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The Coronavirus Has HVAC Systems Working Overtime. New Tools Can Combat Rising Energy Costs

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

Writer: Julia Troy, Bisnow

The pandemic has CRE owners focused on a part of their building that is rarely at the top of their minds: their HVAC system. It has never been more important to monitor indoor air quality, and HVAC systems are a building’s first line of defense against air contaminants.

To help keep building occupants safe, the CDC and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) have both recommended that owners greatly increase the amount of outside air they bring into their buildings, and run their HVAC systems at a setting that maximizes outside airflow.

But most HVAC systems are not equipped to heat, cool, and filter a large amount of outdoor air. On top of that, the new guidelines force owners to run systems in a way that consumes much more energy than if they were running their building the way they normally do.

“Imagine the amount of energy you spend running the air conditioner in your home on a 95-degree day,” said Brendan Dowd, Service Team Leader at Boland, a Washington, D.C.-based commercial HVAC systems, services, and building energy solutions provider. “Now, imagine you open all the windows in your house and keep the air conditioner running, with the goal of having it cool and filter all that additional air. That system has to work harder than it ever has before.”

How can building owners keep their tenants safe and healthy without wearing out their HVAC systems and significantly driving up their energy costs? Bisnow spoke to Dowd and Kevin Bradley, Boland’s Sales Team Leader, to find out.

Bisnow: How are building HVAC systems going to operate differently in this new environment?

Dowd: It’s all about controlling airborne exposure to the coronavirus as much as possible. The CDC and ASHRAE want owners to bring in as much fresh air as they can and examine their current air filtration systems to try to minimize exposure risk. These organizations are recommending owners install higher MERV rating filters. The higher the MERV rating, the more particles a filter will catch, which will also increase the filter’s pressure drop. This means a building’s airflow will be restricted and the HVAC system will have to work harder to maintain the airflow, driving up energy costs.  

Bradley: Bringing in the maximum amount of fresh air is going to require a building’s HVAC system to filter, heat, and cool more air than it was probably designed to handle. Owners are going to be running the systems longer in order to regularly flush out their air, all while keeping the outside air dampers wide open, which will put a strain on the system and lead to increased energy consumption to heat or cool the air.

Bisnow: How can owners comply with these guidelines while keeping their utility bills down?

Dowd: The coronavirus has made it more complex for businesses to establish the best energy supply contract. A good portion of the cost — typically 20% — of energy supply is dependent on five peak demand events that take place each summer. If your building saw decreases in occupancy and energy demand this summer than it likely makes sense to change how you buy electricity to get the lowest overall price. Boland can help you navigate this complexity and establish and maintain a low-cost energy contract.   

Bradley: One solution is an air cleaning device, which not only captures more virus particles than a passive filter, but also operates at a significantly lower pressure drop. The Dynamic Air Quality Solutions that we offer can also offset the high energy costs that can come with installing high MERV rating filters.

Bisnow: What types of tools can developers install to help improve air quality in the long-term?

Bradley: Carbon dioxide sensors will give owners an idea of how many people are in their building and whether they are able to easily comply with social distancing recommendations. Outdoor air measuring devices can also monitor how much outdoor air is being introduced in the building. These solutions, paired with humidity monitors and CO2 monitors, can provide owners with the data they need to ensure they are bringing in a sufficient amount of outdoor air and keeping tenants comfortable. This also prevents them from running their system harder than they need to, which drives up energy bills.

Dowd: All of the monitoring tools that Boland offers come with remote monitoring services. Owners are able to view the data from these devices from anywhere, so if another shutdown occurs they will know what’s happening with the air in their buildings without having to actually travel to the site.

Bisnow: What benefits do these tools offer owners and developers beyond the pandemic?

Bradley: Let’s take Dynamic Air Quality Filters as an example. Many owners have been advised to increase their MERV rating on their existing passive filters. We take a little different approach and recommend Dynamic Air Quality Solutions instead of passive filtration. Per ASHRAE 52.2, a MERV 13 passive filter can only capture 46% of a virus (though it's important to note that it has not been tested on H1N1 or COVID-19 yet). Alternatively, a Dynamic Air Quality Solution MERV 13 air cleaner can capture up to 90% of a virus and operate at a significantly lower pressure drop, which would reduce energy consumption in a building, not increase it like a MERV 13 passive filter. We offer additional Dynamic Air Quality Solutions which are MERV 14 to MERV 15 rated as well, depending on the application.

Dowd: Beyond that, the customized packages we provide clients for their buildings filter and clean the air so effectively that owners and tenants can feel certain that they’re breathing, working and living in a clean environment. This is not just important when we’re dealing with something like COVID-19 — people always want to be confident that they are breathing healthy and clean air. This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and Boland. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and Boland. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.


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