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Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) describes the content and thermal properties of interior air that could affect health and comfort of building occupants.
To ensure a thorough approach to maintaining a safe indoor environment, the role of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and current maintenance practices are routinely assessed against emerging public health evidence and industry guidelines regarding COVID-19.
Adequate ventilation can reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and other communicable diseases known to spread through droplets and aerosol in indoor settings in conjunction with all other public health measures (i.e. vaccinations, frequent handwashing, daily health assessments, staying home if unwell, etc.).
Frequently asked questions around HVAC systems during the COVID-19 pandemic
How is the University preparing HVAC systems for the resumption of on-campus activities?
HVAC systems have remained in operation throughout the pandemic and systems, including filters, have been regularly inspected and replaced.
In preparation for the return to campus and increased occupancy, Facilities Services have undertaken the following steps:
- Ensuring that mechanical systems are functioning as designed and air is moving in/out of buildings.
- Ensuring that filters are regularly inspected and functioning appropriately based on best practices.
- Replacing centralized HVAC system filters with enhanced MERV-13 filters or the highest filter compatible with existing infrastructure. The MERV panels we use are the same as those used in medical facilities.
- Performing air flushing in buildings two hours prior to occupancy each day.
- Maximizing outdoor air (and reducing recirculated air) whenever possible. Factors that afftect the amount of increased outdoor air are system design, thermal comfort and humidity levels.
- Conducting an HVAC assessment of classrooms, teaching labs and high-occupancy spaces.
I'm concerned about COVID-19 and the air quality in my work area. How do I know my work area has adequate ventilation?
SFU buildings are supplied with fresh, outside air through mechanical means or natural ventilation. SFU follows the standards for ventilation set by ASHRAE - the society that governs heating and ventilation equipment - and the guidelines they have developed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This is the guiding standard utilized by WorkSafe BC for workplace indoor air quality.
SFU is undertaking an extensive air survey throughout classrooms and other high-occupancy areas to verify that HVAC systems are operating as designed and continue to meet applicable codes and standards. Checked areas as a result of this survey can be found in the next section of this page.
In general, HVAC systems are maintained to provide ventilation and thermal comfort as designed, through the following activities:
- HVAC systems are set to maintain appropriate air-flow and temperatures, as designed.
- Air filters are equipped in most buildings with mechanical heating, cooling and ventilation systems.
- Laboratory ventilation systems operate continuously, typically with 100 per cent fresh outdoor air.
- Exhaust fans in restrooms are operating continuously in most cases.
- Where possible SFU has reduced recirculated air and increased ventilation as recommended by accredited bodies such as ASHRAE.
Spaces over 30 square metres (such as open offices) have been included in the air quality survey, while smaller, lower occupancy spaces (such as individual offices) have not been included. If a guest is being hosted in an individual office, we recommend limiting occupancy, and opening windows and doors for additional circulation when possible.
How does the building ventilation system work?
HVAC systems vary from building to building and are differentiated by the use, design approach and age of the building. For instance, most science laboratories utilize 100 per cent outside air while most office spaces and classrooms utilize some recirculated air for ventilation. The number of air changes per hour (ACH) is dependent on space type as per regulatory requirements and best practices governed by ASHRAE.
Note, most buildings on the campus can use 100 per cent outside air to ventilate the space during April to October given our mild weather and as outside air temperature drops, the percentage of outside air will need to be reduced to minimize impact on building temperature.
Each building would have access to outside air through mechanical or natural (windows) ventilation. If we can’t circulate air from outside, we recommend limiting the amount of time spent in a space with more than one occupant and open doors/windows where possible without compromising safety and security.
Can existing filters in the ventilation system be upgraded?
The University has reviewed and aligned HVAC systems with the relevant legislative requirements and industry guidelines, including WorkSafe BC, ASHRAE and ACGIH.
Accredited bodies such as ASHRAE and ACGIH recommend building owners increase the filtration efficiency of the system to MERV 13 if equipment allows, while assuring the air flow and pressure drop can be maintained. Depending on the type of buildings, MERV 10 and 13 are commonly used on the campus.
Facilities Services has upgraded existing systems to MERV 13 filters wherever possible, or the highest filter compatible with existing infrastructure.
What are the operating hours of the buildings?
Departments are encouraged to contact Facilities Services before re-occupying.
During occupied hours, ASHRAE recommends building owners operate the mechanical system for a minimum period of two hours prior to occupants re-entering the building. Facilities Services is committed to operating mechanical systems for a minimum period of two hours prior to building occupancy.
Facilities Services and the Scheduling department are working together to implement the ventilation schedule based on class schedules.
How are occupancy schedules set?
Occupancy schedules are based on historical occupancy data, and are adjusted on a semesterly and weekly basis to reflect upcoming class schedules and events. Departments are encouraged to communicate occupancy changes via a service request. To learn more, please visit here.
Does SFU plan to maintain these indoor air quality standards beyond the spread of COVID-19?
The university will continue to abide by all applicable public health authority directives, guidelines and information and will update the measures taken accordingly. Best practices identified and developed through the pandemic will be integrated where feasible moving forward.
- ASHRAE ASHRAE Introduces Updated Reopening Guide for Schools and Universities
- WorkSafeBC COVID-19 frequently asked questions: General ventilation and air circulation
- SFU News article Campus ventilation breezes into spotlight as SFU readies for fall return
- SFU News article SFU wins awards for HVAC excellence, workplace air quality
Areas that have been checked for air quality in preparation for return to campus
Areas that have been reviewed and meet ASHRAE standards*
- Academic Quadrangle (AQ): all classrooms
- Applied Sciences Building: all classrooms
- Robert C Brown Hall (RCB): all classrooms
- Blusson Hall: all classrooms
- Education: all classrooms
- Discovery 1: all classrooms
- Lorne Davis Complex (LDC): all classrooms
- Saywell: all classrooms
- Shrum Science Building K: all classrooms
- Technology and Science Complex 2 (TASC2): all spaces over 30 square metres
- West Mall Centre: all classrooms
For a detailed list of the air quality survey results conducted on Burnaby campus's almost 1000 spaces, download here (updated January 24, 2022).
- Goldcorp Centre for the Arts – all classrooms
- Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue – all meeting rooms
- 312 Main Street – 355 (reduced occupancy), 370, 371 (reduce occupancy)
- Harbour Centre – all classrooms, Belzberg Library, 7050 Research Commons, medical offices (UM300, UM301, UM302, UM304), counselling offices (1114, 7298)
- Segal Graduate School of Business – all classrooms, 3500, vault level
For a detailed list of the air quality survey results conducted on Vancouver campus, download here (updated September 3, 2021).
- Surrey Central City: all classrooms
- Surrey Engineering: all classrooms
For a detailed list of the air quality survey results conducted on Surrey campus, download here (updated September 8, 2021).
*We are surveying all high occupancy areas in advance of fall 2021 and will add to the list as this is completed
If you want to contact about your area
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Environmental Health & Safety