We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of our hellish relationship with COVID-19. From day one, we, as Americans, were forced to provide answers to difficult questions, such as: When it comes to COVID-19 information, who do we trust? Should I wear a mask or not? Is 6 feet of separation enough to keep me safe? Is it safe to send my kids to school? Do I need to wash my groceries before bringing them into my home? Many of us are still searching for answers and, thus, carry insecurities on these topics and countless others. And, while it may take years to achieve a scientific consensus on how and why the coronavirus exists, we can say with a level of certainty that the virus is spread through the air. Numerous reputable organizations — including the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and ASHRAE — have proclaimed that COVID-19 is primarily spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets and aerosols. Further, these organizations firmly believe ventilation and filtration provided by HVAC systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2 and thus the risk of transmission through the air. The culmination of this guidance insists that HVAC systems may be the strongest shield in our arsenal in the fight against this pandemic. As a mechanical engineer, the individual yielding that shield is staring back at you in the mirror. 


Supermarket Sweep

COVID-19 has forced us all to evaluate our wants and needs. This has caused many of us to tighten our social circles. Several of us even skipped gathering with our loved ones over the holidays in the name of safety. That said, our needs must be met. As humans, we must breathe and eat. So, while state governments have opted to shutter bars, gyms, theaters, and restaurants to quell the spread of the virus — and I'm not here to argue the merit of those decision — grocery stores have remained open. Prior to the pandemic, I would wager, with confidence, that 90% of shoppers never gave a single solitary thought to the cleanliness of the air circulated within their local supermarkets. That's all changed due to the pandemic. In today's society, clean air epitomizes healthy air. Retail stores are taking notice. In a recent interview with the National Retail Federation, Sarah Maston, founder of Green Footprints Commissioning Inc. and one of our 20 to Watch: Women in HVAC 2021 contest winners, provided a list of recommendations especially for the retail sector, which include: 

  • Increase filter efficiency to MERV 13 if possible;
  • Increase the amount of outside air being introduced into air-handling units and limit the number of people in the building;
  • Install UV lights and/or other proven air-cleaning technologies in the air-handling units; and
  • Provide portable HEPA cleaning units in areas where many people may be gathering, such as cafeterias.


Engineering Opportunities 

Given the shared nature of indoor air, and its ever-apparent value to the sanctity of life, now’s the time to tap into its profitability. When presenting air-cleaning options to existing and future clients, it's imperative you stress the dire importance of filtration systems, UV systems, air purifiers, bipolar needlepoint ionization, etc. Once these technologies are implemented, partner with these clients to market the effectiveness of such innovations. Develop signage that showcases the facility’s efforts to deliver pristine air. Demonstrate the building’s usage of UV and highlight the motive behind store managers' decision to upgrade the facility’s filtration system. When given the option between comparable supermarkets, today’s shoppers will absolutely select the one that’s most committed to maintaining their health. Clean air is more than a commodity — it is a fundamental difference between life and death. Make sure your sales engineers are pitching IAQ accordingly, and, in the same breath, encourage your retail clients to boldly share that shopping at their stores is not only good for their wallets but beneficial for their health as well.