indoor restaurant

Restaurant Reopening Tied to HVAC Systems

  February 22, 2021

By Dan Hounsell

The nation’s schools are moving to reopen amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Commercial office buildings continue to wrestle with occupancy levels and remote work as they seek to reopen. For restaurants — some of the hardest hit businesses in the last year — the hurdle to reopening for some now involves more than just masks and social distancing. 

In Philadelphia, for example, health officials recently announced they are allowing indoor capacity at restaurants to increase to 50 percent if restaurants meet new ventilation standards. Restaurants can increase indoor dining to 50% capacity given they make specific upgrades to their ventilation systems, submit a form to the city and pass an air test. 

The requirements include, at least 20 percent of the air circulated by the HVAC system is from the outside, a filter system with a MERV grade of 11 or higher and 15 or more air exchanges per hour. If a restaurant does not have an HVAC system, it can still achieve at least 15 air exchanges per hour via window fans.

For some restaurants, meeting the threshold will be tough.

The organization Save Philly Restaurants said many eateries would love to follow suit, but the upgrades are cost-prohibitive: “We think the city may have the right idea to improve airflow, and many of us are already working on it. But most restaurants won’t be able to meet these new requirements as they currently stand, so they will be stuck at 25 percent occupancy for the foreseeable future, which as we know is untenable financially.”

Dan Hounsell is editor of Facility Maintenance Decisions.


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