Making Polling Places Safer Through HVAC Systems

As election season continues during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force is offering HVAC and water supply system guidance for polling places.

As election season continues throughout the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force is offering HVAC and water supply system guidance for polling places. Since early 2020, the Task Force has developed guidance and building readiness information for different operating conditions and several building types, including commercial, residential, educational, and healthcare facilities. And ASHRAE’s Building Readiness guidance provides practical information and checklists to help minimize the chance of spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 (see more below on updated guidance as of August 19, 2020).polling places

“Protecting our voters and poll workers from increasing the spread of COVID-19 at polling places is essential to protecting the health, welfare and safety of the entire population,” said Dennis Knight, ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force vice chair. “Many different HVAC system types are used in polling places, so adaptation of these guidelines to specific cases is necessary.”

Here is a summary of key general recommendations related to HVAC and water supply systems for polling places:

Space Selection: Select a space with larger area for people to spread out, and if possible, a high ceiling to provide more volume for dilution. Consider space with operable windows if there are potential ventilation issues.

Inspection and Maintenance: Consider assessing the condition of systems and making necessary repairs. All building owners and service professionals should follow ASHRAE Standard 180-2018 “Standard Practice for the Inspection and Maintenance of Commercial HVAC Systems.”

HVAC Operation: The HVAC and toilet exhaust systems should be running when the space is occupied. If the HVAC system cycles on/off with the thermostat, consider running the fan constantly during occupied hours. If toilet exhaust is controlled by manual switches, leave the fan running for 20 minutes after use, or consider setting the switch to “on” and use signage that directs not to change the setting.

polling places
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Ventilation: A good supply of outside air, in accordance with ASHRAE Standard 62.1-2019, to dilute indoor contaminants is a first line of defense against aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Pre- and post-occupancy purge cycles are recommended to flush the building with clean air. If the polling place is not ventilated or poorly ventilated and filter efficiency is not good, consider opening doors and windows, and consider re-locating all voting to the outdoors.

Air Distribution: Air flow distribution should not cascade air from the face of a person onto others, so take care in using personal fans.

Filtration: Use of at least MERV-13 rated filters is recommended, if it does not adversely impact system operation. If MERV-13 filters cannot be used, including when there is no mechanical ventilation of a space, portable HEPA air cleaners in occupied spaces may be considered. Also consider portable air cleaners in locations with more vulnerable staff.

Air Cleaning: Air cleaners such as germicidal ultraviolet air disinfection may also be considered to supplement ventilation and filtration. Technologies and specific equipment should be evaluated to ensure they will effectively clean indoor air without generating additional contaminants or negatively impacting space air distribution by creating strong air currents.

Temperature and Humidity: It is desirable to set the thermostat at the higher end of the comfort zone, 75-78ºF and maintain relative humidity between 40-60%.

Energy Use Considerations: In selecting mitigation strategies, consideration should be given to energy use as there may be multiple ways to achieve performance goals that have greatly different energy use impact. Control changes and use of energy recovery to limit or offset the effect of changes in outdoor air ventilation rate and filter efficiency may reduce or offset energy and operating cost penalties.

Water System Precautions: Buildings that have been unoccupied could have stagnant water, and water systems should be flushed to remove potential contaminants. Utilizing ASHRAE Standard 188 and Guideline 12 can help minimize the risk of water-borne pathogens such as legionella.

The complete Epidemic Task Force Guidance document for polling places can be found here.

“The task force’s approach to protecting indoor air quality in polling place is practical, and can help safeguard voters, poll workers and other building occupants as most sites are shared locations that serve many different purposes,” said Luke Leung, ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force commercial/retail team lead.

ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force Updates Building Readiness Guide

As many buildings are preparing to reopen during this pandemic, the ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force has updated its reopening “Building Readiness” guidance for HVAC systems to help mitigate the transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

“The Building Readiness Guide includes additional information and clarifications so that owners can avoid operating their HVAC systems 24/7,” said Wade Conlan, ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force Building Readiness Team lead. “By rolling out this updated guidance, we are hoping to provide a more robust structure for building owners to complete the objectives of their Building Readiness Plan and anticipate the needs of building occupants.”

Specific updated recommendations to the building readiness guidance include the following:

Pre- and Post- Flushing Strategy: The intent of this strategy is to ensure the ventilation assist in removing bioburden during, pre-, and post- occupancy of the building. The building is flushed for a duration sufficient to reduce concentration of airborne infectious particles by 95%. For a well-mixed space, this would require three air changes of building volume based on outside air cfm (or three equivalent air changes including the effect of filtration and air cleaners) as detailed in the calculation methodology. There is also some guidance on methods to potentially increase the quantity of outdoor air introduced by systems.

Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV) Systems Operation: Helps determine if your energy wheel is well designed and/or well maintained and whether it should remain in operation. Keep in mind, that if any issues are fixed it could be reengaged. Helpful links and information to the ERV Guide which will help owners determine if their energy wheel should remain in operation.

Building Readiness Modes of Operation for the Building: These should include the following:
Epidemic Operating Conditions in Place (ECiP)
-Occupied- at pre-epidemic capacity
-Occupied- at reduced capacity o Unoccupied temporarily
-Operation during building closure for indefinite periods

Post-Epidemic Conditions in Place (P-ECiP)
-Prior to Occupying
-Operational Considerations once Occupied

Click here to access the updated “Building Readiness” guidance materials. These still address the tactical commissioning and systems analysis to develop a Building Readiness Plan, increased filtration, air cleaning strategies, domestic and plumbing water systems, and overall improvements to a systems ability to mitigate virus transmission.

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