The onslaught of COVID-19 has brought the issue of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) to the forefront of many consumers’ minds. For integrators, that increased attention in the category means they need to be prepared to effectively explain the science behind some of the different solutions and their applications.
Unfortunately, often there is a slew of misinformation that arises whenever an issue becomes top of mind, and IAQ is no exception. It is vital integrators take the time to educate themselves fully on IAQ standards, HEPA filtration, and other important areas in order to serve their clients most effectively.
“Everyone is trying to take advantage of the COVID opportunity,” admits Vinny Lobdell, co-founder and president of upstate New York-based Healthway Family of Brands, makers of the Intellipure, which has been providing IAQ solutions for more than 30 years. “It’s key to understand the technology and recognize that all indoor environments are different. Each built environment may have different problems and therefore need a different solution.”
Intellipure manufactures both large-scale medical grade filtration systems capable of addressing an entire home or commercial facility’s IAQ needs, as well as small, portable units that cleanse the air in a localized area.
The company has worked very closely with wellness platform provider Delos since the outset of the pandemic to deal with ultra-fine particles, and aerosolized particles which can carry SARS-CoV-2.
“These are really, really small particulates,” says Lobdell. “So, we need to remove these really small airborne particulates from the air without creating other problems in the environment.”
The end result is bringing IAQ solutions to customers that are efficient both in terms of cleansing the air and energy usage, while exceeding the industry-recognized standards for particle removal efficiency.
These are five vital pieces of information surrounding IAQ and COVID-19 of which every integrator should be aware.
1. All HEPA Filters Are NOT the Same
Plainly and simply… all HEPA filtration systems are not created equal.
“The general guideline for many manufacturers right now is to just throw a HEPA filter in a box and claim ‘you’re good,’” says Lobdell. “The reality is it’s really not giving the consumer or the user an idea of what really works. We’ve looked at how do we ensure we are providing the highest level of cleanliness and the broadest scale possible. We’ve achieved that– in collaboration with Delos — by doing the testing that demonstrates we have solutions that aren’t just claiming to do something, but are truly providing total system efficiency at and above the HEPA efficiency standard.”
Lobdell says Intellipure’s commitment to testing is “the gold standard for air cleaning right now.”
Paul Scialla, Founder and CEO at Delos, agrees. He believes there is a general misunderstanding in the market as to exactly what represents high-quality IAQ and what does not.
“We’ve been merging the health sciences with the building sciences for the better part of a decade. We created the Well Building movement and the Well Building Standard. Our International Well Building Institute is the world’s largest certification body for healthy indoor spaces,” says Scialla.
To date, those standards have been deployed in more than 3 billion square feet of commercial real estate in over 100 countries.
“We are not a manufacturer; we are product agnostic,” Scialla points out. “Over the last five years, we have reviewed over 100 different manufacturers’ products, technologies and methodologies applying data-driven research and evaluating independent, third-party testing.”
Based on its evaluations, one of Delos’ recommended solutions is Intellipure, which Scialla calls “best in class.”
“The real key here is that consumers need to understand that any product they buy may say, ‘HEPA-rated filter,’ but that has nothing to do with the actual efficiency of that product in terms of total device output and efficiency. When you insert a HEPA filter into any type of air purification device, there are other factors that are going to contribute to whether the true output filtration efficiency is actually meeting 99.97% efficiency at 0.3 microns because that’s the benchmark that HEPA ascribes to. We are seeing that many manufacturers and products on the market — even while they claim ‘HEPA filter inside’ on the box — when you actually put that entire unit to a test, they are drastically under the HEPA efficiency guidelines in terms of true total device efficiency.”
Scialla notes that Delos’ testing of the Healthway line of solutions across the board shows the company’s products are able to capture ultra-fine particles and miss “very, very small amounts versus many in other air purification devices in the market.”
He adds, “Healthway is far and above more efficient from a total device efficiency standpoint, and that’s what matters… not where a HEPA filter may be rated inside of a box. You have to actually test the entire unit and see what the true efficiency is.”
2. IAQ Is Application-Specific
The design of an Indoor Air Quality system deployment is really dependent upon the application needs.
“There’s also a big disconnect from so-called experts who often make just generalizations about the deployment of IAQ,” says Lobdell. “For example, it’s not even possible to install a HEPA filter inline in 65% to 70% of all applications without doing a major overhaul of a system. So it’s irresponsible for so-called experts to say that.”
Lobdell says the building envelope, square footage, ceiling height, number of air exchanges, quality of the outside air, and other factors need to be examined for inline IAQ deployments.
“You have to look at it from an overall building standpoint,” he notes, adding that in 95% of whole-building inline IAQ filtration installations the entire HVAC system needs to be replaced. That can often entail a high price tag, which is why the combination of an inline system along with portable to handle localized areas is often the best solution.
“You have to know how the building is heating and cooling the space, as well as how much fresh air is being brought in from the outside,” explains Lobdell. “Well, there’s no such thing as fresh air in cities with poor air quality such as Shanghai. You could be exchanging air from the outside that is exacerbating the indoor air quality. You need to understand the space, including offering localized solutions when necessary where more people tend to congregate to remove the smallest particulates. You can have all the air exchanges in the world but if you are not capturing the small particulates that range between 0.6 and 1.2 microns, you are not achieving anything.”
Delos’ Well Living Lab founded in collaboration with the world-renowned Mayo Clinic tests various products in specific real-world settings, such as a classroom, office or residential living room or bathroom environment.
3. Combining Inline and Localized IAQ Systems Is a Good Idea
According to Lobdell, a standard inline IAQ system is able to change the air in a space only about two to three times per hour. That’s why a combination of inline and localized solutions are crucially important to cleanse the air most effectively.
“Localized solutions give you the added air changes per hour to get the intended result,” says Lobdell. “For example, if you add more people to a space, no matter how good that filtration is you’re never going to be able to get the air exchanges and scrub that air six to eight times per hour. That’s why a combination of a really good high-efficiency inline air cleaning system with a mobilized high-efficiency, high-level air cleaning system — not just a filter in a box — is needed to achieve the best results.”
Scialla agrees, noting that the more people there are in an indoor space means more potential respiratory droplets can be spread in the air. So while a whole-house system can do a great job filtering outdoor pollutants that may enter the home, “the more you can localize your solution and add to the number of sources of filtration, the better,” he says.
“You want to tackle the problem as close to people as possible. A source of filtration that is carrying the air all the way across the room to reach the filter may not do anything with regards to helping stop contagion along the way. So localized, standalone filtration is always going to do a great job of drastically increasing the elements of reduction in terms of indoor aerosolized particle transmission,” adds Scialla.
Lobdell adds, “Not to belabor the point, but right now during COVID the biggest source of pollution is people.”
4. IAQ Standards Exist for Filtration
Contrary to common belief, there are several standards that integrators can look for in the IAQ products they select.
Developed in 1998, the EN 1822 standard establishes a procedure to determine ventilation and filtration efficiency based on a method that counts the number of particles. Working with an independent lab, Healthway has tested its solution to the standard, which not only addresses the quality of the filter but also the entire system design to ensure there are no ways for the air to bypass the filtration system.
“I believe Delos had a third-party lab test five different off-the-shelf systems and not one of them achieved the benchmark standard to ensure the total system efficiency is achieving 99.97% at 0.3 microns,” says Lobdell.
“It’s all about outcomes and performance verification,” says Scialla. “We’ve got a great team that works with integrators to train and empower them to help optimize the health of their clients’ homes.”
5. Integrators Are Key to IAQ Solutions
“The role integrators play in IAQ is crucial,” says Lobdell. “No one owns the air quality space so there’s a huge opportunity. The HVAC companies have been out there forever and we found that most HVAC providers are really only interested in heating and cooling people’s homes. HVAC companies have done a poor job of serving the user, especially with a high-level solution, which is the focus area for custom integrators. IAQ just ties in perfectly with what they are already used to doing.”
Scialla echoes those comments, noting, “This is a massive opportunity for integrators to increase the IAQ dialog and the service. Traditionally, putting smart home equipment into a client’s project has been centered around convenience and safety with gear like alarms, door locks, AV and lighting controls. The opportunity here is to bring front and center a true dialogue that matters: the human condition. Good air quality monitoring, remediation and installation can be and should be part of an integrator’s catalog of services.
“Yes, safety and convenience matter, but before all of that is serving the health and wellbeing of the family through not just air quality, but the benefits of circadian lighting, acoustics and all of these elements that can affect their longevity. It is tied to conditions that involve respiratory, cardiovascular, immunity, cognitive, digestive and sleep health outcomes. That ties into people’s energy levels, circadian rhythms and sleep/wake cycle. This is all ‘wellness intelligence,’” concludes Scialla.
Lobdell adds, “COVID created the greatest awareness campaign for IAQ that could ever happen, but the reality is that fundamentally our buildings have impacted our health for way too long. Integrators now have the perfect opportunity to lead the charge and help people live at their best at the place they are spending the most time… at their home.”