The retail space has been significantly altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.1 Intermittent workplace shutdowns have made it difficult to operate, leaving many business owners scrambling to figure out how to balance a livelihood with the new reality.1
While hand washing, mask wearing and other critical preventative measures are still being advised in the fight against COVID-19, ventilation is becoming a new area of focus during the reopening phases.2,3
As a result, many local governments are outlining HVAC-related guidelines to ensure retail spaces have sufficient systems in place to prevent the spread of the virus.4 These rules could be relevant to HVAC training students who’ll be entering the industry in the coming months.
Keep reading to see how HVAC is playing a pivotal role in the reopening of retail establishments and what HVAC requirements are being set forth for business owners in the space.
The Role of HVAC Systems in Limiting the Spread of Viruses
Airborne contaminants can be eliminated from a building as they pass through its HVAC system’s filters, air cleaners, ductwork and other components.3 In this way, an HVAC system can help limit the presence of airborne pollutants in larger buildings, even particles that might be carrying viruses.3
When combined with other prevention efforts, proper air filtration could play a role in limiting the airborne transmission of COVID-19.3 The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises the owners of larger buildings to replace and upgrade their HVAC air filters to maximize the number of pollutants captured before the air is recirculated.3
HVAC Requirements for the Retail Sector
States across the country are unveiling new guidelines to help businesses open more safely. The HVAC specifications retail businesses must follow depend on the state in which they’re located.4
New York’s MERV Air Filter Rules
In July of 2020, New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo announced new measures that malls and retail stores would have to abide by in order to reopen.5 High-quality air filtration was stressed strongly in these requirements.5 The guidelines indicate malls around 800,000 square feet or larger need to have a MERV-13 rating or higher on their filters.5
Additional criteria in the state’s guidelines include enhancing ventilation, reducing recirculation and switching off demand control ventilation.5 Also, malls that aren’t able to adhere to the MERV-13 filter ratings are encouraged to adopt other strategies, such as increasing run times, improving seals to limit leakage and using ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UGI).5
ASHRAE Ventilation Guidelines for Retails Spaces
The importance of improved filtration and ventilation for retail spaces is echoed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). In their guidance for reopening buildings, the group recommends MERV-13 filters or better in combination with other methods to improve indoor air quality (IAQ), including using air cleaners, filtration and outdoor air.6
Similar Rules for Other New York Businesses
Gyms in New York are subject to similar HVAC protocols as retail businesses. MERV-13 filters or better are encouraged. Gyms unable to meet these requirements need proof of their system’s incompatibility. They are still required to adhere to ASHRAE and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ventilation guidelines.7
How HVAC Technicians Can Help Business Owners
Whether you’re just finishing up an HVAC program or you’ve been in the field for a few years, it can be helpful to understand the role technicians can play in supporting the reopening of the retail sector.
HVAC technicians are needed to help building owners understand the new HVAC requirements. Techs can also help business owners get their buildings’ HVAC systems up to code.3
The EPA clearly states that business owners should consult with HVAC professionals to determine what upgrades are ideal given their current systems and building requirements.3 Plus, many states are even requiring consultation with a professional in their HVAC guidelines for reopening businesses.7
HVAC Technician Safety during the Pandemic
Just as measures are being taken to protect retail customers and employees during the pandemic, so too should precautions be taken by HVAC professionals. Already, the HVAC industry has adopted several practices to keep HVAC technicians safer on service calls during COVID-19.