VANCOUVER—With the current pandemic, ways to limit the transmission of germs and viruses have been of paramount concern. Given this, an area of focus has been air quality and finding the right humidity levels in a hotel.
“We are moving into a time when people have a lot of anxiety about what’s around them,” said Michael Driedger, CEO, Operto Guest Technologies. “Surfaces are definitely something that cause anxiety but, ultimately, you are not going to catch it from a surface. Most of the spread that they found has been airborne spread—very much so. There are a lot of interesting things that are going to be happening around this space, around HVAC, around the anxiety that people had before around air quality. It is going to translate to hotels thinking more about how they are looking at it.”
Having the optimal humidity level can help slow the spread of viruses. “They have known since the ’80s that humidification basically slows the spread of viruses,” said Driedger. “There is no mystery why cold and flu season is in the cold months. It is because people are inside more, the air ends up super-dry, and it ends up floating on the air.”
He continued, “There is a sweet spot in HVAC that I only ever see in hospitals and museums. It is 40-60% relative humidity, but it is so perfect. It is the perfect human comfort threshold. It is perfect to keep asthma down—and all of these other factors.”
In his time as a building consultant, Driedger has seen how not controlling the humidity levels can cause issues. “I have been a building consultant for most of my life; I have worked in buildings for a long time,” he said. “I grew up in Canada, in the prairies, so I stayed in a lot of hotels going back and forth. One of the things that was always a problem, especially in winter, was when you stayed in a hotel, it was like being mummified. It was so dry. The outside air temperature was -40 degrees Fahrenheit and they are blasting the heat, which means that they are taking all of the moisture out of it. You would wake up with dry eyes, dry mouth, dry everything.”
He said that hotels should work to control the humidity in their spaces to reach the optimum level. “If you are in a heating-dominated climate, the easiest way is to have a bunch of humidifiers on hand,” he said. “If you don’t have the ability to put it into your HVAC system because it is an existing building, there is nothing better than the hum of a humidifier. It makes for a better night’s sleep and better humidity.”
On the dehumidification side, it is similar. “The days in Texas and Florida are unbelievably humid, but it drops at night,” said Driedger. “So often, you will get some free air that will drive down humidity and get you back to more comfortable. In the world of green building they call it free cooling or free heating. Basically, use the nighttime air to bring it in. The beauty of free heating and free cooling is it is also free dehumidification and free humidification. So sometimes with your HVAC system, you can turn it on to your outdoor air mode. It is good for your utilities as well. If you have that capacity, it is the cheapest way to go about it.”