Building Ventilation and Filtration Systems
Updated September 2, 2021 | 11:30 a.m.
This webpage provides information about the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in our buildings and how we are adjusting them in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
UC Irvine is taking steps to ensure campus ventilation and filtration systems provide appropriate COVID-19 risk mitigation.
The operational hours for the building HVAC systems are the same as before the pandemic, but with an increase of two hours prior and two hours after operational use.
Beginning July 6, 2021, campus buildings will be unlocked 7:00a.m.-9:00p.m. to support approved faculty and staff returning to campus. HVAC systems have been maintained in all buildings and will be fully functional as the campus community returns.
Indoor air quality and heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems influence on the spread of COVID-19 is a major concern for the campus. Facilities Management continuously monitors the recommendations and guidance from the WHO, CDC, and American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). Based on the recommendations, Facilities is maximizing outside air, operating additional hours to flush pre and post occupancy, and utilizing filtration beyond industry standard where possible. Facilities reminds you that the highest probability of spread continues to be close contact, with physical distancing, the use of a mask, and hand-washing the best defense against the spread of COVID-19.
For common questions regarding air quality in UCI facilities related to COVID-19, please visit the HVAC FAQs.
HVAC filters are rated in MERV ratings from 1 to 20, and 17 through 20 are what are referred to as HEPA filters. HEPA filters have the highest efficiency and remove the smallest particles from the air. Unfortunately, those filters are not compatible with the air handling units and air conditioning systems that we have on campus.
Industry standard for places like grocery stores, restaurants, and other common buildings that you might travel to is a MERV-8 rated filter. A home furnace might have a MERV-8 rated filter. These filters are utilized in some campus trailer and temporary buildings. UCI buildings with small air handlers were MERV-10 and are being upgraded to a MERV-13 rated filter. The MERV-13 level of filtration is the ASHRAE recommended filter in response to COVID-19. UCI buildings with larger handlers such as Aldrich Hall, Biological Sciences 3 and Engineering Hall all have MERV 15 filters. MERV 15 filters are used exclusively throughout the campus in our large air handlers and are several steps above the ASHRAE recommendation.
For more information on how UCI is handling indoor air quality as people return to campus, watch Anteater Insider Live: Episode 2 | The Health of Indoor Air.
UCI trailers use filters with a MERV 8 rating that are effective in filtering particles such as mold spores, cooking dusts, hair spray and furniture polish. MERV 8 is industry standard.
UCI buildings with small AHUs use filters with a MERV 10 rating that are effective in filtering particles such as lead dust, flour, auto fumes, and welding fumes. Facilities Management recommends these filters be upgraded to achieve a MERV 13 rating and the ability to filter particles such as bacteria, smoke, and sneezes.
UCI buildings with large AHUs use filters with a MERV 15 rating that can filter particles similar to those as MERV 13 filters, but with greater efficacy.
Not all building HVAC systems can handle the filter upgrades without negatively impacting the system. Increasing filtration to levels beyond what the fans can handle results in a high pressure drop (the pressure drop means air will no longer move through the filter cutting off supply to the zones). In many cases cutting off airflow through the system also overheats the compressors resulting in mechanical damage and loss of all cooling to the building.
Prior to making any filter upgrades, confer with the team of subject matter experts with EH&S and FM.
The University of California, Irvine (UCI) has a method for managing indoor
environmental quality (IEQ) issues. The methods goals are intended to:
- Provide a means for reporting and documenting IEQ concerns to Environmental Health and Safety
- Establish a consistent IEQ assessment process
- Ensure campus compliance with applicable regulations and recognized guidelines
- Minimize the effects of poor IEQ on employee/building occupant health
- Prevent building-related illnesses
- Direct the proper response actions for microbial growth remediation, water intrusion events, and construction project impact on indoor environmental Quality
Submit concerns regarding indoor environmental quality through Report a Safety Concern.
For fire prevention and life safety reasons, do not prop open:
- Entry doors
- Fire doors
- Laboratory doors
- Security access doors
Before propping open doors, please contact EHS at email@example.com.