By Sherri Hall
With information on the COVID-19 virus and how it spreads constantly being revised, many people who live in community settings are concerned and want to be sure their associations are taking the steps necessary to keep residents and staff safe. This is especially true for those living in a high-rise community where air ducts are shared throughout the building. Many high-rise residents are wondering if the COVID-19 virus travels through the air ducts; if the virus can enter their unit from a neighboring unit via the air ducts; and if the air in the hallways, lobby and common areas is safe.
According to Tom Asciolla, President of Apex Air Duct, Dryer Vent & Chimney Services in Spotswood, New Jersey, it’s not the COVID-19 virus itself that can travel through duct work, but it’s the movement of air associated with the HVAC system that aids in the spread of the virus. “The HVAC system constantly moves air around a room, which can increase the risk of spreading the germ around a single room through circulation,” he said. “The HVAC system is designed to capture air particles through the filter system and prevent the air particles, including the [COVID-19] virus, from traveling through the entire system.”
However, Asciolla noted that HVAC systems are not perfect, and the condition of the filter area will determine how effective the cleaning process will be. One thing that can aid in the process is installing a UV light into the system. UV light technology has been proven to kill all types of viruses, including COVID-19, said Asciolla. In fact, he noted that this type of technology is the same used by airlines and hospitals to fight the transmission of germs. “The light will kill the COVID-19 virus as well as mold growth and other pathogens within the system,” he said.
Asciolla explained that the UV light is installed directly into the air handler area which is where the filter is located and which is just above the evaporator coil. Once the exact location is determined, a hole is drilled into the ductwork and the UV light is inserted into the area and then mounted and wired in. Asciolla noted that the UV light should be installed as close to the evaporator coil as possible. He said this area is where condensation is produced through the conditioning of the air, and that this moisture along with dirt and debris buildup, provides a food source for bacteria and viruses as well as mold and mildew growth which can negatively affect the overall air quality of the HVAC system. “This area is very wet and dark, and it is a perfect breeding ground for toxic mold growths, mildew and other spores that impact your air quality. Having a UV light around this source is a great way to prevent any type of these growths,” said Asciolla.
However, he pointed out that installing a UV light into the HVAC system is not the end all to stopping the COVID-19 virus from spreading through the air ducts, but it is an important part of an association’s indoor air quality program. “Installing a UV light is just a part of your indoor air quality procedures and part of an overall maintenance of your environment. It’s part of keeping your air ducts clean, keeping the dirt and debris out and inhibiting mold growth. All of these things contribute to good indoor air duct quality. UV light is definitely a step in the right direction,” said Asciolla.
So, how exactly does this UV light technology work? “When UV light is used for sanitizing purposes, it “deactivates” or kills microorganisms, including viruses, bacteria, molds, and other fungi by disrupting their DNA. Some deactivate after microseconds of exposure while others require much longer exposure,” explained Asciolla.
He noted, however, that the effectiveness of the UV light technology depends on a number of factors including the intensity of the lamp(s); the length of time of exposure, the ability of a virus, bacteria or mold to withstand UV light; the presence of particulate that may protect the organism from exposure by providing shadows or a shielding effect; increased humidity which may protect the organism; location of the UVC lamp(s); ambient temperature; the number of lamps; and the reflectivity of surrounding surfaces.
Asciolla recommends community associations consider installing the UV light technology in any indoor common area/shared environment where dust, debris and moisture can promote viruses, bacteria, and mold growth such as clubhouses, lobbies, indoor pool areas, pool houses, and fitness centers. It should also be installed where there are shared hallways such as in high-rise buildings and some condominiums.
He noted that the installation of the UV lamps can be performed by any air duct cleaning company or any HVAC company and that the entire process is usually completed within an hour. Asciolla said the average installation cost is about $399 for a single unit into a single HVAC system. He explained that one UV lamp is needed for each HVAC system. Therefore, some spaces will require more than one UV lamp. For example, a high-rise building will have multiple HVAC systems, so there will be multiple lamps needed.
Asciolla noted that the UV light technology will run constantly. “When we install it inside the system, it’s hardwired to run all the time, killing pathogens 24/7,” he said.
Asciolla added that switching from heat to air conditioning and vice versa does not affect the UV light’s ability to work. “It’s the same circulation of air,” he said.
In fact, he noted that humidifiers which are often part of heating systems, will add moisture to the air, which is why it is important to utilize the UV lights along with both the heat and air conditioning.
Asciolla recommends that the UV bulbs be replaced every two years, which can be done by the association’s maintenance company and doesn’t require the installer to come back to do.
He noted that the UV light technology has been around for 15-20 years for use in an HVAC setting, but the awareness of it has really grown in the last five years as more and more people are demonstrating concern for indoor air quality.
With regard to COVID-19, Asciolla said that while the UV light does kill the COVID-19 virus, it’s important to keep in mind that it also has the ability to kill any type of virus including mutations of COVID-19 as well as bacteria, mold, fungus, and all types of microorganisms.
“For the overall health of your common areas, UV light technology should be an intricate part of your maintenance and overall indoor air quality program,” he said.