The essential role of ventilation in the fight against COVID was first mentioned in the Government’s COVID press briefing on 29th April 2020, which cited ventilation as being critical in combatting the virus. At the briefing, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said: “There is a definite truism across all of the scientific literature that ventilation is a most critical part of reducing transmission from respiratory viruses.”
While many of us are now returning to normality, three years on, the threat of COVID has not gone away. COVID figures from the ONS published at the beginning of December showed an 8% rise in people with COVID being admitted to hospital, and it’s clear that infection control to tackle COVID should still be high on the agenda for specifiers and architects.
With ventilation playing a key role in providing resilience to infection in high-traffic areas, it’s vital to ensure that commercial settings have effective ventilation to protect the health and wellbeing of workforces to prevent the spread of COVID while tackling indoor air pollution too.
The COVID pandemic put a spotlight on the essential role of ventilation and led to the Royal Academy of Engineering report, ‘Infection Resilient Environments: Buildings that keep us healthy and safe’. It looks at how we design, manage and operate buildings and how we can make infrastructure more resilient to infection both now and going forward. Published in July 2021, the initial report highlights the importance of achieving good IAQ as well as reducing transmission of COVID and other infectious diseases, meaning many of the suggested changes have relevance well beyond COVID, including air cleaning.
In addition, the amended Part F (Means of Ventilation) of the Building Regulations further highlights the importance of health and wellbeing. ‘Approved Document F, Volume 2: Buildings other than dwellings’ covers both new build and refurbishment and now looks to both minimise the entry of external pollutants and ensure humidity and pollutants are extracted effectively and efficiently. There is also a sub-section entitled ‘Indoor Air Quality Monitoring’, which states that in new buildings, the occupiable rooms “should have a means of monitoring the indoor air quality. This may be achieved using CO2 monitors or other means of measuring indoor air quality”. These actions will help ensure better indoor air quality in non-residential properties. There are CO2 sensors that can be discreetly located on a wall and can intelligently boost ventilation based on the detected CO2 levels. They can also provide a warning indication for occupants if CO2 levels rise above acceptable levels so occupants can activate purge ventilation when required.
There are three key actions to take to improve IAQ and tackle COVID: reduce the number of pollutants introduced into the air; dilute the pollutants – including COVID virus particles – in the air by ensuring there is adequate ventilation introducing fresh, clean air into the home and buildings and purify by adding an air purifier to remove the remaining pollutants from the air.
Indoor air can contain over 900 chemicals, particulates, biological materials, viruses and bacteria. Each of us breathes 9000 litres a day, with poor IAQ affecting the health of everyone. It is, therefore, vital to reduce indoor air pollution by reducing the number of pollutants put into the air by specifying building products wisely.
There are various solutions for diluting pollutants in the air in commercial settings. For ventilation solutions where ducting cannot be easily installed, extract and supply fans, such as Vent-Axia’s Lo-Carbon T-Series, can provide background or purge ventilation and are easily fitted to an existing window or through a wall.
Alternatively, heat recovery demand ventilation systems are ideal in an office situation since they automatically respond to the air quality needs of a space, supplying or extracting air only when, and to the extent to which, it is required. This is in contrast to traditional fixed-volume ventilation systems, which are either on or off, regardless of the conditions or the number of people in the room. Therefore, demand ventilation offers better indoor air quality in offices, as well as improved energy efficiency.
A range of sensors, such as CO2, PIR occupancy detection, humidity or temperature, are employed to determine the room’s air quality, adjusting the ventilation requirements automatically and managing the system’s ventilation rates accordingly. This means that the ventilation system is always running at the optimal fan speed, delivering the right airflow in response to the room’s climatic needs.
Heat recovery demand ventilation systems offer energy recovery, too, recovering a high percentage of energy that would otherwise be wasted. The system works by extracting the heat from the room’s warm, stale air before it is exhausted outside. It then preheats the fresh incoming air via the high-efficiency plate heat exchanger before supplying the warmed, fresh air to the room. Even in winter, the incoming air is tempered to a level that should avoid draughts without the need for re-heaters. But for the coldest weather, the latest systems now include frost heaters to provide a heating boost to achieve thermal comfort for occupiers.
While effective ventilation is essential for good IAQ, adding extra air purification in workplaces, hotels and schools can help ensure that viruses and pollutants are extracted from the air creating a healthier environment and helping stop the spread of viruses. Air purifiers, such as Vent-Axia’s PureAir Room, have been designed with an advanced six-stage filtration system to filter out mould, dust, viruses, PM2.5, VOCs, pet allergens and odours with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters removing 99.9% of particles.
With COVID still a risk and the importance of good IAQ established, creating healthy and safe indoor environments is essential. Not only will this allow businesses to operate as usual, but it will also protect the health of all those using these spaces. Effective ventilation and air purification are proven methods to achieve this.