Proper airflow is much more than a comfort issue. Especially in healthcare facilities, where the need to slow the spread of pathogens is a critical safety concern.
With the current COVID-19 pandemic and hospital rooms in high demand, many hospitals are finding that they need to convert rooms, wings, and even whole floors into COVID units. Aside from adding physical safety precautions such as personal protective equipment (PPE) dressing areas, HVAC safety concerns are at an all-time high.
One of the main HVAC safety concerns is proper air flow.
"In hospitals, different rooms have a range of air pressure requirements," says Steve Everson, President of Balancing Professionals, a division of HVAC Elements. “Our job is to read the airflow rates and verify the pressure to make sure spaces meet the specifications set by engineers.”
Engineers are asking testing and balancing companies to increase the number of air changes per hour (the number of times air is replaced in a room in an hour) in the COVID wards. This brings in new, fresh outside air and exhausts dirty air through a HEPA filter that vents directly outdoors. Air changes are important for improving indoor air quality, ventilation, and cleanliness.
The goal of engineers and balancing technicians is to create negative pressure rooms in COVID wards and isolation areas. This means, when someone opens a door, airflow is always in the direction of the contaminated area. This contaminated air will not escape the room to adjacent spaces; it is replaced by fresh air from the HVAC system.
"You want negative pressure in an isolation ward or a soiled linen room, for instance, because you don't want that air blowing into clean rooms. But the opposite is true for a sterilization room where you don't want dirty air coming in," says Everson.
It is a delicate balancing act and it is one that Balancing Professionals has been performing since 1992. Both Balancing Professionals and its president are certified by the highly-respected National Environmental Balancing Bureau (NEBB) in proper methods and procedures for testing, adjusting and balancing HVAC systems. NEBB standards require the equipment to be calibrated to provide accurate readings and reports.
Balancing Professionals operates independently of suppliers, the design team, and the contractor to ensure that they are not partial to any particular system.
"We provide the final check for the engineer and owner to determine the systems are operating as designed before moving into a facility," says Everson. "We make sure that all the pieces are in place and that all of the controls are calibrated to read accurately."