After three months of extreme caution, most States are beginning to lift stay-at-home orders and ease aggressive social distancing restrictions. Businesses in all industries are looking forward to reopening their buildings and getting things back to normal – with the health and safety of occupants’ top of mind. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance to help facilities managers and building owners in this effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

CDC and ASHRAE Reopening Guidance

The CDC’s guidance touches on many different strategies and recommendations for employers responding to COVID-19, from conducting health checks to implementing social distancing policies. In addition to these important items, the CDC provides recommendations around heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) operation. Their main goal in issuing this HVAC guidance is to reduce disease transmission from airborne particles by improving engineering controls and ventilation systems. Some of their recommendations include:

  • Increase ventilation rates.
  • Ensure ventilation systems operate properly and provide acceptable indoor air quality for the current occupancy level for each space.
  • Increase outdoor air ventilation, using caution in highly polluted areas. With a lower occupancy level in the building, this increases the effective dilution ventilation per person.
  • See the full list here

Much of the CDC’s HVAC guidelines refers to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). ASHRAE comes to the same general consensus – that increasing both ventilation and filtration can reduce the risk of COVID-19 airborne transmission.  So far, ASHRAE has released the following two statements:

  1. Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures.
  2. Ventilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2 and thus the risk of transmission through the air. Unconditioned spaces can cause thermal stress to people that may be directly life threatening and that may also lower resistance to infection. In general, disabling of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems is not a recommended measure to reduce the transmission of the virus.

Time for Geothermal Retrofits

In just a few months, we have seen an enormous shift in the HVAC industry – one that centers around improving the health and safety of occupants. While CDC and ASHRAE guidance helps, this responsibility ultimately falls on building owners and facilities managers. It will be up to them to choose HVAC systems that can balance increased ventilation with moisture control; and the health and safety of occupants with comfort.

When properly designed, geothermal heat pump systems are HVAC systems that can do just that. GHPs are a healthy and environmentally friendly means of space heating, space cooling and water heating that can achieve these new, higher standards of health and safety. Retrofitting existing buildings with geothermal heat pump systems can play an important role during this season of immense growth for the HVAC industry

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