Retrofitting HVAC Systems with UVC to Inactivate Viruses and Other Infectious Pathogens

Reducing Maintenance Costs with UV-C Light Systems

Besides biological contaminant prevention, UVC light systems are also instrumental in reducing maintenance costs by eliminating mold and microbial growth often called biofilm on an HVAC system’s coils, drain pan, interiors and ductwork. The cool, dark and damp interiors of HVAC systems, particularly during air-conditioning season, offers the ideal environment for mold and other biological contaminants to grow and spread throughout a building via the air distribution system. Cleaning biological contaminants from HVAC systems is costly in labor and chemical agents. Installing UVC light systems on an air-conditioning coil not only disinfects biological contaminants, but also prevents new growth and reduces conventional cleaning frequency. UV systems are relatively inexpensive in terms of equipment and installation/labor costs. When compared to in-house staff or outsourced continual cleaning service costs, their payback is typically within one year.

Treasure Coast Hospice installed UVC light systems on packaged terminal air conditioners in 32 rooms and split systems serving common areas and offices at both its locations.

UVC light systems don’t require maintenance other than replacing the UV lamps every two years. Many manufacturers offer lifetime warranties on their power supplies. Manufacturer warranties vary greatly and can many times cover ballast (power supplies), electronics and hardware while guaranteeing the UVC lamp itself.

A case in point for reduced HVAC maintenance is Geary Community Hospital, Junction City, Kan., which has been using UVC light systems in new HVAC air handlers supplying common areas, a patient tower and operating rooms when it initiated a recent 95,000-square-foot, $34 million expansion. The hospital must periodically clean older HVAC units conventionally that don’t have UV technology. The new HVAC units’ UVC light systems, combined with the maintenance department’s regular particulate filter changes, have for the most part eliminated maintenance cleaning at least for biological contaminants, according to Steve Rippert, CHPM, director of maintenance, Geary Community Hospital.

Another example is Treasure Coast Hospice (TCH), which operates two identical 15,000-square-foot, 16-room hospice facilities in Stuart, Fla., and Ft. Pierce, Fla. TCH reduced HVAC maintenance costs, increased unit efficiencies and extended equipment life cycles with the installation of UVC light systems on all air-conditioning equipment, according to Doug Pence, president of TCH’s HVAC service contractor Absolutely Cool Air LLC, Jensen Beach, Fla. UVC light doesn’t degrade the coil surfaces, whereas cleaning chemical exposure during periodic maintenance is known to shorten coil life cycles, he added.

TCH installed UVC light systems on packaged terminal air conditioners (PTAC) in 32 rooms and split systems serving common areas and offices at both locations. “We like the concept of UV lamps on our HVAC coils and estimate the UVC program is saving us a great deal in maintenance costs and cleaning materials,” says James Smith, director of facilities, Treasure Coast Hospice, which is one of Florida’s top 10-rated hospices.

Professional cleaning companies, such as Chem-Aqua, Irving, Texas, have begun supplementing their conventional HVAC system coil and drain pan cleaning offerings with UV light system installations. “We have partnered with UV light system manufacturers since 2015 and the technology has successfully helped us assist our hospital, university and commercial office building customers with their total indoor air quality,” says Greg Rutledge, business development manager, Chem-Aqua, one of the nation’s largest cleaning services for HVAC systems, cooling towers and other commercial building equipment

Fan coils, such as those found in hotels, hospitals or classrooms, can also be outfitted with UVC lamps for disinfection.

Increasing Energy Efficiency with UV-C Light Systems

Energy efficiency is also a benefit of UVC light systems. A thin film of mold or other biological growths act as insulation on HVAC system coils and reduces heat transfer energy efficiency. Studies have also proven that just a .002-inch-thick bio-film on coils can reduce the free area and increase air velocity up to 9 percent. The result is a system with higher static pressure across the coil and higher fan energy use. Eliminating biological growths can result in up to a 30 percent cooling capacity increase when compared to a dirty coil. Furthermore, biological growth can also attract dirt that ordinarily wouldn’t accumulate on a clean coil.

Studies examining UVC’s effectiveness with SARS-CoV-2 now prove its effectiveness. Manufacturers such as Fresh-Aire UV can assist any engineer, contractor or facility operator in outfitting an HVAC system with the correct product, sizing, dosage and other considerations. UVC is a powerful tool in the fight against viruses, bacteria and other pathogens.

PHOTOS: Fresh-Aire UV


About the Author

Aaron Engel
Aaron Engel is vice president of business development at Fresh-Aire UV, a North American manufacturer of UV disinfection and carbon/PCO-based indoor air quality products. Fresh-Aire UV offers UVC light systems for virtually every type of HVAC system, ice machine and surface disinfection. Engel can be reached at [email protected] or (800) 741-1195.

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