The Latest Research on COVID and Indoor Air Quality
For nearly two years, the world has been dealing with the ramifications of COVID-19. We now know that spread of COVID occurs via airborne particles and droplets, and more homeowners in Austin understand the meaning of the term Indoor Air Quality. Still, the learning doesn’t stop. Scientists and researchers are still actively studying COVID as it relates to IAQ. We’ve summarized the latest research, publications, and recommendations from the experts in this article.
Improving IAQ with Many Methods
With indoor air quality and COVID, research from the Central Building Research Institute (April 2021) reveals that the best thing we can do to stay safe is attack the problem from many angles. You may already be familiar with some of their recommendations: when spending time with others indoors, wearing facemasks, social distancing, and limiting large gatherings are all effective ways to reduce the spread of COVID.
But there’s another layer of protection we can add into the equation – researchers call these “engineering controls”. Engineering controls are physical modifications to spaces to protect those within it. Some of the engineering controls for indoor air quality are ventilation, filtration, and air cleaning devices. These are all part of the core recommendations from ASHRAE.
- Ventilation – pulling fresh air from the outside can dilute any indoor pollutants, including COVID. In a climate like we have here in Austin, Texas, any outdoor air should be filtered and conditioned before mixing it with the air already inside your home.
- Filtration – The air filter inside your HVAC system plays a key role in supplying clean air to your family. Taking extra care to replace filters regularly can make a big improvement in your IAQ.
- Air Cleaner – Air purifiers can capture a significant amount of airborne particles. But here’s something you may not know – research shows that the effectiveness of an air purifier highly depends on its physical location. One study found that the positioning of an air purifier can vary the particle removal by up to 2.5 times.
IAQ Recommendations for Homes For COVID Risk Reduction
With many of us spending so much time at home, it makes sense that Austin homeowners would seek ways to improve indoor air quality beyond the bare minimum recommendations. But are indoor air quality products a good investment to reduce the risk of COVID-19? In a guidance document last updated June 2021, ASHRAE’s epidemic task force provided these recommendations for residential homes:
- Maintain normal thermal conditions. Go ahead, keep the A/C running. ASHRAE defines acceptable indoor thermal conditions as 68-78F and 40-60% relative humidity (RH).
- Use your ceiling fans – ASHRAE says to “increase room air motion” which is a very fancy way of saying “don’t let air get stagnant.” Besides the health benefits, ceiling fans are a great way to reduce your energy usage.
- Upgrade your home’s air filter to MERV 13 or higher. Keep in mind that the higher the filter efficiency rating, the more resistance for air to pass through. This shouldn’t be a problem for most systems, but older systems, or those that were not properly designed or installed, could have issues. That could mean increased energy bills, reduced performance, and even iced coils. If you have any doubt about your system, or if you feel your air conditioner’s performance changed after replacing a filter, call us to have your system checked for airflow performance.
- Air cleaners can reduce or remove pollutants. Air purifiers are tested and proven to help improve indoor air quality. A portable air cleaner can filter the air in a single room or area, while whole-home air purifiers clean all the air in your home as it passes through the HVAC system.
- Maintain your HVAC system. ASHRAE recommends regular maintenance on your home comfort system to ensure they are functioning as designed. Ensuring your home stays at normal thermal conditions is top priority, so that means preventing breakdowns and taking care of necessary HVAC repairs.
Is Home the Safest Place To Be?
The lockdowns of 2020 gave rise to the question of whether it’s truly safer at home. The experts say that unless a household member is infected with a virus, your home is a very safe environment. Still, household transmission of COVID-19 is common and often occurs before people show symptoms. Besides all the IAQ recommendations above, experts recommend that every family has a plan to isolate any infected family member(s) to limit the transmission of viruses between household members.
The best isolation spaces are on lower floors in the summer, and higher floors in the winter. Ideally, isolation spaces should have their own restroom facilities. Since most homes in Austin have a central air conditioning system, it’s important to consider how air moves through your home. Air is constantly recirculating, so to ensure that there is no transmission from your isolation space to other areas, we’ll need to make sure the room is a higher pressure than other spaces. One way to do this is by running a bathroom exhaust fan 24/7. This toilet paper test shows how it works.
HVAC and IAQ Services in Austin, TX
McCullough Heating & Air Conditioning is an Austin original. Serving this community since 1977, we have a unique understanding of the neighborhoods, climate, and families that live here. Our team is up-to-speed on the latest research related to COVID and IAQ, so that we can help keep you safe. If you need an expert opinion on the indoor air quality of your home, contact McCullough Heating & Air Conditioning today!