How is COVID-19 affecting retail, restaurants? Updates on HVAC and plumbing

With consumers frequently enjoying delivered meals and shopping for goods online, HVAC and plumbing systems need to be robust in brick-and-mortar restaurants and retail structures

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer June 17, 2020


  • Scott Garrison, principal, Peter Basso Associates, Troy, Mich. An electrical engineer for more than 30 years, Garrison heads up his company’s Commercial and Government Buildings market sector group. He has worked on a range of projects including large corporate headquarters, data centers, casinos, sports and entertainment venues, municipal and educational facilities.
  • Jessica Iversen, PE, Seattle office leader | project engineer, RTM Engineering Consultants, Seattle. As RTM’s Seattle office leader, Iversen Jessica manages a team of engineers and designers working in a variety of market sectors across the country. Her portfolio encompasses design in retail spaces, educational facilities, multifamily residential, restaurants, and and a range of tenant build-outs projects.
  • Bradley D. Williams, PE, vice president, Bala Consulting Engineers, New York City. In his role of vice president of MEP, Williams manages the overall New York office operations and oversees a broad range of projects, encompassing the infrastructure, hospitality, data center and, and corporate markets. His more than 27 years of experience includes projects for high-profile clients like Deloitte, JPMC and Rockefeller Center.
  • Jason Wollum, PE, LEED AP BD+C, retail practice director | senior vice president, Henderson Engineers, Kansas City. Having joined the company in 1997, Wollum is now a senior vice president responsible for the design, management and, and coordination of several programs. He also mentors young engineers at the company.

CSE: What unique cooling or heating systems have you specified into such projects? Describe a difficult climate in which you designed an HVAC system for a retail, restaurant or mixed-use facility.

Wollum: High altitude and high humidity climates present unique challenges to design HVAC systems. Systems design in high humidity climates require specialized dehumidification equipment to maintain humidity control on projects. In high altitude climates, evaporative cooling sometimes makes sense. Also, heating can become an issue with gas fired equipment that has to be de-rated for high altitude environments.

CSE: What unusual or infrequently specified products or systems did you use to meet challenging HVAC needs?

Wollum: Desiccant dehumidifiers are a rather niche product in the HVAC industry. We use them quite a bit in grocery applications, especially in high humidity locales.

CSE: How have you worked with HVAC system or equipment design to increase a building’s energy efficiency?

Wollum: Reclaiming waste heat from refrigeration systems for use in either space heating or potable water heating can have large effect on building efficiency, depending on the climate.

CSE: With several retail, restaurant or mixed-use facilities shut down for an extended period due to COVID-19, what types of HVAC project requests do you anticipate as these buildings re-open?

Iversen: We are anticipating an increase in retrofit requests on existing systems to help improve air quality within a space. It is also possible that facilities will want additional monitoring and reporting of the system to prove adequate measures are being taken to provide proper air quality in buildings.

Williams: We expect increased attention around air filtration, air cleaning, ventilation quantities and touchless fixtures. We believe some of these HVAC and plumbing system changes will be incorporated as part of the standard design procedures when the dust settles on the new normal for best practices. Whereas MEP systems were sometimes taken for granted, we see the importance of the overall health of the space changing the industry perception of these systems.

Wollum: More aggressive air filtration, increased ventilation rates, and possibly more interest in UV or bipolar ionization are likely candidates.

CSE: What best practices should be followed to ensure an efficient HVAC system is designed for this kind of building?

Iversen: In a retail building, there is a wide variety of spaces beyond the open retail area, especially in larger facilities. It’s important to evaluate the approach to these ancillary spaces, such as offices, break rooms, and conference rooms, independently from the main retail area. Often, these spaces are better served by separate systems, or even systems of an entirely different type from the rest of the facility. While a client’s design standards may call for roof top units in the retail space, often, another system, like VRF, is more appropriate and efficient for ancillary spaces.

CSE: What are some of the challenges or issues when designing for water use in such facilities?

Wollum: Coordination of water requirements of different kitchen equipment. Requirements for water hardness, filtration levels and reverse osmosis (R/O) water are different for each piece of equipment and require a high level of coordination to design water supply systems that will work for all the equipment.