As businesses in Havertown, PA — and across the country — reopen little by little, the heating and cooling systems in these buildings can do more than keep people comfortable. They can also keep them safe. And, fresh air can be a key component to making that happen.
Here’s what we know as of August of 2020: There’s a good chance that turning on the air conditioning or heat in a bar, restaurant, auto repair shop, daycare, salon, or any other commercial space can cause problems.
We went into much more detail here, but the bottom line is that these systems circulate the air that’s already inside.
This way, virus particles in one section of a room — or building — can travel to a completely different area. With the windows closed, there’s no way for airborne contaminants that get into the space to make their way back out.
As a result, you get a build-up of harmful microorganisms that spread even further by traveling through the ductwork.
Now, you don’t run into this problem outside. We’ve been mostly okay with outdoor dining or meeting with people in parks or other outside spaces.
That’s because there’s fresh air continually blowing. Any concentrations of viruses or other pathogens are diluted — hopefully to the point where they’re almost non-existent.
We’ll outline the best way to get the fresh air effect inside. If your commercial space has windows that don’t open or you’re just relying on your HVAC system for climate control most of the year, you need to consider how to get that outside air circulating inside.
Then, we’ll wrap up with a few other ways to keep your customers, tenants, workers, and clients comfortable and safe this winter.
ERVs: Getting Fresh Air into Eateries, Repair Shops, Offices and More
The most straightforward way to get fresh air circulating through your commercial space is with an Energy Recovery Ventilator, or ERV.
It’s a significant investment, but it can make a big difference. And you don’t need to stay on top of it. The system does the work for you.
An ERV is a device that allows fresh air to enter your HVAC system from outside. Remember, even the outdoor AC condenser that you use for central air doesn’t actually bring in fresh air from outside.
Even heat pumps, which you often see installed on the roof or side of a building, still only treat the air inside. They don’t introduce any new elements to the building.
An ERV can change that — without you losing any heating or air conditioning.
We install the device as part of the HVAC system, including making sure there’s a vent from outside leading into the system. This process will bring in the air from outside.
Here’s the key: the energy recovery ventilator draws in that air while expelling the stale air that’s been building up inside. But, these elements don’t just pass through untreated.
Instead, the unit uses a heat transfer process to keep the treatment your HVAC system has provided.
ERVs in the Winter
In the winter, cold air comes in from outside, while the “stale” but warm air from your building heads out. Both air streams meet in the ERV.
The ERV transfers just the warmth — or “thermal energy” — from the stream going out to the stream coming in. So, when that outside stream hits the ductwork, it now has the heat the furnace previously provided.
ERV’s in the Summer
Your energy recovery ventilator works in the opposite direction during the summer. Now, the thermal energy is coming in from outside — because it’s hot out!
Meanwhile, hopefully, the temperature — and humidity — inside are much lower. You want to keep it that way, but you also want to flush out the stale air.
Again, a heat transfer takes place to keep your space comfortable.
This time, the thermal energy transfers from the stream going into the airflow going out. The transfer makes the incoming stream as cool as the air that was inside before.
The system also adds an extra dehumidification step here. That’s on top of what your AC is doing. After all, the humidity outside comes in that stream. This part of the process accounts for that.
So, an energy recovery ventilator can make the indoor air quality of any space just as healthy as the air outside. And, the fresh air outside is just about always cleaner than indoor air.
However, these systems aren’t a silver bullet. There are other strategies to consider too.
Best Ways to Keep the Air in Your Commercial Space Clean
Along with circulating in fresh air, you can tout the “cleanest air on the block” using more robust HVAC filters and air purifiers.
Just as with your home system, your commercial heating, and cooling system has a filter that traps dust and other tiny particles as they pass through the system. But, standard filters won’t catch contaminants as small as viruses or bacteria.
You could upgrade to filters with higher MERV ratings, but there’s more to consider before going that route.
A filter also produces resistance that weakens the air circulation through your ducts and vents. Your standard screen produces a tiny bit of this resistance, so it’s okay. But, if you use a filter that’s too strong for your blower motor, you can damage your furnace or AC.
Now, a way around that is by using an air purifier that hooks up directly to your HVAC system. The one we install most is the AirSCrubber by Aerus paired with an AprilAire filter.
These screens are small enough to catch microorganisms. Then, the system uses UV light to eradicate them. You can read more about these here and here.
So, to start: Make sure you change your regular filter every month or so. After that, you have a few options to improve your indoor air quality.
HVAC Service in Havertown, PA
With all this in mind, we’re not recommending that you run out today and get an ERV, HVAC-level air purifier, and pick up the strongest filters you can find for your commercial space in Havertown.
What we are saying, however, is that you should consider how your heating and cooling system can help keep you safe, healthy, and comfortable. John Cipollone can help.
Call or email us for a free HVAC service consultation. With an in-person or video call, we’ll go through your needs and concerns and design a perfect system just for your building.