Air conditioning and ventilation service providers should expect to face long-term questions about the role of their technologies in addressing Indoor Air Quality issues.
New findings from BSRIA have warned that Covid-19 and research concerning airborne contamination in enclosed, poorly ventilated spaces has led to expanded public awareness of IAQ as a vital health issue.
The same findings also warned that increased levels of awareness and concern around how air enters and is expelled from buildings will remain a vital issue even if Covid-19 is eradicated or brought under control globally.
BSRIA’s market intelligence consultant Alfonso Oliva said that this predicted shift in public perception around IAQ will have significant impacts on the role of air conditioning specifiers and manufacturers in creating healthy environments.
He said, “Awareness of the health consequences of pollutant exposure, either organic or chemical, has increased and will have an impact on demand for commercial space. IAQ will not only be a tool to manage health emergencies but also an economic factor to consider in designing, planning and specifying commercial HVAC.”
Mr Oliva said that there had been higher levels of anxiety among the general public over the last year about the possibility of viral contagion as a result of ill designed ventilation and air handling technologies such as cooling solutions.
This has led to a “renewed interest” in upgrading IAQ facilities with the HVACR sector.
He added, “The urgency of enhancing the IAQ solutions prompted by the health risk associated with the Covid-19 spread represents a challenge for regulators and specifiers, a cost for building owners and an opportunity of product development for HVAC manufacturers.
The findings noted that there was no single off-the-shelf IAQ solution on the market to meet every requirement related to airborne pollutants. Industry will continue to have to specify technologies that can meet specific operational needs of a site through a more flexible HVACR strategy.
Regulation was another challenge with regard to the future of managing IAQ, with healthcare facilities seen as enforcing the strictest requirements at present. Government buildings and commercial offices were also viewed as being more rigorous in terms of standards – with the leisure, retail and hospitality sectors being seen as more lenient.
Mr Oliva stated, “With the exception of flagship projects, developers have rarely raised the threshold of their IAQ requirements above the bare regulatory compliance.”
Economic reasons were seen as one important factor that had resulted in looser IAQ enforcement with the cost of 100 per cent dedicated outdoor air systems (DOAS) seen as putting extra budget burden on building owners. he added.
Mr Oliva said, “Efficient filters require higher air pressure and therefore more powerful fans; UV purification adds consumption to the electricity load. The trade-off between IAQ and efficiency is also a conundrum for designers and specifiers. Compliance with efficiency regulation may require compromises on IAQ and vice versa.”
Concern about the impact of using air handling systems during the pandemic has intensified after the WHO earlier this year accepted there was growing evidence to suggest a link between the airborne transmission of the coronavirus through tiny particles suspended in the air.
While research is ongoing, the WHO said earlier this year that the prospect of the virus being transmitted via droplets in the air could not be ruled out in “crowded, closed or poorly ventilated settings.”
A particular concern for air conditioning specialists about public perception of the industry was the initial publication and dissemination of research into a restaurant in China’s Guangdong province that was tied to a previous outbreak of Covid-19. BSRIA accepted that inferences had been made in media and then through social media about the risks of poorly maintained AC systems and the transmission of Covid-19 that was not fully evidenced in the findings. Experts have also raised questions about how the study factored in wider building issues around ventilation and air supply.
BSRIA said that wider scientific studies were now underway looking specifically at the interaction between air conditioning and viral contagion and how risk can be better mitigated.
Mr Oliva said that the study in China had opened an important debate on tackling air quality issues and viral infection in indoor spaces that has seen broad engagement from regulators, specifiers, manufacturers and the public.
He said that manufacturers in particular were also focused on developing new solutions with regard to IAQ improvements.
Mr Oliva said, “Among the solutions proposed to minimise risk of viral contagion are the increase of outdoor air ventilation, higher efficiency filtration and purification.”
“While outdoor air ventilation, and to a lesser extent purification, may require significant and costly alterations to the HVAC system in place, filtration can be improved relatively easily with self-contained units, although additional electricity consumption will be required.”