Your building’s heating and ventilation systems


With reduced occupancy on the UBC Vancouver campus, building operators and energy managers are adjusting heating or cooling levels in spaces that have reduced or zero occupancy. This is an opportunity to ensure critical energy savings while maintaining a safe and healthy indoor environment.

  • Researchers issued with an exemption to the curtailment of research on campus or approved for resumption of research will have their spaces operate as normal and excluded from heating/cooling system adjustments.
  • Given the mild climate in Vancouver, the HVAC system at UBC is able to take advantage of bringing in outdoor air, and systems are monitored and adjusted based on the temperature outside. Spaces that use mechanically conditioned air are reduced to a minimum to meet ventilation requirements and a variety of factors are considered in order to balance comfort with economical methods of providing necessary air exchanges in each of our buildings.
  • The majority of buildings on campus use 100% outdoor air (free cooling) during late spring, summer, and early fall, with the exception of buildings or spaces with mechanical cooling, such as air conditioning. In the winter months, very little outdoor air is used when temperatures drop to zero or below.
  • Should you need to discuss the feasibility of increasing air exchanges in your building, this will be evaluated with Safety & Risk ServicesEnergy & Water Services, and Building Operations. Please contact your Facilities Manager.

What is building ventilation?

Ventilation is the movement of air throughout a building by either natural or mechanical means. For mechanical ventilation an exhaust and supply ductwork is installed to exchange stale air for fresh air and mechanical equipment is attached to the ductwork to provide comfortable levels of temperature. For natural ventilation systems a combination of sustainable strategies are used to provide a comfortable temperature for the occupants.  At UBCV and UBCO, there are buildings with occupied spaces that may be ventilated naturally or mechanically.

How are UBC HVAC systems managed at UBC?

HVAC systems are engineered to follow WorkSafeBC Occupational Health & Safety Regulations (OHSR) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standards. The regulations and standard stipulate the requirements around the design, operation, and maintenance of HVAC systems. Compliance with WorkSafeBC and ASHRAE is a primary focus of the technical and trade specialists within UBC Building Operations.

The design of a Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system is dependent on the usage of the space. For example, all air from science laboratory spaces is directly exhausted outside. In highly specialized labs, HVAC is equipped to capture high risk substances as per regulatory requirements. In common areas or office spaces, air can be recirculated. The number of air exchanges per hour is also dependent on the classification of the space and it is specified in the ASHRAE Standards.

Do building ventilation requirements need to change due to COVID-19?

There have been concerns published by media that HVAC systems may contribute to the spread of Covid-19. There is limited research done on this subject, but the published data found the risk of COVID-19 exposure from HVAC systems is minimal. Moreover, there have been no documented COVID-19 cases where the HVAC system has been implicated as a possible transmission route.

At UBC, we are asking people to limit the number of people in small, confined areas with limited airflow by using a combination of controls such as occupancy limits, working remotely, scheduling breaks between indoor activities and using non-medical masks in common, indoor spaces as dictated by COVID-19 safety plans.

To ensure the building ventilation systems are maintained in good operating condition the Facilities team will continue to inspect and service the HVAC systems throughout the campus both remotely for performance of the entire mechanical system, and locally onsite to inspect the condition of various components of the central air handling unit. This includes assessment of filter media and replacement to industry standards and recommendations when required.

A comprehensive filter monitoring and replacement program is performed by a dedicated Building Operations crew of National Air Filter Association (NAFA) Certified Technicians. Interval based filter changes augmented with filter alarms sent to the Buildings Operation Centre ensures the filters are maintained properly to provide good air quality to the buildings.

In response to COVID-19 the American Society of Heating and Ventilation Engineers (ASHRAE) recommended upgrading to MERV 13 filters for central air handling units in buildings. Fortunately we had adopted MERV-13 filters as the standard in all buildings that could accept the size of the filter several years ago, so no changes to the filter program were required.

For more information on COVID-19 transmission, please visit British Columbia Center for Disease Control (BCCDC) and WorkSafeBC.