July 12, 2021

Commissioning vs. COVID-19

The importance of HVAC maintenance in the time of Covid-19 cannot be understated. With the pandemic traversing the globe, companies and building owners are doing their best to mitigate the spread and make their workspaces as safe as possible. Recently CFMS was contracted to provide commissioning of a number of existing schools for 2 separate school boards in northern Ontario, a crucial step in the fight against this virus.

Part of our commissioning routine is to analyze all equipment on site, verify sensor calibration and functionality, review sequences of operation and outline any deficiencies that we find. For example, while in a school we noted a non-functioning unit serving a large group space. This is critical because while the area was large and temperate, this unit provided a certain percentage of fresh air to be introduced into the return air stream. With the virus present in our lives, mixing fresh air into return air increases indoor air quality and reduces the risk of possible infections.

Filtering air is another critical maintenance item that cannot be overlooked in today’s day and age. An average filter lifespan can be safely gauged at 3 months however the filter is sometimes on its very last legs or even beyond its usefulness. With airborne viruses being an ever-increasing concern building owners will want to up the frequency of filter changes to ensure they are providing maximum filtering from beginning to end. You can also increase the MERV rating of your filters to ensure they are providing the best possible contaminant removal possible (while staying within the specifications of the unit). During our commissioning process we noted a number of filters requiring early change, as well as provided suggestions for future methodology for dealing with filters across the sites.

Alongside the idea of filters is the confirmation of proper airflow across said filters and into the spaces. Increased air speed over and above design can make ensuring proper indoor air quality difficult as the system was not designed for it. The same can be said for decreased air speed. This could be a sign of obstructions throughout the ductwork, dampers not functioning correctly or issues with the fan motor.

We also came across air purifiers being used within spaces to clean the air and provide an increased level of safety from airborne toxins. This is a good idea provided it is carried out properly. It is not a catch-all. Air purifiers are to be used in conjunction with proper HVAC systems utilizing regular maintenance checks, verified run schedules and proper outdoor air ventilation. The noted benefit to using air purifiers with a proper HVAC system is that when the system shuts down on schedule, the purifier continues to run. As it is unreasonable to run a system 24/7 due to budgetary restraints, having portable air cleaners pick up the slack in off hours is both clever and fiscally responsible.

One final note is a suggestion of using maximum ventilation rates when a space is in use regardless of the number of occupants. Generally, these rates vary based on numbers, but this is not the time to be concerned with the slight uptick in electrical costs. To assist in satisfying contaminant ventilation requirements, run the system at maximum outside airflow for 2 hours before and after the building is occupied. Most systems have a handful of issues that can be rectified or upgraded with minimal effort. By ensuring the entire system is functioning correctly, you can save enough to offset the increased load demand during occupied periods.

If you are debating having your HVAC systems commissioned in the future, don’t wait. Ventilation is more important than ever and the sooner you pull the trigger the sooner you will see benefits in not only occupant health but also equipment run costs, temperature control, maintenance education and an overall understanding of your building.

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Why Commissioning