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On Ventilation and the Virus

Wed, 10/07/2020 - 16:16

As the pandemic continues, temperatures drop, and people prepare to spend more time indoors, East End homeowners are clamoring to upgrade ventilation systems with air filters and purifiers, among other devices to keep their homes as Covid-safe as possible.

“The pandemic certainly has focused more attention on what is normally considered unseen in the minds of homeowners,” said John Grant, the president of Grant Heating and Cooling in East Hampton. “We have been responding to many more requests for improved filtration, and a desire to have healthier overall systems.”

For infectious diseases that are transmitted through aerosols such as Covid-19, “HVAC systems can have a major effect on the transmission from the primary host to secondary hosts,” according to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, a professional association whose guidelines for setting up safe home, school, and work environments have been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Making sure a home has proper ventilation that allows outdoor air to replace recirculated air should be priority number one, the group said. Because many modern houses have been built to be airtight to maximize energy efficiency, their HVAC systems may need to be outfitted with an air-exchange unit, which will allow outdoor air to enter without affecting the indoor temperature, said Doug Matz, the owner of Flanders Heating and Air Conditioning.

The use of a high-efficiency filter that reduces particles in the air, such as a MERV-13, the kind New York State has required gyms to install, and a purification device that employs ultraviolet light to disinfect the air is also recommended, Mr. Grant said. “Both are equally important in respect to reducing overall risk of pathogens, including Covid-19.”

Before the pandemic, air purifiers had been primarily used at businesses such as cigar bars and nail salons, and residences occupied by someone with asthma or severe allergies, Mr. Matz said, but now “it’s gone from a specialty application to ‘Hey, this is something great to have.’ ”

 To maintain a healthy home, humidity levels are also important. “A range of 40 to 55 percent is the accepted sweet spot that is the least favorable environment for all types of pathogens, molds, and even dust mites,” said Mr. Grant. Humidity levels below that can cause nasal passages to become dry and more susceptible to infection. Mr. Matz agreed. “The virus likes a dry environment,” he said.

At the start of the pandemic, the HVAC industry, like almost every other business, had been negatively impacted by the economic shutdown and the directive to quarantine. “No one wanted us in their house,” Mr. Matz said, “but then business began to boom, especially because the houses here are being used more heavily.”

“There has always been a relationship between a home’s HVAC systems and health from the perspective of safety as well as comfort and air quality,” Mr. Grant said. Because of the pandemic, homeowners now have a better understanding of the connection.

“The safer you make the environment at home the better, not just because of Covid but in general,” Mr. Matz said.

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