Claudio Mastronardi, Toronto branch manager at Carmichael Engineering, is photographed at the company’s offices in Mississauga, Ont., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. As indoor air quality becomes a major concern in places of business, HVAC companies are struggling to keep up with demand for high quality filtration systems. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Claudio Mastronardi, Toronto branch manager at Carmichael Engineering, is photographed at the company’s offices in Mississauga, Ont., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. As indoor air quality becomes a major concern in places of business, HVAC companies are struggling to keep up with demand for high quality filtration systems. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Business is booming for HVAC companies as commercial buildings see pandemic upgrades

‘The demand right now is very high. People are putting their health and safety ahead of cost’

Air filters have become big business in the age of COVID-19, for the HVAC companies that can get their hands on them.

As indoor air quality becomes a major concern in places of business, HVAC companies are struggling to keep up with demand for high quality filtration systems.

Air filters, it turns out, are made of similar materials used in face masks and other personal protective equipment, putting them in short supply, says Gregg Little, president of Springbank Mechanical Systems in southern Ontario.

“We work with dozens of different developers, and they are all looking at that,” Little says.

Claudio Mastronardi, Toronto branch manager at Carmichael Engineering Ltd., says his HVAC company is jumping to buy inventory of high-grade filters to keep clients from facing four-to-six-week turnarounds.

“The demand right now is very high. People are putting their health and safety ahead of cost,” says Mastronardi.

The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver dubbed “indoor air quality” as a top real estate trend to emerge from the pandemic, noting that the pandemic “created more demand for air purifiers, ranging from stand-alone models to sophisticated smart systems.” Portable air purifiers are also getting harder and harder to find, notes Jeffrey Siegel, a professor in the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering who studies indoor air quality.

That doesn’t mean business has been easy for HVAC companies, notes Little, who says that many clients have slashed their maintenance budgets because they can’t afford to stay open. Demand has been on a roller-coaster, as some clients who initially upgraded to fancier filters couldn’t carry the cost, while purchases from dentists’ and doctors’ offices that “went crazy” buying air filters this spring and have since levelled off.

That said, HVAC operators have noticed a newfound recognition for their expertise in light of COVID-19, Little says, and engineers have their pick of clients who might previously may not have given much thought to the person turning on their heater, says Mastronardi.

Demand for HVAC companies has spiked as local jurisdictions push tenants to look at their buildings’ HVAC systems. Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health on Nov. 14 told businesses to review their HVAC systems to make sure they work and that they have increased air-exchange settings, are using the highest efficiency filters and aren’t blocking air vents or putting furniture directly beneath them.

But the city’s public health officials also advise that “there is no evidence to show that air purifiers on their own are effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19,” noting that they may be useful to “supplement to HVAC ventilation or if there is no outdoor air exchange.”

Little says he recommends steady HVAC maintenance plans, but has spent a good deal of time this year personally reviewing some of the newer air filtration products on the market. Little says he’s still skeptical of some of them, such as dry hydrogen peroxide.

Another technology that is taking off, bipolar ionization, doesn’t have much independent data to back it, Siegel says. The process has been around for decades but many of the studies around it are of “questionable independence,” says Siegel.

“I know they’re being promoted very heavily …. but the technology is an unproven technology, you want to be very, very careful if a manufacturer presents some reports and shows you that it works,” Siegel says. “It may have a role. It just hasn’t been demonstrated to be effective in this context.”

That has not stopped some landlords from betting on air purification.

Brookfield says it is piloting advanced air ventilation and filtration systems in its New York, Toronto and Calgary offices, with plans to expand the system to all its office properties. Brookfield’s system, which uses bipolar ionization, was under consideration before the pandemic as a way to reduce energy usage and emissions. But the company is now wagering that tenants will view buildings with older air systems as “obsolete,” said Brian Kingston, chief executive of Brookfield Property Partners, at an investor event this fall.

Air filters can be used to slow the spread of COVID-19, and it is very important for buildings to meet minimum ventilation standards assessed by professionals, but Siegel warns that adding better air filters is no silver bullet.

“If you have an infected person and an uninfected person close together, even if there’s a great filtering system somewhere else, it’s not going to capture the virus,” says Siegel.

“I consider it to be a secondary measure. The primary measures are wearing masks, people physically as far apart, hand-washing and surface cleaning … and making sure spaces are not poorly ventilated.”

A portable HEPA filter can work in almost any space, Siegel says, as long as it is the right size and not positioned to spew unfiltered air onto a person or high-touch surface. But upgrading the filters of a centralized system can be more cost-effective, Siegel says, if the system can handle it.

Siegel says proper installation is make-or-break, especially with thicker filters and more high-tech air cleaning technology like ultraviolet lamps. Little warns that building owners should look for HVAC companies that can give customer references in air filtration.

“There are a lot of people who take advantage of bad situations,” Little says.

Anita Balakrishnan, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Fraser Health issued an overdose alert on Jan. 21, 2021 after an increase in overdoses over the past week in Chilliwack associated with a “greeny-blue/turquoise down substance.” (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Fraser Health issues drug overdose alert in Chilliwack

Alert comes after increase in overdoses associated with ‘greeny-blue/turquoise down substance’

ds
Mission potbellied-pig sanctuary mourns death of beloved old hog named Roscoe

14-year-old, 800-pound pig was ‘quite a character,’ said owner Janice Gillett

Chilliwack Chiefs forward Sasha Teleguine, seen here with Thayer Academy, is on the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau updated watch list. (Twitter photo)
Chilliwack Chief Sasha Teleguine holds spot on Central Scouting Bureau’s watch list

Teleguine and Prince George forward Finlay Williams are viewed as potential late round NHL picks

Vancouver/Fraser Valley CoSA holds a webinar on Jan. 26 titled Staying Safe Online.
‘Staying Safe Online’ is subject of Fraser Valley webinar

Session on Tuesday, Jan. 26 is hosted by non-profit Circles of Support and Accountability

Sheets of plastic are seen near pools of water around a landscaped area of the Molson Coors Fraser Valley Brewery in Chilliwack on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Complaints come in about the look of Molson Coors Fraser Valley Brewery site

‘We are committed to being a business and employer everyone in Chilliwack can be proud of’ says GM

Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 is International Lego Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 24 to 30

Lego Day, Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day and Puzzle Day are all coming up this week

BC Coroners Service is currently investigating a death at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard in North Saanich. (Black Press Media File)
Drowning death in North Saanich likely B.C.’s first in for 2021

Investigation into suspected drowning Monday night continues

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Surrey provincial court. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
New COVID-19 protocols set for provincial courthouses

The new rules were issued on Jan. 21, and took effect immediately

Police in Vancouver looking for male suspect who allegedly spat and attacked a store manager for not wearing a mask, at 7-Eleven near Alma Street and West 10th Avenue just before noon on Dec. 17, 2020. (Vancouver police handout)
VIDEO: Man spits on 7-Eleven manager over mask rule, sparking Vancouver police probe

‘Unfortunately, the store manager sustained a cut to his head during the assault’

Most Read