As the nation stumbled its way through the pandemic in the past year, with public fears and government mandates abounding, most companies (95.6%) tried to do something to combat COVID-19 transmission in poorly ventilated, indoor spaces. Unfortunately, according to a new survey released today, they often made subpar investments, spending millions of dollars with limited success. The survey was commissioned by Omni CleanAir, a maker of commercial-grade air purification systems with more than 30 years of experience.

“We polled more than 430 HR managers around the country on the importance of various COVID-19 precautions and defense measures, their knowledge of indoor air quality topics, and their budgets and spending forecasts,” said Paul de la Port, president, Omni CleanAir. “The survey’s results will help business leaders make better decisions to ensure the health and safety of their employees and other stakeholders. In the past year, almost every business surveyed took some action to improve indoor air quality, but while organizations invested hundreds of thousands (in some cases millions) of dollars, measurable results are lacking.” 

The nationwide survey, conducted by Pollfish, April through May 2021, consisted of an online survey of 436 HR Managers of companies with 500 or more employees. The margin of error was +/- 5%, with a confidence level of 95%.

Many Steps Taken, Many Dollars Spent to Improve Indoor Air Quality

The most popular approach by businesses was to upgrade existing HVAC systems because these changes can be done quickly and easily — but HVAC upgrades are quite expensive, typically costing more than $500,000 and in some cases as much as $5 million, depending on the number and size of the facilities. Additionally, for an upgraded HVAC system to improve air quality, it must operate continuously while the building is occupied, which is very expensive. In other cases, businesses felt compelled to try relatively new and unproven ionization technologies, which are increasingly under attack from academics and government agencies for being ineffective and possibly dangerous. 

“The noisy environment, lack of transparent and easily understood real-world efficacy data, and unscrupulous COVID-19 opportunists appear to have clouded the landscape so much that many businesses simply were unable to make informed investment decisions about indoor air quality solutions,” said de la Port.

When asked what kind of improvements were made within the last 12 months, respondents revealed the following trends:


 Respondents (%) 

 Upgraded existing HVAC systems that support improved filtration (e.g., MERV 13)


 Upgraded existing HVAC systems that support medical-grade filtration (e.g., HEPA)


 Installed new HVAC systems


 Deployed portable air purification systems (HEPA filtration machines)


 Deployed UVGI systems for germicidal irradiation


 Deployed ionization technologies





Cost, Efficacy of HVAC Solutions Vastly Underestimated by Businesses

Survey data also show that HR managers and their COVID-19 taskforce colleagues are vastly underestimating the cost of HVAC upgrades. Among those who have not yet invested in solutions to improve IAQ, a majority anticipate they will upgrade their HVAC systems despite the growing evidence that these upgrades have minimal effect on improving IAQ or reducing transmission risk. 

“What many businesses don’t realize is that HVAC systems, even when they can eliminate the virus, require large amounts of electricity to operate, so the long-term cost will be very burdensome and the resulting air often won’t be adequately cleaned,” said de la Port.   

Perceived Importance of a Variety of COVID-19 Solutions

When asked to rank the following measures in order of most important (1) to least important (8) for combating COVID-19 in their organization, HR managers, in aggregate, revealed how they prioritize the following items:



 Hand washing or sanitizing stations and supplies


 Social distancing through traffic control, barriers, plexiglass


 Centralized HVAC system upgrades


 Portable air purification (HEPA) systems or other IAQ technologies 


 Masks and other PPE


 Opening windows and doors


 Running box or ceiling fans 


 Alternate or remote work schedules



“It’s clear from the survey that HR and facilities managers struggled to sift through the COVID-19 noise to determine the best options for combating the virus and while most recognized that it is airborne, the best solution to fighting it remains unclear,” said de la Port. “For example, we know that you only have a 1 in 10,000 chance of getting infected via a contaminated surface, yet it’s at the top of the list of things businesses have done and are continuing to do to fight COVID-19.” 

Businesses Planning IAQ Spending in the Next Year

Of the survey respondents whose businesses hadn’t yet taken actions to improve IAQ most indicated they would allocate spending to ventilation in the next year. Of the small minority who said they would do nothing, they cited lack of education and information, as well as satisfaction with current air quality standards in their facilities. Here is the breakdown: 

 Expected Action

 Respondents (%) 

 Plan on investing in solutions to improve IAQ within the next 12 months


 Expect to do so by upgrading or implementing HVAC systems


 Anticipate spending between $50,000 and $500,000 on HVAC upgrades, vastly underestimating the actual cost


 No plans to doing anything about IAQ because of insufficient education about the importance of ventilation and IAQ


 Of those not doing anything, they said current ventilation and IAQ already met their safety standards



The entire survey results can be viewed here.