90%! That’s how much time the average American spends indoors, according to studies by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Whether it’s time spent in our homes, at the office, in school buildings, or stores, restaurants, or theaters, these indoor spaces present a new threat as we consider COVID-19 recovery and the return to school, work, and play. As you can imagine, many of these spaces were not designed with HVAC systems to control the risk of viruses like you might see in a healthcare setting.

Mountain Fresh AirThe good news is many products in the HVAC market bring a promise of cleaner, safer air, and improved indoor air quality, but buyer beware! Each of these electronic air cleaning technologies has pros and cons. The good news is that they all offer ease of installation in both new and retrofit applications. They add minimal pressure losses to the air distribution and can accommodate energy savings via the reduction of outside air using ASHRAE’s Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) methodology. The main concern is that they are not all vetted to being “completely” effective for killing viruses, bacteria, and germs, so more documented testing is needed.

Let’s look at some of the benefits of each specific electronic cleaning technology:

BPI (Dielectric Barrier Discharge) Ultraviolet Lamps Photocatalytic Oxidation (PCO) BPI (Needlepoint Ionization)
Affects Contaminants “In the Space” Yes No Yes Yes*
Reduces Odors & VOCs Yes No Yes* Yes*
Reduces Particles (Particulate Matter) Yes No No No
Produce Ozone No No Yes No
Maintenance Every 2 Years Yearly Yearly 6 Months – 2 Years
Chemicals or Byproducts No No Yes No
Tested Contaminant Reductions in Occupied Space Yes No No No
Published and Peer-Reviewed Research Yes Yes No No
IAQ Monitoring Yes No No No

* More documented research and case studies are needed to validate this claim fully.

In an earlier blog, I highlighted bipolar ionization (BPI) as a potential game-changer in the HVAC world. While this technology has been around for 50 years, we have not seen a strong interest in integrating it into the average building. Now, as we consider the implications of longer-term practices to enforce social distancing, cleaning protocols, and wearing protective face coverings while a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, building owners seek smart, healthy buildings to offer employees and visitors a future-ready, comfortable environment that also minimizes the risk of spreading disease.

The BPI technology that has been the most rigorously tested and researched is dielectric barrier discharge bipolar ionization, also known as DBD BPI or BPI (DBD). This BPI technology is UL 867 certified to meet Ozone requirements. BPI (DBD) is not harmful to building occupants. It produces positive and negative charged oxygen ions to mimic ions found in pristine locations in nature (away from people and pollution). BPI can kill bacteria and viruses without affecting human cells or human tissue in any way. BPI (DBD) has been tested specifically on Staphylococcus, E. coli, MS2 Bacteriophage (RNA virus), and Clostridioides difficile (spore‑forming bacteria) with 98% effectiveness.

If you are looking into options to get you and or your staff back into the workplace and want to feel more comfortable in doing so, please take a closer look at BPI (DBD) technology. It is a cost-effective HVAC option to incorporate. It can provide a significant health benefit with cleaner indoor air but, most importantly, provides the key benefit of reducing workplace infections.

Originally published by Robert Weidner, P.E., LEED AP, CxA at Gannett Fleming.