A COVID-19 legacy: Making building air safer from disease

buildings
Facilities managers see the need to protect buildings against disease as a result of COVID-19 and expect to invest more in HVAC and even digital management systems, according to new polls. (pixabay)

Two new surveys of nearly 2,000 facilities managers show that COVID-19 has caused major rethinking in how buildings are operated and upgraded with air quality and other technologies to defend against disease and improve efficiency and resilience.

Honeywell on Wednesday released a survey of 1,554 facility managers globally showing 75% agreed that the pandemic has caused them to permanently rethink how their buildings operate.  Nearly 60% said they are more likely to invest in indoor air quality optimization and other healthy building systems.  And 70% said they are more willing to invest in smart building technologies that drive efficiency and support sustainability.

A separate survey of 436 human resources managers of U.S. companies with more than 500 workers found that nearly every business surveyed took steps to improve air quality during the pandemic, sometimes investing millions of dollars to do so with no measureable results.  The survey was conducted by Pollfish on behalf of Omni CleanAir, a maker of commercial-grade air purification systems for 33 years.

Sometimes businesses invested in new and unproven technologies over the last 12 months. A lack of real-world efficacy data and “unscrupulous COVID-19 opportunists appear to have clouded the landscape so much that many businesses simply were unable to make informed decisions about indoor air quality solutions,” said Paul de la Port, president of Omni CleanAir.

The Pollfish survey found that 73% of those surveyed had upgraded existing HVAC system to support improved filtration, including with MERV13 filtration, while 63% had installed medical-grade filtration such as HEPA. 

About half in that survey said they deployed portable HEPA filtration machines.  Also, 42% deployed ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) while nearly as many, 38%, deployed ionization technologies.

 Omni CleanAir regards ionization as an unproven technology. Researchers at the Bureau of Toxic Substance Assessment  found in one example indoor air quality actually worsened with a bipolar ionization unit operating in an air handling unit serving a classroom.

As facilities managers upgrade HVAC systems, they often find that electricity demands increase.  That reality puts a premium on analysis of the long-term impact of upgrades and the use of sensors and management systems to provide efficient energy use.

In the Honeywell survey, 58% said they consider a healthy building to be a top priority right now and 62% say it will continue to be a top priority post-pandemic. However, 57% said the buildings they manage do not have air quality solutions. The respondents overwhelmingly, by 93%, said remote facility management is important with 67% indicating they are more willing to invest in smart building solutions that drive efficiency and sustainability through technologies such as data aggregation, machine learning and AI.

Honeywell Building Technologies CEO Vimal Kapur said that building occupants have become more aware with COVID-19 how the buildings where they work and learn can affect their well-being. “We expect them to push building owners and operators to implement new procedures with efficient, sustainable solutions that supports occupants’ safety, comfort and enhance their experiences,” he said in a statement.

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