Wildfires and COVID — both of which can threaten indoor air quality in office buildings — are sparking demand for better ways to filter out contaminants such as smoke, which the Centers for Disease Control says can irritate the lungs, cause inflammation, impair immune function and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections.
“Our business has seen a 35% growth in demand for air quality solutions, as evidenced by increased sales of air cleaners, HEPA (high efficiency articulated air) filters and MERV 13-plus filtration, ultraviolet light systems and related solutions for businesses, homes, schools and hospitals,” said Nick Hartman, HVAC Division Manager for Ongaro & Sons in Santa Rosa.
The heating, cooling, plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems contractor serving Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties has installed updated appliances in its 7,500 square foot main location at 2995 Dutton Ave. in Santa Rosa.
“We believe this decision convinced most of our employees to return to the workplace post-lockdown,” Hartman said. “We continue to install a range of healthy air options in several Sonoma and Marin County schools, private homes, and for large commercial customers.”
There are electrostatic air filtration systems for small businesses or individuals that contain multiple 5-inch-wide multiple air filters on racks. They can capture particles as small as 0.1 micron (700 times narrower than a human hair).
Hartman said this system is up to 100 times more efficient than the standard 1-inch filter and captures up to 99.98% of allergens from filtered air. This level of performance has been independently verified by experts at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Ozone-free air purifiers are also available that incorporate high intensity UV-C light and produce negatively charged ions that inactivate airborne contaminants.
“This innovation can be installed in the ductwork of existing heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to remove up to 99.96% of common influenza and DNA or RNA viruses, mold and bacteria while lowering Indoor Air Quality Index (AQI) values to maintain green levels below 50, where pollutants pose little to no risk,” Hartman added.
The AQI index ranges from 0 to 500. The higher the AQI value, the higher the level of air pollution. A good AQI level is between 0 and 50. Levels during the North Bay fires soared above 300 – the dangerous level – in some areas.
Mark Hagarty, of Simpson Sheet Metal, Inc. in Santa Rosa, says his company has also seen increased demand from residential customers for HVAC air quality upgrades and has several new installation projects underway. .
“It’s important to bring fresh outside air inside. This has become a priority for various health reasons, but more can be done to improve air quality by upgrading or replacing existing systems,” Hagarty said.
He said Title 24 of the California Building Standards Code contains “robust” regulations that help achieve the state’s climate and air quality goals. Additionally, the California Green Building Standard promotes healthy indoor and outdoor air quality by addressing issues of adequate ventilation, air exchange, and indoor air pollution.
School Air Quality Grants
California Air Resources Board supervisor Pat Wong said building code revisions in 2020 focus on air quality standards for new buildings, construction of multi-family dwellings and major upgrades to existing structures.
That year, a research study at the University of California Davis and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that only 15% of public school classrooms surveyed met the state’s ventilation standard. This means that 85% of schools were probably “woefully underventilated”. The study came at a time when the respiratory coronavirus COVID-19 was spreading through close human interaction.
As a prelude to reopening schools after mandatory COVID closures, the California Legislature passed AB 841 (California Schools Healthy Air, Plumbing, and Energy (CalSHAPE) Ventilation Program) . It provides up to $600 million through two grant programs for energy retrofits and to test, adjust and repair HVAC systems in schools.
Governor Newsom signed into law this bill on October 1, 2020. The second-round application deadline for the ventilation and plumbing program funds is May 31.
Request for System MERV Ratings Increase
Zach Brandner, vice president of construction at Peterson Mechanical Inc. in Sonoma, said a trend of widespread adoption of air quality improvements during the pandemic “started slow and only subsided. not installed as quickly as I expected in all sectors of the economy due to cost and maintenance issues.