Going into the year 2022 still raises many of the same questions that we've been asking since the COVID-19 pandemic first started - and some new ones.
In an article from the ASHRAE Journal, several industry leaders share their thoughts on significant trends, topics, and technologies that could heavily influence the HVAC industry in the new year.
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, reaching better IAQ has been on the minds of everyone. Everything from retrofitting HVAC units, to using higher MERV-rated filters, to installing UV lights, to portable HEPA cleaners.
Madison Schultz, P.E., Member ASHRAE predicts that these concerns will continue into the new year. Shultz states that in her 15-year career concerns for IAQ have been minimal. She also states that prior to the pandemic building owners did not want to spend the money on IAQ technologies, and sometimes never heard of it.
"This year, about half of my clients have asked something about indoor air quality, about air cleaning, about virus transmission, about [having] better healthy air inside. I think that trend is going to continue."
We can attest to this as we've experienced very similar claims. We've been in the filter business for 36 years and prior to the pandemic, very little of our client base has had IAQ as a top concern. But it's a whole different story now.
Everyone from local businesses to school districts, research labs, universities, to municipalities, all have reached out to us about different products that we have that can help improve their IAQ and mitigate COVID-19 cases as much as possible.
2021-22 ASHRAE President Mick Schwedler, P.E., Fellow ASHRAE-resiliency sees building owners and engineers' relationships being more important going into the new year.
"I think engineers are trying to work with the building owners to look forward and say, 'what can be done moving forward to make the buildings more occupialbe quickly to allow them to respond more quickly to reopen when we need to and when we want to?'"
Not to say that this relationship has not been there in the past but that it's becoming more vital as we move through this pandemic to achieve better IAQ.
IAQ will continue to be at the forefront of everyone's mind coming into this new year and we see no reason that it will slow down anytime soon.
Moving on from MERV 13?
The first major change we saw when the pandemic started was the demand for MERV 13 filters. The reason for this abrupt demand what when ASHRAE put out information that suggested MERV 13 filters replace your typical MERV 6 - 8 filters for your building to help mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. You can find our article Everything You Need To Know About MERV 13 Filters here.
Mike Gallagher, P.E., Fellow ASHRAE states:
"For a variety of reasons, MERV 13 has become the 'go-to' efficiency level for many purposes. The filter indusrty was caught flat-footed when the COVID era began; they could not meet demand."
We saw lead time for MERV 13 media range from 6 months to about 9 months. We had never experienced anything like this before in our company.
The reason the air filtration world got caught flat-footed was that before the pandemic started, the use of MERV 13 air filters was very low. We carried very few MERV 13's in stock in our warehouse. They were more expensive and in some cases, you had to change them more frequently.
Gallagher also states that as COVID-19 fades from being the highest social priority, the market will return to the use of the MERV 6 to MERV 8-rated filters. He says that this question should be answered by the end of 2022.
That being said, he does not see a huge drop off in MERV 13 usage throughout the year and sees a MERV 13 standard being institutionalized in some of his clients that were using it in the fight against COVID.
We have several clients that have transitioned every filter they have in their institution to MERV 13 filters - and they've stated that they're sticking with it. On the other hand, we've seen some of our clients never transition and never will. So chances are if they transitioned to MERV 13, they're sticking with it.
Some of the other attempts to fight COVID and achieve better IAQ have been UV lighting and portable HEPA cleaners.
UV lighting for us has been a minor part of our clients' needs prior to COVID but we can say it has increased since COVID. Not to the capacity like MERV 13 demand but enough to notice. UV lighting is installed directly in front of the coils and kills any bacteria that crosses its path. We see this technology mainly in our hospital and research clients.
Another technology that has majorly increased in our business is portable HEPA cleaners. This mini-fridge size air cleaner utilizes anywhere from a 1 to 3 stage filter system that can easily be moved to any area you'd like and achieve 99.99% efficiency.
We've seen this demand for portable air cleaners mainly for classrooms, hospital waiting rooms, operation rooms, and municipalities. Some models can also convert regular rooms into negative pressure isolation rooms by making slight changes to the unit.
To learn more about these portable HEPA cleaners read an article we wrote about them here.
Although we've seen the lead time dramatically increase since the beginning of COVID for products, materials, etc., we've seen a steady decline for most products and materials.
For years, we've been supplying our clients' filters and filter-related products just-in-time via our Filtrac Supply Program. Not to toot our own horn, but when it came to air filters some of our clients never ran into lead time issues - and that continues today.
The way we plan and provide our clients' filters on a set schedule, they always had what they needed when they needed it. And some experts say that this just-in-time model may be the answer going forward for the HVC industry and the supply chain is still in shambles.
Even though lead times have decreased in most areas, we still experience spikes in other areas.
This pandemic has made all of us in the HVAC industry shift or change business models altogether. For now, industry leaders and experts do not see these trends fading as fast as they'd like to see.
2022 will be a lot like what we've seen since the onset of this pandemic regarding the HVAC industry. IAQ is still a huge concern, MERV 13 filters are still highly sought after. Portable HEPA cleaners are very popular and practical for AHU's that were not designed for HEPA usage and UV lighting has increased in usage.
We expect to see if these trends will become standards by the end of 2022. Until then, reach out to us for any questions related to HVAC filtration!