Building Reopening HVAC System Preparation

ByMarc Silberberg


On July 15, 2020, New Jerseyans entered stage two of reopening. It is a step in the right direction for our local economy but some of those businesses will unfortunately not be reopening. COVID-19 impacted the New Jersey economy greatly and those businesses will sorely be missed. As per those facilities that will be opening, we are excited for them and wish them all the luck in the world. Be an NJ ambassador and shop at your local stores instead of shopping online. If you can hack it, stop by a local cafe and grab a coffee and pastry. These small businesses are desperate and they can use lots of moral support.

Upgrading to a HEPA Filter 

As per the businesses that have begun to open it is important to make sure that your HVAC system is fully functioning and filtering the air properly. Many shops and commercial facilities are upgrading their filtration system to HEPA filters and increasing the replacement rate. The air which passes through the HVAC system will now remove 99.7% of airborne particles. Some of these particles include  pollen, smoke, pet hair, dander, dust, mold spores, and dust mites. Pretty much anything which is 0.3 microns or higher will be filtered out of your air cooling system. This is great for customers who are sensitive to dust and allergens. Removing a sneezing stimulant from the air will mean one less sneeze, and less germs spread around your store or facility.  

Does a HEPA Filter prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Unfortunately even the most advanced HEPA filtration system won’t be able to prevent coronavirus from being spread through your HVAC system. It is not just COIVD-19 that can’t get filtered, but it’s pretty much any virus that’s 0.3 microns or less. To put things into perspective, scientists have attempted to measure the size of conranvirus and its size can vary, anywhere from the largest being 0.14 microns, to the smallest being 0.06 microns. That falls well short from what HEPA filters can handle. 

UV lighting is a trending topic when it comes to HVAC systems which can potentially zap the coronavirus before it leaves your system. Though it has not been proven 100%, the technology is slowly being implemented within international transit systems. New York City is currently testing UV lights on  its trains and buses, and will determine if to install across the board. No one is certain but it does sound promising. We will have to wait and see.

Turning On Your Commercial Air Cooling System

Now that nonessential businesses are back to work in the midst of summer, you will want to crank up the AC. Ever since Governor Murphy ordered all of the nonessential businesses to close on March 21st, these heating and cooling systems were turned off or set to a very high temperature. This meant less air flow, which allowed dust and mold to build up within the air ducts. Three months later we are excited to open up our shops and turn on the cooling systems. But what about all the debris that’s accumulated in the ductwork? Chances are it will get blown into the air space of your shop and land somewhere. This could impact customers who are sensitive to dust and mold and increase germ spread when they cough or sneeze. 

Check To See If There Is a Buildup Of Dust By The Air Vents

Before your turn on your HVAC system check for signs of dust and mold build up by the vents. Though it does not necessarily tell us what’s going on inside your ductwork it can signal that it might be time to get your air ducts cleaned. A local NJ air duct cleaning specialist can determine if it makes sense to get the air ducts clean. This will depend on the age of the system and signs of dust and mold build up within the ducts. Whether you choose to hire someone or not, you’re going to want to make sure that the outside venting is clean, without any dust buildup. 

Should I Have My Air Cooling System Sanitized or Disinfected To Prevent The Spread Of COVID-19?

According to the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA), there is no data suggesting that sanitizing ventilation systems will help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Numerous antimicrobials on the market have been approved for use in HVAC systems and in HVAC ductwork. These could be helpful to NADCA members in treating HVAC systems if these products are used in accordance with the law and the instructions on the label and if these products are specifically stated by the manufacturer to be effective against COVID-19.

Things to Consider Before Turning On Your HVAC System

Due to the HVAC system not being in use for 90+ days there is a good chance that it may have accumulated things inside that you don’t want to be disbursed into the air of your shop or facility. 

  • The settlement of estranged particles at the bottom of the air vents
  • The potential for visible dust and debris being blown into the condition space
  • Commercial and non-occupied building can be a breeding ground for rodents, insects, and their byproducts
  • AC coils and drain pipes and be subject to microbial growth which can lead to the unwanted buildup of mold

What To Do If Your Shop or Facility Has Been Exposed To COVID-19?

The first thing is not to panic. Panicking gets people nowhere and only worsens the situation at hand. Next, you want to let your workers know about the exposure and have them take a COVID-19 test. Depending on the type of business, you may have to reach out to the local health authorities and possibly file a report with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Once all the right parties are notified it’s important that you review the disinfecting procedure from the CDC for COVID-19. Even without an exposure at your shop, it would be beneficial to all to properly sanitize your facility at the end of the day. 

Before you begin the sanitization process you’re going to want to confirm that the individual was indeed positive for coronavirus. Once it’s confirmed you want to close your facility for 24 hours. Make sure to leave some windows open to allow proper ventilation. After the 24 hours have passed, chances are that the remaining particles from the virus will no longer be there.

Make sure you’re wearing personal protective gear and begin by wiping down all surfaces using soap and water. You want to start from the upper high-touch surfaces and make your way down. Going down will ensure that particles don’t fall from an unclean surface to a clean surface. Thereafter you’re going to want to spray down the surfaces with disinfectant spray. According to the CDC, when one cleans with soap and water it will reduce the number of germs and impurities on the surface. Whatever remains will be killed by the disinfect spray.

Depending on your type of shop determines how often you should clean the surfaces. For example, a local jeweler will see a lot more surface traffic as they display items atop the glass enclosure while a pool store owner will see little to no high-touch surface traffic. It’s all relevant to the type of customer which comes to visit your store or facility. 

Open Confidently But Be Safe

We are all excited about opening up our stores and facilities but it’s of utmost importance that we follow the social distancing protocols laid out by local governments. It might feel strange to serve your customers in a mask and gloves but they will appreciate that you are taking the proper safety precautions. If a large group is beginning to gather at your location, kindly let them know that you must keep to the new guidelines otherwise your store may have to close. 

It’s your obligation to protect employees and customers who occupy your store. The times we live in can be challenging but we have to adapt to the new normal. Opening up your store without following the proper guidelines is bound to backfire. States like Arizona and Florida are beginning to see spikes and no one knows whether the State of New Jersey will see the same. Governor Murphy was asked at a recent press conference about a second wave of the virus, here was his response, “No matter how good a job we do at our restart and recovery and get the place back open again, the chances are overwhelming we’re going to see some kind of community flare-up,”. 

Local NJ business owners want to put themselves in the best position to remain open when we get word that coronavirus cases are on the rise. Until then let’s turn on the lights, cooling systems, and open up our doors for commerce. At the same time let us show our appreciation to loyal customers who are venturing out into the unknown. If we all keep to the guidelines we may just be able to dodge the bullet of a second wave of COVID-19. Stay safe!

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