By Chris Marasco

Sports season is in full swing for those who enjoy watching winter sports like basketball and volleyball. For those hoping to attend tournaments, no matter how big or small, health concerns have increased over the past few months. The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has returned the pandemic to the lead of many news cycles. Not to mention we are also well into cold and flu season.

Due to the nature of many winter sports, the risk of passing airborne illnesses is higher than that of outdoor events. With players, families, and other fans crowding into interior spaces, indoor air quality should be the primary focus of facility managers across the nation. In the HVAC industry, great IAQ is defined as air with limited to no harmful particulates while also being comfortable for people to breathe.

Modern mechanical HVAC units offer the best solution to provide the necessary IAQ for sporting events this winter. This equipment has the solutions to create an atmosphere where occupants are both safer and comfortable with the air quality. For some older HVAC units, there are upgrades available to enhance and improve facility IAQ.

For facility and building managers, there are four areas to emphasize when it comes to improving IAQ: filtration, controlled ventilation, dehumidification, and maintenance. Each of these plays a pivotal role in determining IAQ.

The Importance of Ventilation

When it comes to ventilation, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that adequate ventilation is an important tool in limiting the transmission of pathogens. This is extremely important when discussing sporting events taking place indoors. To address the need for ventilation, proper HVAC systems give the facility manager the ability to control the ventilation rate at which outside air is brought in.

There is a general rule of thumb that the air outdoors is fresher than indoor air because it is constantly circulating. We’ve all heard the idiom, “go outside to get a breath of fresh air,” and that statement still holds true in many areas. Facility managers should emphasize proper ventilation during indoor events to keep clean air circulating within the space. Setting ventilation rates to ensure clean air is introduced into a space while old, contaminated air is pushed out will go a long way in improving IAQ.

Filtering Out Harmful Pathogens

Another important step to improving IAQ is filtration. With people attending indoor sporting events, it is paramount that HVAC units filter out as many particulates as possible to help prevent the spread of harmful pathogens. Before the pandemic took the world by storm, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommended MERV 8 or MERV 10 filters. With a more concentrated look at IAQ, the organization increased their recommendation to MERV 13, which means the filters can remove 90 percent of particles between 1-10 microns in size. If your HVAC unit is compatible, it is recommended you consider using ASHRAE’s recommendation.

A second instrument that can be utilized to improve HVAC filtration efforts is Ultraviolet (UV) lights. For many years, UV lights have been used in hospitals and sterile work environments as UV-C has been shown to inactivate viruses, bacteria, and fungi.

Controlling the Humidity

Humidity levels are another key factor in air quality indoors. If presenting a comfortable environment is a goal, then it’s important to focus on humidity levels. Proper humidity levels can increase comfort while also limiting the amount of pathogen growth. Over the years, mechanical HVAC equipment has been developed to handle latent loads associated with outdoor air. That is a vital step when it comes to replacing the air inside with fresh outdoor air.

The sweet spot for relative humidity is between 40 percent and 60 percent. If levels go above the 60 percent threshold, the air inside a space can be sticky or muggy, which would be unpleasant for players and the crowd. In that range, mold, mildew, and organic growth would become a concern due to the moisture in the air. The potential for creating harmful situations for occupants is increased when organic growth begins to form. On the opposite end of the spectrum, air can begin feeling dry if levels fall below 40 percent. To keep occupants comfortable and prevent organic growth, facility managers should maintain relative humidity between 40-60 percent.

Maintenance

No matter if you install all the necessary upgrades to make your HVAC unit the perfect IAQ system, none of it matters if the unit isn’t maintained properly. Scheduled maintenance of the HVAC equipment will increase longevity, create optimal performance, and reduce the chances of failure. In addition, it can also maintain the warranty on the unit in the event a breakdown does occur. With mechanical HVAC units providing the best solution for improved IAQ, facility managers need to ensure the unit is properly maintained.

Creating a Comfortable Environment

Everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy an indoor sporting event this winter, but the growing concerns about the Omicron variant and the seasonal flu can put a damper on those opportunities. That is why it is paramount for facility managers to emphasize proper or improved IAQ using controlled ventilation, dehumidification, and filtration. IAQ has a direct impact on health, comfort, and the overall experience of sporting events. If providing the best environment for both the teams and the fans is your goal, then making the necessary upgrades to your HVAC units should be priority number one.


Chris Marasco is the product manager at Modine Manufacturing Company. Having been with the company for over six years, he once served as its application engineer. Modine specializes in thermal management systems and components, bringing highly engineered heating and cooling components, original equipment products, and systems to diversified global markets through its four complementary segments: CIS; BHVAC; HDE; and Automotive.

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