How Air Quality Technologies Can Help Keep Shoppers Safer


Stores are managing new protocols such as social distancing, occupancy levels, mask-wearing and increased cleaning and sanitation procedures to comply with local or state regulations and make shoppers feel safer. What about the part of the store that shoppers can’t see – air quality?

Air quality is essential to a healthy building. It can impact the structural integrity of a building, energy efficiency and environmental health. The concept of a healthy building isn’t new but has become increasingly relevant topic as retailers look to create healthier, safer and more differentiated shopping experiences. It’s also critical to note that while every building has functions to address ventilation, relative humidity, filtration and pressurization, they may not be optimized for building health.

While indoor air quality has always been on the minds of building owners, until recently building occupants have not been as concerned about IAQ or knowledgeable about its effects on their experience within the built space.

IAQ is more than just airflow. It’s about controlling the particles that come with it -- aerosolized pathogens, dust, volatile organic compounds and other particulate matter. Healthier air means a boosted flow of essential elements while also effectively removing undesired particles. Through the right combination of ventilation, relative humidity, filtration and pressurization, healthier IAQ can be achieved.

When it comes to reassuring shoppers that the air that they breathe is healthier, mall owners and retailer operators are turning to new technologies to make their spaces healthier, safer and cleaner. Using scalable, proactive strategies and technologies, the spread of pollutants, particulates and contagious pathogens can be better addressed. While some of these technologies have existed for years, others have just been introduced or updated to meet today’s safety protocols and customer needs.

To safeguard the wellbeing of consumers, retailers and mall operators should consider implementing the following building technology.

Electronic Air cleaner: Improve the air

An electronic air cleaner removes impurities from the air by using an electric charge. This method of cleaning and removing impurities does not impede airflow and can reduce the potential spread of pathogens, bacteria and contaminants before they circulate through a mall or store.

Electronic air cleaners are installed at the point of air intake in an HVAC system. The maintenance is often tool-free and relatively simple.

Humidity Sensors: Not too humid, not too dry, just right

Humidity is a crucial component in controlling the transmission of airborne pathogens, as bacteria and mold growth thrive in high-humidity environments. Even more, dry air can lead to customers experiencing upper respiratory irritations.

Recent research from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) found that 40% to 60% humidity is optimal for decreasing occupant exposure to infectious particles and reducing virus transmission. With humidity sensors, stores and malls can create a healthier and comfortable level of humidity.

UV Light: Shine some light on it

Ultraviolet (UV) light can damage the DNA structure of microorganisms at the cellular level. UV light has been shown in laboratory tests to inactivate certain bacterial, viral and fungal organisms, in turn, lessening their likelihood to replicate and spread disease.

By implementing UV technologies on the coils or alongside an EAC within the HVAC system, malls and stores can prevent these pathogens from spreading to building occupants by deactivating the biological contaminants growing on cooling coils.


Malls and retail stores can use ventilation controls to maintain sustainable energy consumption while also reducing the transmission of disease through proper air exchange, which can dispel odors, chemicals and carbon dioxide.

It’s also important that retail stores deploy a building management system that’s best suited for their needs. Many buildings that are 50,000 square feet or less lack a proper BMS to manage energy usage and address indoor air quality.

Based on environmental conditions, retailers and operators can control ventilation and the amount of fresh air by using actuators and economizers. Actuators are components within an HVAC system that act as an interface between the control system and the mechanical system, giving operators the ability to accurately control airflow.

Economizers are an added feature to a HVAC system that draw in outdoor air and mixes it with return air from the indoors. Newer economizers offer onboard fault detection and diagnostics to reduce service and commissioning time. Together, these two features can optimize ventilation to provide good air flow and reduce the exchange of harmful particulates in the air.

Communication is Key

While IAQ has always been important, there is a greater urgency to address concerns and make improvements. Behaviors like social distancing and mask-wearing are likely with us for some time and many shoppers may be hesitant to flock back to crowded indoor spaces.

This means it will be important for building owners, retailers and their technology partners to integrate upgrades to their systems now and communicate those changes efficiently to help bring back shoppers in the future.

Pat Tessier is senior director of product management, Honeywell Building Technologies, a global business that creates products, software and technologies to make facilities safer, energy efficient, sustainable and productive.

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