures for new and existing buildings that are intended to provide indoor air quality that is acceptable to human occupants and that minimizes adverse health effects.”

OSHA Standard 1910.94 – Ventilation

The standards outlined in OSHA Standard 1910.94 are mandatory. They detail what type of safety equipment must be worn or how machinery must be enclosed for safe ventilation, among other rules. OSHA Standard 1910.94 is applicable for general industries – shipyard and construction.

The CDC’s Steps for a Healthy and Safe Workplace during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released guidelines and suggestions employers can follow to protect their employees and customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the CDC, one of the ways COVID-19 is thought to spread is through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. The CDC outlines several suggestions to mitigate Coronavirus risk from office buildings, including engineering controls, administrative controls, educating workers on how to protect themselves, and developing special considerations for elevators and escalators.

The engineering controls section of the guidelines details how to reduce transmission among employees. This section mentions modifying seats and workstations to maintain social distancing of six feet and steps to improve ventilation in a building.

Here are 8 tips from the CDC to improve ventilation in your building:

1. Increase the percentage of outdoor air in the building.

Open windows and doors for natural ventilation and increase the flow of outside air. Consider how you could make this work with your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning or HVAC system, such as installing ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) lights on your system or not running it as often.

2. Increase total airflow supply to occupied spaces.

Disable demand-control ventilation (DCV) controls that reduce air supply in your facility. HVLS fans can help improve the amount of airflow within a building. Consider running your ventilation system during unoccupied times to maximize dilution ventilation. 

3. Improve central air filtration.

The CDC suggests increasing air filtration to as high as possible. The fraction of particles removed from the air passing through a filter is measured by a scale known as the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV). MERV ranges from 1 to 16, with 16 being the highest. 

The CDC says you should boost your air filtration to MERV 13 or 14. According to ASHRAE, High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are even more efficient than MERV 16 filters.

4. Generate clean-to-less-clean air movement.

Look into the positioning of supply and exhaust air diffusers and dampers. Have employees work in clean zones as opposed to higher-risk areas like the reception area or gyms. 

5. Consider using portable HEPA fan/filtration systems.

Consider using portable HEPA fan/filtration systems to help enhance air cleaning, especially in high-risk areas. We often find our clients are interested in products that provide both HEPA filtration and ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) protection in one device for an added layer of protection.

6. Ensure exhaust fans in restroom facilities are functional and operating at full capacity when the building is occupied. 

Keeping bathroom exhaust fans running ensures potentially unhealthy air does not remain stagnant.

7. Consider using ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) as a supplement to help inactivate the virus.

Germicidal UV technology has been proven for decades to kill bacteria, viruses, mold, and spores on surfaces and in the air. UVGI can be installed on your air handling systems, which can kill bacteria and viruses in your facility’s airstream and also lower maintenance costs by keeping your HVAC system clean.

Here at U.S. Energy Recovery, we are committed to providing you with turnkey energy saving solutions that save you money and decrease your carbon footprint. We have researched different UVGI products for various facility applications and can help you with a solution that not only protects your employees and customers but saves you energy. 

8. High Volume Low Speed HVLS fans help increase airflow and make your ventilation system work more effectively

Something else to consider incorporating into your facility are high volume low speed HVLS fans. These fans improve the ventilation rate in your building. HVLS fans can increase the flow of outdoor air throughout your building if you leave your windows and doors open while the fans are running. 

Unlike traditional industrial ceiling fans, HVLS fans rely on large fan blades and low speed to quietly and effectively increase air flow throughout a facility, which plays a huge part in improving air circulation. This helps eliminate stagnant air, which can be extremely unhealthy for your employees, from within your facility. 

High volume low speed fans also make the indoor environment more comfortable for your employees, which increases productivity. Another benefit of HVLS fans is they can improve your energy efficiency and help you cut your energy costs during the summer and winter months.

We can help you improve the ventilation in your building

We understand providing a safe facility for customers and employees is a number one priority for many commercial businesses and we would love to help. Please contact us if you have any questions or need more information.