The Woolwich Observer

Pandemic highlights push for air-quality improvemen­ts

HVAC systems have been drawing plenty of attention, with spike in work likely to continue for a while yet

- Bill Atwood Observer Staff

THE PANDEMIC HAS PUT IN the spotlight what’s usually a little-regarded facet of buildings, particular­ly schools and medical facilities: the heating, ventilatio­n and air conditioni­ng systems.

Improvemen­ts to HVAC equipments were up some 25 per cent in 2021, reports the Mechanical Contractor­s Associatio­n of Ontario.

That increase was reflected in this area as institutio­ns focused on air quality due to concerns about the COVID-19 virus.

“We’re all living through this pandemic and it has brought heating, ventilatio­n and air conditioni­ng into the forefront of everybody’s mind. Air quality is a top priority for a lot of businesses and institutio­ns – pretty much anybody that’s a building owner for the most part in the area,” said said Mike Gifford vice-president of business developmen­t at Dean-Lane Contractor­s. Dean Lane is a board member of the Mechanical Contractor­s Associatio­n of Kitchener-Waterloo.

“So with everything that’s been going on, it’s been highlighte­d that basically everybody wants to upgrade and try to provide the best air quality to their employees or to the students.…With the pandemic happening, it’s definitely pushed it forward…instead of gradually replacing equipment.”

Better ventilatio­n became a key part of dealing with the pandemic, says Stephanie DeWitteOrr, a virologist at Wilfrid Laurier University.

“Over time, the different variants have become more transmissi­ble so they’re more easily able to infect and one of the reasons they can do that is because they can stay suspended in the air longer than we thought. So for Omicron, being six feet apart inside might not be sufficient to stop transmissi­on anymore,” DeWitte-Orr said.

One big customer for HVAC systems has been the Waterloo Region District School Board, which in the current school year is spending a total of $25.8 million on 59 projects across 41 schools.

“Between last year and the work planned this year and all of the other work, we’ve definitely had a focus on ventilatio­n over the last couple years,” said John Veit, facilities controller for the board.

Among the steps that the school board has taken were upgrading equipment to handle two Merv 13 filters, turning on the systems two hours before occupancy and upgrading building windows.

“I think it would definitely have given both staff and students and parents a peace of mind that school boards are doing as much as they can to ensure that the air quality is as high as we could,” he said.

WRDSB also received just over a thousand HEPA (high efficiency particulat­e air) filters, which DeWitte-Orr explained is the best option for ventilatio­n.

“A key thing is that the ventilatio­n has to have a filter so that when you have air exchanges in a room, it goes through the filter. The filter will filter out the virus – increased filtration will increase the chances of getting the virus out of the air so it’s not available for infection,” she said.

“A HEPA filter has pores that are small enough that will catch the virus because viruses are so small. A lot of normal furnace filters wouldn’t necessaril­y catch them there.”

While some parents expressed concerns that not every classroom has a HEPA filter, that is not a feasible option, Veit explained.

“[We] focused on installing those in areas where there was no mechanical ventilatio­n and then areas that they saw as more perhaps high risk where the younger students are, for instance full-day kindergart­en classrooms where they may have challenges following the protocols and keeping their masks on and things like that,” he said.

“It is expensive to run these units, as you can imagine – the electricit­y to run the units and

[the filters] need to be changed, and they’re not inexpensiv­e either. So the operating costs on these units do add up. If you don’t need to be running them, then it’s not necessaril­y responsibl­e to run them for the sake of doing it when those spaces are well served with mechanical ventilatio­n being optimized and Merv 13 filters,” he said.

The HEPA filters are also being added in areas that do not have Merv 13 such as portable classrooms.

Veit said the school division is next looking to increase energy efficiency in their HVAC systems and replacing infrastruc­ture.

Gifford said he does not see the uptick of HVAC installati­ons slowing down anytime soon, as demand remains strong.

“I honestly do not see this changing. I think it’s going to be going forward like this and it will be like this for a long time. Things don’t usually happen until something along these lines happens and everybody starts looking at it differentl­y. Like ‘oh, now we have a pandemic or we got to change things.’ but I will say that I do not see it slowing down. I think it’s going to be like this for a while,” Gifford said.

 ?? Submitted ?? Mike Gifford of Dean-Lane Contractor­s says the Mechanical Contractor­s Associatio­n of K-W continues to see an uptick in HVAC work.
Submitted Mike Gifford of Dean-Lane Contractor­s says the Mechanical Contractor­s Associatio­n of K-W continues to see an uptick in HVAC work.

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