The year 2020 will forever be remembered for the global pandemic that transformed almost every aspect of our lives. COVID-19 impacted the HVAC market, as it did most other business sectors.

However, HVAC also rose to a new level of prominence at the center of the pandemic, both as a potential cause of virus spread and as a source of solutions to fight the virus.

This article will highlight the intersection of HVAC and COVID-19 based on articles published during 2020 at HVACinformed.com.

Impact Of COVID On HVAC

In an HVACInformed.com Expert Roundtable Discussion, several industry experts weighed in on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the HVAC market.

Contractors were either not allowed to or were reluctant to enter people’s homes for sales and installation purposes, resulting in decreased demand and, ultimately, decreased sales.

However, during extraordinary times, it was encouraging to see a renewed focus on something the HVAC industry has been delivering for years – comfort.

Survey By Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)

A survey by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) gathered insights on the effect the coronavirus pandemic is having on the HVAC industry.

The survey in March indicated 65% of respondents expected COVID-19 to translate into long-term business viability concerns; 9% were concerned their businesses may not survive.

HVAC industry employees were included among “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers as designated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Roles Of Ventilation

HVAC technicians and companies have risen to the challenges of social distancing and wearing masks There was increasing awareness of the role of air ventilation in fighting the virus. There has been renewed interest in air filtration, not to mention the benefits of UV-C to mitigate to mitigate germs circulating in the air.

Furthermore, HVAC technicians and companies have risen to the challenges of social distancing and wearing masks as they are invited into customers’ homes and businesses during the pandemic.

Resources To Maximize HVAC Systems

ASHRAE developed resources to help maximize how HVAC systems can have a positive impact as the coronavirus spreads.

The society recommends strategies such as dilution ventilation, laminar and other in-room flow regimes, differential room pressurization, personalized ventilation, source capture ventilation, filtration (central or unitary), and ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) (upper room, in-room, and in the airstream).

Ultraviolet Light

2020 saw an unprecedented surge in demand for germicidal solutions. UV-C light is a short-wavelength, ultraviolet light that kills germs by inactivating a microorganism’s DNA.

Although UV-C is effective in killing other varieties of coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, scientists do not yet know about the impact of UV-C on COVID-19.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the power provider in the United States, is offering incentives to businesses and schools to install UV-C germicidal lights to fight germs in indoor air.

Role Of HVAC In Virus Spread

Whether HVAC could contribute to virus spread was a repeated topic of interest. One theory goes that air conditioning, by removing humidity from the air, may enable infectious droplets to linger longer than they would outdoors or in another space where humidity is higher.

More humidity can weigh down viral droplets as they float through the air.

Minimize The Spread Of The Virus

ASHRAE opposes the advice and asserts that keeping air conditioners on during this time can help control the spread of the virus Does it make sense, therefore, to turn the AC off to minimize the spread of the virus? according to ASHRAE, which officially opposes the advice not to run residential or commercial HVAC systems.

In fact, ASHRAE asserts that keeping air conditioners on during this time can help control the spread of the virus.

Also related to virus spread, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on a case under the title “COVID-19 Outbreak Associated with Air Conditioning in a Restaurant, Guangzhou, China, 2020.”

Research Trends And The Future

The need for more research will continue after the pandemic. Broadly speaking, we know that crowded spaces with poor ventilation and/or low humidity levels tend to promote virus spread, that filtration can help to remove the virus, and that measures such as UV-C radiation can help to disinfect indoor air.

More study is needed, and more time is needed to complete those studies and expand our base of knowledge on this important subject. 

Preventing COVID

Panasonic has conducted research that verifies that hydroxyl radicals contained in water can inhibit the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

The nano-sized electrostatic atomized water particles are generated by applying a high voltage to moisture in the air. Here is a statement from the company, "While Panasonic makes a wide range of products that generate these types of free radicals, none of these products has been tested for efficacy in the inhibition of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on surfaces or in the air.

Innovative approaches to fighting COVID include HVAC-equipped smart, glass-paneled bus stop shelters that that help to prevent pandemic spread in the Seongdong district in northeastern Seoul, South Korea.

Ventilation And Air Filtration

As schools worked to reopen safely in the midst of a global pandemic, HVAC was at the center of the mission. Adequate ventilation and effective air filtration are critical elements to ensure safe indoor air quality for educational institutions.

Many schools are housed in older buildings that may not have been adequately maintained. Transforming them to address the new challenges of minimizing exposure to the novel coronavirus is that much more difficult.

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How Will Remote Working Affect HVAC?
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The practice of working from home soared during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and many observers see a likely continuation of the trend, as infection risks gradually subside. Both environments – home and office – depend on HVAC systems to keep occupants comfortable (and safe!). Therefore, the industry stands to be impacted whichever way the trend plays out. We asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: How will remote working affect residential and commercial HVAC?

Active Technologies Needed For Indoor Air Quality As Pandemic Plays Out
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The most likely scenario for the next 12 months in the United Kingdom is far lower risk of serious COVID-19 illness due to the vaccine. However, there will be big swings in R rates, and there is uncertainty about how effective vaccines will be against COVID variants. The ‘R’ rate is the number of people one infected person will pass a virus on to, on average. As the scenario plays out, and more companies open for business, issues of indoor air quality will continue to be top of mind. The UK cannot stay in lockdown forever, so the big question becomes: What will happen when R rates rise again? Significant illness transmission “People have become far more concerned about building safety issues because we are dealing with a deadly virus that transmits when people don’t realize they have it,” says Andrew Hobbs, CEO and founder of Surrey-based air quality and HVAC specialists Better Indoors. HAIs, including COVID, are still a major issue in National Health Service hospitals The guidance of increasing ventilation air changes and using passive systems like filters and UV has been the only mitigation for dealing with indoor air quality (IAQ) issues for many years, yet homes and offices still allow significant illness transmission, says Hobbs. Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), including COVID, are still a major issue in National Health Service hospitals in the UK, and R rates generally rise when physical distancing measures are relaxed. Air purification solutions “It is because ventilation and passive processes do not destroy viruses at the point of transmission and until we introduce technologies that do, we will always be stuck in this loop,” says Hobbs. Better Indoors works to create the safest possible indoor environments for homes, offices, factories and on transport. Their active air purification solutions destroy viral emissions at the point of transmission – an essential feature for controlling indoor R rates, according to the company. “We are the UK’s exclusive distributor of unique technology that has been around for over 20 years and is used in millions of applications around the world,” said Hobbs. “This attribute is proving to be a key differentiator as firms race to futureproof their buildings and make their indoor spaces as safe as possible for staff and customers.” Master exclusive distributor Better Indoors is a master exclusive distributor to RGF Environmental Inc. Better Indoors is a master exclusive distributor to RGF Environmental Inc. of the United States, with a territory in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. Better Indoors supports agents and wholesalers, providing training and education on how to specify, install and provide aftersales services. They also have a strong relationship with various operating businesses of Volution plc for their ventilation products. Passive technologies have been strongly promoted, as have ionization-only technologies. Less well promoted have been RGF Environmental’s photohydroionisation (PHI) and Reflective Electro Magnetic Energy (REME) technologies, which have had major impact where they have been installed. Photohydroionisation mimics nature’s air cleaning process indoors by creating an equilibrium concentration of ionized hydrogen peroxide molecules throughout the indoor space. More effective process These molecules react with viruses on contact, revert to water vapor and oxygen afterwards, and are replaced with new ones from the units. The process is continuous, safe and effective, says Hobbs. REME units contain an additional process of bipolarionization for particulate agglomeration also. Products include in-duct, in-AC units and standalone, plus individual units containing individual technology pieces to complement existing infrastructures. Our technology is the safest for COVID and every single future virus that comes along" Not all potential technologies have been tested in the fight against the novel coronavirus. If they had, the resulting guidance should include technologies that kill the virus at the point of transmission, which are safe and proven with millions of users. “Our technology is the safest for COVID and every single future virus that comes along,” says Hobbs. “You cannot get a safer more effective process than one that kills a virus at the point of transmission that is not dependent on the actions of behaviors of anyone or anything.” Offering maximum protection “We have learned the main route for viral illness transmission is in the air,” says Hobbs. “It is therefore essential that we future-proof our buildings and indoor spaces to the best extent possible so they offer maximum protection for when the next deadly pathogen comes along but also to minimize common illnesses going forward. The best possible protections come from IAQ processes that physically destroy viral emissions at the point of transmission rather than relying on moving it somewhere first like all filter and UV processes.” There are very few testing techniques that properly test certain technologies" One of the biggest misconceptions in IAQ is the difference between whether a particular passive IAQ process actually works and the limitations of how it works, Hobbs notes. “This is constantly misrepresented, misunderstood, and there are very few testing techniques that properly test certain technologies.” Technologies under consideration For example, the effect and performance of UV technologies are significantly limited by line of sight, inverse square law and dwell time, but this is rarely if ever mentioned, he adds. “Yes, it works but only if certain severely limiting conditions are met,” says Hobbs. “Furthermore, the industry-accepted testing metrics are designed for passives and not active systems, and this needs to be addressed also.” None of the other new technologies under consideration, such as Far UV, will be able to destroy the virus at the point of transmission because of their already known physical limitations. “We have been arguing for months that our active technology must be made mandatory for indoor spaces because it is the only method that can stop R rate rises regardless of which variant we have,” says Hobbs.

Innovative Technologies Will Drive The Future Of HVAC
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Innovation is a driving force behind most industries, including HVAC. Keeping up with industry research, and looking toward the future, helps HVAC professionals to anticipate upcoming changes to the industry, and to be prepared when they happen. There is no shortage of innovation in the sphere of HVAC. I recently came across some interesting designs (and one product already on the market!) that provide a useful glimpse into the types of projects that may shape the HVAC industry of tomorrow. Large-Scale Air Purification System A new purification system on the horizon provides higher levels of purification and sanitation for large-scale applications such as hotels and other big businesses. It also seeks to protect HVAC service employees from exposure to viruses when they service a system. Rather than filter out viruses, the system destroys them with photocatalysis, which uses a semi-conductor to create radicals to zap the viruses. Photocatalysis has been around for decades but is only now becoming refined enough to provide a marketable solution. Promethium, the company seeking to bring the filtration to market, evolved from the work of two the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) students, and a University of California (UC) Berkeley graduate. The technology can be used in several ways – from water purification to energy generation – but purifying air is the first priority. Each unit is customized for a specific application, but a “basic” standard unit starts at around $10,000 and can clean 40,000 square feet of space, enough for a casino gaming floor, for example. The project won $250,000 in a contest sponsored by UNLV’s Lee Business School and has also signed a research agreement with Purdue University. It should be ready to go to market this year. Dual-Mode Heating and Cooling Device Duke University is demonstrating the heating and cooling capabilities of nanomaterials, including a dual-mode heating and cooling device that could lower HVAC energy costs by nearly 20% in the United States if widely deployed. The invention combines mechanics and materials science to either harness or expels certain wavelengths of light. Depending on conditions, rollers move a nanomaterial sheet back and forth to expose either heat-trapping materials on one half or cooling materials on the other. Designed at the nanoscale, one material absorbs the sun’s energy and traps existing heat, while the other reflects light and allows heat to escape. Flair’s Smart Vents are DIY devices that fit into existing floor and wall register slots in standard sizes The cooling portion of the sheet has ultra-thin silver film covered by an even thinner layer of clear silicon. Together, they reflect the sun’s rays like a mirror. The unique properties of the materials also convert energy into mid-range infrared light, which does not interact with the gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere and easily passes into space after it is emitted. For heating, an ultra-thin layer of copper is topped by a layer of zinc-copper nanoparticles, which interact with the copper beneath them to trap light onto the surface, thus absorbing more than 93% of the sunlight’s heat. The “reversible thermal contact” allows users to switch between two modes of heating or cooling. The device would be especially useful in the world’s temperate climate zones that require both heating and cooling during the year – and sometimes requires both within a single 24-hour period. Do-It-Yourself Smart Vents Flair’s Smart Vents are do-it-yourself (DIY) devices that fit into existing floor and wall register slots in standard sizes. The vents control airflow across individual rooms to boost efficiency. Electronics for the low-profile devices are contained in a casing that rests under the floor level. They can be hard-wired for power or can use two C batteries. The Smart Vents work with smart thermostats and/or with Flair’s Puck cylindrical devices that include temperature control and monitoring. The Smart Vents coordinate their open/shut status depending on temperature needs. For example, the vents can be used to equalize the temperature and route heating and cooling intelligently. It can provide a solution if one room is too cold when cooling or too hot when heating. The approach is aimed at approximating the results of zoned HVAC systems at much lower costs and to replace existing wall ducts.

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