During the coronavirus pandemic, UV-C systems have surged from a niche market to mass production capable of meeting historic demand levels. As a result, UV lamp manufacturers, as well as their component providers (e.g., glass suppliers), have struggled to meet the growing demand. Because of UV-C’s historic proven effectiveness, interest in and orders for UV disinfection equipment have increased exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, in July, lighting manufacturer Signify (previously Philips Lighting), reported increasing “UV-C light source production capacity by a factor of eight.” The pandemic has settled in the affirmative the question of whether 254 nm germicidal wavelength can inactivate the genetic material in the SARS-CoV-2 virus (that causes COVID-19).

acute respiratory syndrome

Moreover, when aerosolized, the COVID-19-causing virus is likely to be more susceptible to UV-C damage than other coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV-1 (that led to the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome) or MERS-CoV (that caused the 2012 Middle East respiratory syndrome).

Delivering doses of SARS-CoV-2 virus vaccine is one of the greatest logistical challenges ever undertaken

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and ASHRAE [American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers] have recommended UV-C as a technology that can “reduce the risk of dissemination of infectious aerosols in buildings and transportation environments.” The need for the technology continues. Delivering billions of doses of the SARS-CoV-2 virus vaccine is one of the greatest logistical challenges ever undertaken.

airstream disinfection

As of this writing, experts do not agree on the number of vaccinated individuals necessary to outright extinguish the COVID-19 pandemic. “As there is no clear end in sight, there is no foreseeable decline in the demand for the germ-killing and airstream disinfection benefits offered by UV-C,” says Daniel Jones, President, UV Resources, a pioneering company in ultraviolet-C (UV-C) equipment.

Specifiers and HVAC contractors should not be deterred from recommending and specifying the proven benefits of UV-C disinfection systems, Jones contends, as the industry is rapidly adapting to what might likely be the “new normal” level of demand. “In other words, we expect commercial and residential demand for UV solutions to remain high due to their ability to efficiently inactivate the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” he says.

pharmaceutical processing plants

The company reports that disease-defeating UV-C surface and airstream technologies are especially popular with facility managers servicing hospitals and nursing homes, commercial offices, as well as food and pharmaceutical processing plants. Upper-room UV-C fixtures have been a "go-to" technology in the battle against the spread of COVID-19, among restaurants, school and university classrooms, airport screening areas, correctional facilities and community shelters.

COVID-19 pandemic has ingrained the need for ongoing infection mitigation systems"

Even after the pandemic subsides, demand for UV solutions will continue to remain high as perception of the technology has shifted to a health and safety need, says Jones. “Although the current pace of demand for germicidal UV-C solutions may decrease, the COVID-19 pandemic has forever raised awareness and ingrained the need for ongoing infection mitigation systems,” he comments.

indoor air quality

Despite nearly eight decades of research and thousands of applications in hospital emergency and operating rooms, urgent-care centers, universities, and first-responder locations, UV-C has previously not been widely leveraged. During the 1990s and 2000s, drug-resistant “superbugs” and hospital-acquired infections renewed interest in UV-C, known to kill virtually any microorganism, including antibiotic-resistant germs.

The current pandemic, however, has laid bare the societal health outcomes offered by the proven germ-killing technology. While antibacterial UV-C applications have improved indoor air quality for decades, it was the pandemic that took the technology’s use in the eyes of building managers from energy savings to infection mitigation.

air conveyance systems

HVAC systems operate better, longer and users are happier when UV-C is installed in air conveyance systems

Now, the market is starting to view UV-C along the same lines as air filtration - providing a cleaner, healthier environment which will result in a decrease in absenteeism. Additionally, HVAC systems operate better, longer and users are happier when UV-C is installed in air conveyance systems. Higher demand has produced supply challenges for these products. How can HVAC engineers best navigate equipment/parts supply shortages?

Facility engineers and HVAC contractors would be well advised to place orders as early as possible and to accept partial-order shipments, says Jones. This will ensure that HVAC firms have the components/fixtures in-house (or even installed) once the lamps finally arrive. Jones advises specifying engineers who are unfamiliar with UV-C and who are conducting their due diligence should investigate the following points when choosing a supplier:

  • Market Longevity - There are only a handful of companies that have been selling UV-C for HVAC/R for years.
  • EPA Registration - Examine a device manufacturer’s registration with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a pesticide device-producing establishment.
  • Industry Credentials - Make sure products meet applicable safety standards and certifications (such as UL/CUL and CSA).
  • Industry Participation - Look for manufacturers that routinely author technical articles, actively serve on regulatory and standards committees, and enjoy a solid industry reputation.

surface disinfection system

Selection of an air or surface disinfection system is based entirely on the application. UV Resources furnishes the following chart that summarizes the selection factors:

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Lessons From The Past: The Value Of Ventilation In A Pandemic
Lessons From The Past: The Value Of Ventilation In A Pandemic

If history truly repeats itself, might we learn lessons from the past – even lessons about managing a novel coronavirus that upends our way of life and changes the world forever? The most commonly cited parallel to the COVID-19 pandemic is the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Both diseases are caused by viruses that had not been seen before. In both cases, no one had immunity to a highly infectious germ that was spread through respiratory droplets. Both outbreaks occurred in multiple waves over several years. Furthermore, in both cases, it became clear that ventilation, fresh air, open spaces and sunlight are useful factors in promoting good health. Fresh Air Movement During the time of the Spanish flu, there were signs posted in buses and throughout New York that advised: "Keep your bedroom windows open [to] prevent influenza, pneumonia [and] tuberculosis." There was even a national campaign known as the “Fresh Air Movement,” calling for people to be outside more, and urging greater ventilation indoors. The movement included a kind of traveling show that spread the word about the “national poison,” which was the result of people breathing stale air inside closed rooms. These concerns predated by decades our enthusiasm for “indoor air quality.” In became common after 1918 to position radiators providing steam heat under open windows to combine warmth with fresh air, even on the coldest of days.   The Open-Air Treatment of Pandemic Influenza It was also common practice by 1918 to place the sick outside in tents or in specially designed open wards But the advantages of fresh air go back even further, as described in a 2009 article in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) titled “The Open-Air Treatment of Pandemic Influenza.” During the 1918 pandemic, as today, many cities banned public assembly, closed schools, isolated those infected and mandated the wearing of face masks. It was also common practice by 1918 to place the sick outside in tents or in specially designed open wards, according to the AJPH article. The practice dates back to English physician John Coakley Lettsom (1744-1815), who was among the first advocates of the “open-air method.” The 1800s saw emergence of tuberculosis sanitoriums, which treated the lung disease with a combination of fresh air, gentle exercise in the open, nutrition, and a minimum of medicines. Lack of ventilation Spending time in well-ventilated houses in the country became seen as superior to patients being confined to warm, badly ventilated rooms to protect them from the supposedly harmful effects of cold air. Lack of ventilation forced patients to breathe foul air, contaminated with germs, over and over. Research later confirmed the importance of measures to prevent influenza virus from spreading through buildings. Improvements in air-handling equipment, portable filtration units, and introduction of physical barriers and other partitions or doors also provided protection. These lessons were clear long before the advent of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Their successful deployment during the pandemic have further supported their value. importance of HVAC Although the COVID-19 pandemic caught the world off-guard, there were plenty of historical precedents However, lockdowns during the pandemic have also tended to keep the population closed up in buildings, sometimes with less-than-adequate ventilation and access to fresh air. In retrospect, some of those decisions seem regrettable.  Although the COVID-19 pandemic caught the world off-guard, there were plenty of historical precedents. Copious research over the years supported the best approaches to stemming the spread of the virus, although it took time for historical insights to work their way into the general practice implemented in the current pandemic. There is also historical precedent for the importance of HVAC in the current pandemic. Ventilation and fresh air have become higher priorities, as has the HVAC market’s role in providing a safer indoor climate with minimal disease spread.

Pandemic Spotlights Need To Balance Costs While Improving Air Quality In Schools
Pandemic Spotlights Need To Balance Costs While Improving Air Quality In Schools

Attitudes about indoor air quality need to change, especially given the current pandemic that forces people to spend most of their time indoors. But addressing the pandemic through increased ventilation and better indoor air quality can be expensive. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the nation, has spent $6 million on HVAC upgrades and new air filters in response to the pandemic and expects to pay about $1.7 million a month for ongoing inspections and filter replacements. Updating & Improving HVAC Systems Updating HVAC systems to minimize virus spread has been an expensive proposition all around. Some school districts in California report the costs are insurmountable. Sometimes seeking to replace or update an HVAC system opens a can of worms: Electrical systems must be rewired, asbestos must be removed, and/or an expensive roof needs to be replaced. Schools in low-income areas are especially likely to be in poor condition, and unable to afford improvements. Some school districts have used money from the federal CARES Act – a $2 trillion federal economic package passed in March – to make ventilation improvements. Hope remains that additional state and/or federal money will be available, but funding is still likely to be inadequate. Airborne Transmission Study showed that some classrooms had air change rates below 0.5 changes per hour The airborne transmission was initially underplayed as a means of spreading the novel coronavirus. There was more emphasis on the dangers of touch during the early days of the pandemic. However, the airborne (aerosol) spread is now believed to make up about 75% of transmissions. A group of 239 scientists from around the world advocated more action to address aerosol spread in a July 2020 open letter to the World Health Organization (WHO). The concern is a global challenge. For example, a survey of 20 classrooms in the United Kingdom, carried out by National Air Quality Testing Services (NAQTS), revealed very low air change rates that could increase the risk of virus transmission. The study showed that some classrooms had air change rates below 0.5 changes per hour (3 to 5 changes per hour would be desirable). Even small increases in flow rate could reduce the risk of infection significantly. Raising airflows from zero to 100 cu m/hour cuts the risk by up to a third, according to NAQTS. Fresh Air Ventilation & Filtration The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advised the UK Government last fall of a need to ensure undisrupted education for children of all ages. A critical part of keeping children in school is clear guidance and support packages, including better ventilation and air filtration, particularly through winter. The German government advises schools to open their windows for at least five minutes every hour Other countries can learn a lot about the value of opening windows to allow in more fresh air from the Germans. For years, Germans have habitually opened their windows twice a day, even in winter. In fact, “lüften,” or airing a room, is among the cheapest and most effective ways of decreasing the spread of the coronavirus. The German government advises schools to open their windows for at least five minutes every hour; for example, when classes are changing. Improving Indoor Air Quality Airing of rooms is a likely factor in the lower number of coronavirus cases reported in Germany compared to, say, the United Kingdom. In the end, improving indoor air quality involves some combination of letting in more fresh air, upgrading air filtration systems, and installing technologies such as UV light to kill pathogens. However, implementing these measures only mitigates the likelihood of contracting COVID-19. Some risk remains.

What Technologies And Trends Will Define HVAC In 2021?
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