Sometime in the future, whether it be a month, six months, or another year, offices and commercial buildings will reopen to employees and the public. One big change, though, is that both workers and visitors will expect a higher level of cleanliness for any building they walk into.
Ultraviolet UVC lighting has been in use in commercial buildings for decades, but concern is growing over reducing airborne pathogens. Building owners, managers, and maintenance departments can address these concerns by installing various types of germicidal air and surface fixtures.
In the United States, commercial buildings are the most common type of building, and a source of respiratory infections due to high traffic and large numbers of occupants. There is even a condition called Sick Building Syndrome (also known as Building Related Illness) that encompasses a number of complaints.
The biggest concern office buildings is air quality. This makes in-duct HVAC air purification a no-brainer in terms of disinfection.
Air contaminants are brought in by workers and visitors from outside the building, and microbes can also breed inside the building on cooling coils and in ducts.
The air filters used in commercial HVAC systems can help mitigate the risk of infection and cross-contamination, but disinfection is much more efficient with a UVC solution. Ultraviolet light can sterilize surfaces on which fungal spores, bacteria, and viruses thrive, where HVAC air filters are limited in this regard.
In-duct UV systems can be used to disinfect cooling coils where harmful spores build up, and to sanitize air continuously as it circulates throughout the building. Keeping the ducts clearer of microbial build-up can also result in better energy efficiency of the HVAC system.
Local UVC for Problem Areas
For areas that are particularly susceptible to airborne pathogens and cross-contamination, smaller units can be installed throughout a commercial building. These include upper air room purifiers, or air recirculating fixtures.
Upper Air UVC Fixtures
Upper air fixtures use UV bulbs and louvers to direct germicidal light towards the upper air of the room, leveraging convection forces to disinfect air above occupants. These units can be mounted on the wall, ceiling, or corners of rooms.
These systems use unshielded UV bulbs with louvers that direct the light so it is not exposed to human skin or eyes. The fixtures are mounted at least 7' above the ground, although 8' is often recommended.
UVC Air Movers
For rooms that receive poor air circulation, or buildings that do not have a central heating/cooling system at all, germicidal air mover recirculation fixtures can be an option.
These systems utilize a filter, blower, and germicidal bulbs to pass air into and out of the unit while providing continuous disinfection.
These fixtures can be mounted on the wall or floor and are generally portable and affordable.
UVC air recirculating systems, though, should not be used as the primary UV disinfection solution if there is access to the central HVAC system. They are a great compromise when an in-duct fixture is not available or for extra air purification in an occupied space.
The Bottom Line
The rise of unemployment and the increasing willingness of companies to allow employees to work from home may turn commercial properties into ghost towns after the COVID-19 coronavirus phenomenon ends.
However, for those buildings that survive and for employees who return to work in an office, UVC lighting should become a part of the plan to keep people safer by reducing harmful pathogens in the air of commercial buildings.
To accomplish this, in-duct HVAC systems, cooling coil units, air movers, and upper room air purifiers should by considered by all commercial property owners and management companies.
In the future, it may be the businesses that have installed ultraviolet germicidal irradiation systems that are allowed to stay open, and generate trust with the general public, where others are closed and personnel placed in quarantine-type situations.
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