Mitigating Influenza with HVAC system upgrades

Oct. 28, 2009
A list of tips to consider during cold and flu season.

With cold and flu season upon us, spending time reviewing your HVAC system, its major components, as well as air and water distribution is time well spent to help mitigate the spread of type A (H1N1) and other types of Influenza. Some precautions are based on adopting simple common-sense measures, while others are related to proper maintenance protocols. In addition, there are system upgrades that can be performed to further mitigate risks. Below is a list of tips to consider during cold and flu season:

  • Monitor facilities to ensure that no warm, stagnant water is present; it can provide a conducive environment for the growth of problematic microbes such as Legionella, the cause of Legionnaire’s Disease.
  • Monitor areas including cooling towers, pooled water on roofs or clogged drains that can harbor unhealthy contaminants that can be introduced into the building and circulated by the air distribution systems into the occupied spaces.
  • Upgrade the efficiency of the air filters. As filter efficiency increases, resistance to airflow also increases. Always check to be sure the fan system can handle the resistance being imposed by the filters and other components in the system. Also, select replacement filters based on the specific particles you intend to collect.
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  • It is necessary to reevaluate how and when filters should be changed. Rather than using a simple schedule, it may be more prudent to measure the pressure drop through filter banks and set up basic performance metrics to determine the best model for filter changes.
  • Technicians should wear cut-resistant gloves when performing filter changes or basic maintenance to air dampers and commonly exposed system components. Also, properly fit respirators to ensure that the risk of exposure while working above the ceiling or in poorly ventilated areas is minimized.
  • Verify outside air intake damper settings and operations. Trane recommends that most commercial spaces operate at a slightly positive pressure relative to the outdoors to reduce the likelihood of contaminants infiltrating the occupied areas.
  • Check and validate critical area exhaust fans to assure that they are removing contaminants from the building before they become mixed with the indoor air. Perform preventive maintenance on small exhaust fans to ensure they have not accumulated dirt, reducing their effectiveness.
  • Provide staff with basic training and increase overall awareness about the risks of influenza exposure and the likely ways to contract the virus. Also, conduct formal training with staff technicians and subcontract workers on how to work with building systems to reduce risk, increase health and safety, and reduce exposure to harmful airborne particles.
  • Communicate influenza safety tips and precautions to all building departments.
  • Encourage hand washing among all staff. If possible, place hand sanitizer and hand cleaning supplies at air handler locations, equipment controls, railings and access doors.

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