Case study IKEA, Birmingham

With more than 400 stores operating in 52 countries, IKEA is the world’s largest and most successful home furnishing retailer. In the UK alone there are nearly 11,000 people working in IKEA stores, order and collection points and distribution centres, and nearly 60 million UK customers visit their stores each year, contributing to IKEAS’ UK turnover of close to £2 billion.

When the pandemic struck and, as a non-essential business, IKEA’s stores were closed to the public for long periods. However, the store was able to continue trading through its online store and its Click & Collect service. The store followed early Government guidance to stop recirculating air to help prevent airborne virus transmission. However, as the ventilation is supplied by a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, fully opening the fresh air dampers and closing the recirculation dampers on the air handling units significantly reduced the heating and cooling capability across the store.

As meeting rooms and some showroom areas used recirculating AC units that did not add fresh air to the mix, they were turned off.

In October 2020, our engineers deployed 32 Airthings for Business Wave Plus monitors and 6 hubs across the store, to assess indoor air quality and virus transmission risk. The sensors showed that overall ventilation levels were within acceptable levels, however, 3 sensors showed higher than expected CO2 levels indicating that ventilation in those areas was less than ideal, although none of the sensors showed levels of the gas to be above 1500ppm. This was understandable, as meeting rooms and some showroom spaces were not fed by the HVAC system but used recirculating AC systems which couldn’t be used during the pandemic.

In most spaces, a supply of outside air at 10 l/s/p (litres per second per person) is advised, which results in a maximum CO2 concentration of 800-1000 ppm (parts per million). CO2 concentrations that regularly exceed 1500 ppm indicate poorly ventilated spaces.

In addition, 20 of the sensors also triggered an amber virus alert and 3 of them triggered a red alert, indicating a heightened risk of virus transmission within some of the store’s indoor spaces.

Our Bureau staff acted immediately, alerting the facilities manager at the Birmingham store so that action could be taken to minimise the risk of virus transmission amongst staff. We also set up local CO2 alerts so that staff in store could increase ventilation when required, through the opening of windows and doors and reduce the number of occupants in areas where CO2 was consistently high.

Later the Covid-19 guidelines around mechanical ventilation were revised, and our engineers were able to partially re-open the recirculation dampers on the AHUs and set the HVAC system to ensure a minimum of 30 percent of fresh air to flow into the building.

IKEA values the health and wellbeing of both their customers and staff and providing a pleasant and healthy indoor environment for them is key. With the help of Airthings state of the art IAQ sensors staff can react quickly to spikes in CO2 and reduce occupancy in those areas to lessen the risk of airborne virus transmission.

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