Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPM) programmes for air conditioning and ventilation systems used before the Pre-Covid-19 pandemic will remain an effective means to help ensure buildings left unoccupied are suitable for habitation, a range of industry experts have said.
However, this effectiveness will ultimately depend on how well maintained these systems and key components such as filters have been in line with industry standards.
A panel discussion with individuals specialising in designing and introducing HVACR systems that was hosted by BESA this week touched on the potential challenges facing building owners in maintaining hygiene and safety standards in properties, while also limiting opportunities for Covid-19 to spread.
Specialists interviewed by the trade body have warned that ensuring systems such as air conditioning units are compliant with existing standards and best practice concerning air quality will be under heightened scrutiny amidst concerns about the potential contamination risks from compliance failure.
Ventilation specialist Peter Rogers claimed that present best practice for systems being used in buildings should be to stick to an existing cleaning schedule. Mr Rogers added that if a scheduled cleaning was already due, then it might be beneficial to shift the procedure to a week or so before a building opens up again if shut during the pandemic.
He said, “Other than that, you should be sticking to your normal cleaning of ventilation system plans that are in place.”
Graeme Fox added that when considering this advice, it was important to note that best practice was not always being followed on maintaining air handling systems. He warned that clients may have previously cut corners in some buildings that could pose a challenge for reopening offices.
He said, “I think it’s good to be aware of what the standard of cleaning was before this crisis occurred. However, Yes. I would totally agree that standard PPM is what you should be looking at, but I think clients and building owners should be aware of what the condition of the system is at the outset.”
The panel added that it was similarly important to check the condition of filters in an air handling system and determine if they have been maintained properly to ensure a high volume of fresh external air is going through a building in line with current recommendations.
Paul Hancock, founding partner of the 360 Resilience consultancy group, said that the unprecedented impact of the pandemic on shutting down and emptying buildings could prove to be an opportunity to test and treat difficult to access system components such as fan coil filters.
He said, “It is a great time to do those filter cleans now. You can spot things if you are a building owner such as the dirty extract grills in toilets that are a sort of litmus test of whether you are doing the filter changes you are supposed to be doing.”
“So take advantage of the fact you have an empty building as opposed to seeing as something that has to be done.”
The claims were made during a BESA webinar held to discuss specific technical issues that include the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic on how air handling technologies should be maintained and operated in light of the pandemic.
While scientific research remains inconclusive at present on the exact role that ventilation and air conditioning may play in spreading the Covid-19 coronavirus and how it might be contained, a range of experts have urged ensuring a constant flow of fresh air to limit any potential risks of contamination.
Ensuring a constant flow of fresh air would bring systems in line with hospital standards ahead of the introduction of planned amendments to Part F of the Building Regulations. These amendments are expected to demand clearer enforcement of ventilation rates and air supply.
The panellists argued that a need for clear information and understanding about IAQ and fresh air supply standards would be even more important during the current worldwide pandemic.
Air conditioning systems have been put under an intense media spotlight owing to ongoing research on what impacts such technologies may play in certain situations in spreading the virus or potentially diffusing air that could otherwise be a source of infection.
A high-profile example of this cited by the experts was around how a case study of an outbreak of the virus attributed to a restaurant in China’s Guangdong province was being disseminated via the media and online channels.
Paul Hancock argued that in terms of coverage of the initial studies, it was important to check sources and be wary of conclusions from the report without a full understanding of the original data.
He stated, “Read the paper yourself and the conclusions, which said there wasn’t any fresh air in the restaurant and that there were too many tables in the enclosed space and the extract fans weren’t turned on. You can see that in the original paper if you look at it.”
Mr Fox added that the problem was that incorrect information on the virus could still come from a trusted source, particularly at a time where research has yet to make any clear links between Covid-19 and air conditioning. This he said highlighted a need for clear data and communication on potential risks and best practice.