Ultraviolet (UV) light has been growing as part of the HVAC landscape for years, specifically within the IAQ arena. As the technology has evolved, organizations and associations have strived to prove its effectiveness through research and a series of studies.
One such organization, ASHRAE, recently weighed in on the benefits of UV light by “recognizing the health benefits of UV-C as demonstrated by several studies. The technology is a potentially beneficial option that building owners should consider installing.”
“For contractors, the recent ASHRAE research will dispel any doubts about the ability of Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) to improve IAQ, boost HVAC airflow, and maximize heat-exchange efficiency,” said Dan Jones, president of UV Resources. “Time and again, research has confirmed the effectiveness of UV-C technology to restore, and thereafter maintain, original cooling capacity.”
Jones anticipates this new ASHRAE research will lead even more contractors and facility managers to incorporate UV-C into their applications.
Chris Willette, president of Fresh-Aire UV, a Triatomic Environmental Inc. company, said germicidal UV light has come a long way from its beginnings as a little-known disinfection technology that could be used in HVAC applications.
“Since 2008, ASHRAE has included ultraviolet germicidal irradiation, or UVGI, in its handbooks and awareness within the engineering community has resulted in a growing demand for UV in virtually every stage of construction,” said Willette. “This includes medical, commercial, residential, and retrofit applications. In time, this technology may even become standard in new construction. In the same way every home or building requires a filter, each one will require a UV system to compliment filtration. Although energy is relatively cheap right now, these low prices won’t last, and buildings in the future will need to be even more efficient. As buildings become better insulated and tighter, maintaining IAQ becomes a higher priority. Bio-fouling of coils, particularly in commercial buildings, robs efficiency. UV technology is a proven and cost-effective solution for both IAQ and mold disinfection.”
THE FUTURE OF UV
ASHRAE validation is certainly a huge step forward for UV, but many manufacturers believe this technology has already proven its value, as its growth and expansion began years ago.
Meredith Stines, president of American Ultraviolet, said the need for UV-C germicidal lamps will increase every year as more people understand their effectiveness.
Scott Russell, president and co-founder, Ultravation Inc., said UV has grown steadily over the last 15 years.
“In general, the public is far less skeptical [of UV technology]. It’s found in a wide array of consumer products, not just for air purification or surface sanitization in the HVAC equipment,” he said. “As more installations are performed in the medical field, as well as areas such as assisted living and universities along with independent testing, there is a clear analysis of the benefits of this technology, not only for maintaining equipment performance, but also for reducing the potential of viable pathogens that may have a negative health effect.”
The medical field is clearly an area where this resource can find room to grow.
“These [applications] include coil-mounted UVGI systems that disinfect surfaces in the air handler, duct-mounted high-intensity systems that fight airborne infectious diseases, and ceiling-mounted lights that irradiate unoccupied rooms,” said Willette.
“The adoption of UV-C technology will grow exponentially as facility managers look to improve efficiency and address IAQ issues, such as the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections in hospitals and schools and new health scares like the recent Legionella outbreak,” said Jones. “UV technology is one of the most reliable and efficient means of keeping indoor air clean and germ-free. Add to this the savings that can be realized with UV-C’s ability to clean and maintain cooling coil energy efficiency, and we would expect UV applications to significantly increase in the coming years.”
While the general public is only slowly becoming aware of UV light for HVAC applications, Russell added that Ultravation is seeing a proliferation of UV-C technology in such things as vacuums, toothbrush sanitizers, small air and water purifiers, etc.
“People are becoming more familiar with the technology,” he said. “However, knowledge of UVGI for HVAC applications has only started to enter the public consciousness. Tens of thousands of UV systems are sold every year, and when a contractor is educated on how to sell UV technology, he is likely to be met with less skepticism than he was just a few years ago.”
Educating contractors and the public on UV’s benefits is often still a major hurdle that manufacturers have to overcome, but strides are being made, and health benefits are often discovered as a result of looking for the economic benefit.
“Many building owners first come to UVGI for the obvious economic advantages it gives them with mold suppression compared to conventional coil cleaning,” said Willette. “Once introduced to the technology, they become aware of the improved IAQ; sterilization of bacteria, viruses, and allergens; and neutralization of volatile organic compound [VOCs] that UV systems offer.”
According to Jones, commercial contractors were early adopters of UV-C technology because of the scale of potential energy savings, but now residential contractors are embracing UV-C, as well.
“In particular, residential contractors have realized that there is a financial benefit to their business in offering UV as an IAQ solution, while, at the same time, increasing their margin on each service call,” said Jones.
Stines mentioned that educating the public and contractors is an ongoing process. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad UV-C installations and cheaply made UV-C equipment being sold, which gives UV-C a bad name,” he said. “Building owners are aware [of the health benefits], but they also don’t realize the benefits unless you can do a side-by-side comparison of the effectiveness on the coils. The savings take a few years to get a return, but, in the long run, you emerge with a healthier workplace that requires less maintenance.”
SIDEBAR: KEY ASHRAE FINDINGS
Per UV Resources, here are some of the most tangible health benefits the ASHRAE research committee found:
• The UV-C wavelength inactivates microorganisms living on HVAC air ducts and evaporator coils with a kill ratio of 90 percent or higher, depending on light intensity, length of exposure, lamp placement, and lamp life cycle. The technology removes both bacterial and viral aerosols from the air;
• Several studies have examined the health benefits of using UV-C lamps to decontaminate the airstreams in health care facilities. Some have concluded that, by eliminating harmful germs from the air, UV-C can protect a hospital’s most vulnerable patients from getting sick;
• UV-C has been found to be effective in eliminating fungus growing in HVAC systems. Rampant fungus can contribute to hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic rhinitis, and asthma; and
• In a study conducted on guinea pigs exposed to tuberculosis-infected air, the application of UV-C energy reduced the incidence or occurrence of the disease among the guinea pigs.
Publication date: 2/29/2016