How is indoor air quality being addressed on the Utica and Albany campuses?

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Epidemic Task Force has continued to assess and shared the potential for airborne transmission of COVID-19 within buildings.

To that end, SUNY Poly continues to follow the current and emerging guidelines regarding mechanical and ventilation systems. SUNY Poly is using a combination of increased outside air, which reduces the volume of potentially impacted air being recirculated, in addition to running the ventilation systems longer and increasing particulate filtration.
Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, commonly known as MERV, is a measurement scale designed by the ASHRAE to indicate air filter effectiveness. For reference, most existing commercial buildings typically have installed filters with MERV-8 to MERV-11 ratings that remove dust, pollen, mold spores, and smog. Please note that any air system by itself is not intended to address infection control. However, based on current guidance, proper ventilation, when deployed with strong community efforts related to social distancing, the use of face coverings, and proper hand washing, will help foster an indoor environment that can lower risks for the potential spread of COVID-19.
Because the air handlers in the Cayan Library, Student Center, Field House, and Campus Center were designed for and currently use MERV-13 or 14 filters, those buildings will utilize the Building Management Systems to increase the ventilation rates, further mitigating risk. Similarly, SUNY Poly is increasing ventilation rates and is replacing the existing MERV-8 filters with MERV-13 filters in Kunsela and Donovan Halls. ASHRAE recommends schools and universities install filters with a minimum rating of MERV-13 (or the maximum MERV the system can handle) to improve air filtration and slow the transmission of viruses in HVAC systems, and SUNY Poly is meeting or exceeding this recommendation.
Air Exchanges (state buildings):
We normally (i.e., pre-COVID-19) ventilate with a minimum of 15% outdoor air. The current recommendation from the SUNY HVAC Task Force is to double the minimum outdoor air to 30%. These are the recommended minimums and we will normally provide more outside air, unless weather conditions require it to be lowered in order to maintain comfort in the building.
Residence Halls:
Adirondack and Mohawk residence halls are not designed with air handler systems (systems that operate to heat, cool, and ventilate building space). Instead, the buildings have baseboard radiant heat and natural ventilation through doors and windows. Mohawk residence hall does have air conditioning units that provide cooling and mechanically ventilate the room when turned on by the occupant.

The new Hilltop Hall residence hall has a robust, energy efficient heating and cooling system using ground-source geothermal heat pumps. For ventilation, the building has an energy recovery unit that is controlled to increase outdoor air use and increase fresh air exchanges in the building. The final filter for these units is a MERV-13 filter.

The Oriskany Hall energy recovery units are fitted with a minimum of MERV-13 main filters.  For ventilation, the building has energy recovery units that are controlled to increase outside airflow rates and fresh air exchanges.

Classrooms and Laboratories:
The campus is maximizing outdoor air with the building's air handling and control systems. In order to manage building conditions, occupant comfort, and air exchanges, windows should not be opened in buildings. Fume hoods are expected to be operated as designed and are typically operated 24/7 especially if chemicals are maintained within the hood. Changes to Fume Hood operation should be reviewed with the Facilities Department to ensure proper air flows for occupant protection. Snorkel or localized fume removal systems (e.g. Additive manufacturing) must be operated any time equipment is being used where fumes or vapors may be released (e.g. 3D printing). Laboratories with exhaust hoods will exhaust air directly outside (i.e., air is not recirculated), and these labs are connected to a Make-up Air Unit (MAU) that takes outside (exterior) air in, heats or cools it if needed, and discharges it to the lab to replace the exhausted air.

Pre-COVID and COVID HVAC Operation - Utica Campus

Per CDC and SUNY guidance, the SUNY Poly Utica campus continues to take measures to reduce the airborne concentration of the COVID virus.  An important part in this effort is the increased use of outdoor air ventilation rates and the improvement of HVAC filtration to MERV-13 or higher.  Additionally, the campus keeps the air handling systems running longer, starting a minimum of 1-2 hours before occupancy, continuously throughout the day, ending 1-2 hours after occupancy (i.e., the last scheduled class or event).  When outdoor conditions allow, air handling systems will run 24/7 to continuously ventilate with up to 100% outside air.  

During pre-COVID operations, the outdoor air ventilation component was set at approximately 15% (i.e., 85% of the indoor air was recirculated).  Starting in 2020, the use of outdoor air was increased to 30%, doubling the amount of outdoor air provided to building occupants*. 

Air flow rates provided to each space have been designed to comply with NYS code and ASHRAE guidelines.

  Pre-COVID HVAC Operation COVID HVAC Operation
HVAC Filtration MERV 8, MERV-13 and MERV-14 MERV-13 and MERV 14
HVAC Run Time Varied 14-16 Hours
Outside Air Setting
(Ventilation Rate)
15% 30%
Minimum ACH 6
(0.9 ventilation ACH, 5.1 recirculation ACH
(1.8 ventilation ACH, 4.2 recirculation ACH)

* Maintenance of indoor temperatures and system performance may require the outdoor air volume to be reduced during periods of extreme weather.

Albany Campus

To contribute to a safer and clean environment, air handlers are regularly inspected, including visual assessment of interior cleanliness and filter status. Units are continuously monitored through the site automation system with a special emphasis on pressure drops across the filters. This is used to continuously verify filter effectiveness. Prior to COVID-19, many units already had a strategy in place to minimize outside air based on CO2 levels in the space for energy savings – this feature has since been turned off to provide maximum outside air. Where possible, these maximum limits were increased to contribute to more fresh air into the spaces. Additionally, where possible, unit filters have been upgraded to the highest achievable filtration efficiency. To contribute to continuous introduction of fresh air into spaces, the air handling systems on the site operate 24/7 with no setback or reduction at off hours.

Please see below for filter type based on each Albany building:

  • NFE: MERV-11
  • NFS: MERV-11
  • CESTM: MERV-11 and MERV-13
  • NFX: MERV-11
  • ZEN: MERV-11 and MERV-15


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