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HVAC is not the problem – it’s part of the solution

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems must be allowed to play their important role in helping essential services deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the UK’s F Gas register REFCOM.

Two service engineers from Swegon attending a critical breakdown at an NHS hospital.

It refuted rumours that air conditioning and ventilation could help to spread the virus adding that these were completely unfounded and not backed up by any scientific evidence.

Speaking on a webinar hosted by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA), head of REFCOM Graeme Fox, said cooling and ventilation systems were not the problem, but rather they were part of the solution.

For example, by switching air handling units to full fresh air mode and temporarily disabling recirculation with heat recovery, facilities managers could ensure contaminated air was not recirculated in occupied spaces. 

“Health is more important than energy efficiency right now,” said Mr Fox. “It is also important to keep up air change rates – even in partially occupied buildings – to minimise the risk of moisture, which could contain the virus, settling on internal surfaces.”

Public Health England stated that transmission of the virus is thought to occur mainly through respiratory droplets generated by coughing and sneezing and through contact with contaminated surfaces. It has not recommended any special cleaning measures for ventilation and cooling systems.

Mr Fox said scaremongering was unhelpful to those trying to understand the threat.

Crucial

“The truth is that HVAC systems perform a crucial role in keeping essential services like hospitals, supermarkets, care homes and schools operating – this is going to be more important than ever over the coming weeks and months,” he said.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is also urging the industry to keep up its vital work for the NHS, food suppliers and other essential services. During another BESA webinar last week, an official from BEIS confirmed that building maintenance should continue as normal, subject to compliance with Public Health England guidance, the government’s social distancing policy and the site operating guidance published by the Construction Leadership Council.

“Building maintenance is helping to save lives,” he said. “People who fix crucial safety issues in buildings… must be able to keep working. They are carrying out important work”.

REFCOM’s position is also supported by guidance from REHVA, the European Federation of HVAC associations, which said humidification, air conditioning and duct cleaning had no practical effect on the transmission of the coronavirus.

It said Covid-19, unlike some other viruses, is largely resistant to environmental changes and is susceptible only to high relative humidities above 80% and temperatures above 30°C. It is recommending that heating and cooling systems are operated normally to ensure buildings can continue to support critical activities and maintain the health and wellbeing of occupants.

Engineers on the frontline

Josh Emerson from Swegon shared pictures with BESA of two of the firm’s service technicians attending a critical breakdown at an NHS hospital.

“I know there has been plenty of negative political and social media messaging with regards to the construction industry,” said Mr Emerson. “I am sharing a few pictures that show building services in a positive light. The industry is on the frontline, facing Covid-19, and going to great lengths to keep our hospitals operational to support the NHS.”

31 March 2020

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