Ultraviolet, Light My Way

June 12, 2023


If you’re concerned about air quality, as a reasonable person might reasonably be these days, you might have been thinking to yourself, self, I keep hearing about all these companies that are really desperate to get people back into offices so they get “back to normal” where normal means the management-by-lurking they keep insisting is “magic”. So I bet that one thing those companies would be sure to do is to give their employees some way to feel good about coming back into those offices.

Self, you would say to yourself, I bet those companies would really want to champion how much time and expense they’ve put into upgrading their office air quality, so people can feel something approximating safe while huffing the exhalations of the guy who just interrupted them because he hasn’t done a goddamn thing to learn how to work with remote employees in three years and is desperately trying to avoid ever having to do that. So it’s pretty crazy how I’ve seen phrases like “upgraded our office HVAC system to mitigate COVID transmission risk as an investment in employee health and safety” in major corporate announcements a total of none times in the last two years.

It would be only embarrassing if people weren’t still suffering chronic illness, long term disability and death, but people are still doing all of those. I really am looking for work now, and I really am seeing all sorts of “required to come to this building for this amount of time every week and sit on zoom there instead”, and all I can see is companies with a management strata that does not know, at all, what value they bring to an organization if they can’t exercise power over people’s personal space, if they can’t look over people’s shoulders or interrupt them at random times.

“Come work for us! It’s fun and rewarding and we paid for this building so we’re gonna make you sit in it whether that’s useful or productive or you want to or not, we don’t care. Not in your own office or anything obviously, that’s crazy talk, you won’t even get your own chair. And we’re not paying you more for commute time or covering vehicle/transit costs or anything. This is about much, much more important things than your time, your experience or your health: performative management and amortizing real estate.”

Anyway, Sumana asked me earlier today about the ultraviolet light duct widget I installed a while back and whether or not I was “happy with it”, going so far as to suggest I write a blog post about my answer so it could be usefully discoverable instead of vanishing into the unsearchable federated ether, if you can believe that. Anyway, she’s great and here we are.

Back in the early months of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with two kids staring down the barrel of back-to-school mandates and inspired by Naomi Wu – who I think, and who can blame her, has given up on the Fedi – I went looking for a way to add ultraviolet air sanitizing to my home aircon system.

I quickly discovered a Canadian company, Allanson International, that makes an easy-to-retrofit kit you can bolt into existing home ductwork, that I bought at Canadian Tire for quite a bit less than I would have expected, given what it was promising.

You need a screwdriver and a drill, but they include the hole-saw bit you need in the box; if have a wall socket near your furnace the installation is straightforward. Because I’m a fancy man, I repurposed some spare “hide the ethernet” plastic conduit I had left over to tidy up the power cable’s run, but the real work of the installation took less than ten minutes. The design of it is elegantly safe, too – once the bracket is installed the power has a physical lockout, so you can’t turn it on if it isn’t fully inserted into the ductwork. Accidentally lighting yourself up can’t happen, a very nice feature to see in a piece of consumer-facing hardware.

In terms of “happy with it”, with the caveat that this is all obviously anecdata, we’ve had one covid-positive incident and a few of the before-times-standard flu/sniffles/colds things in the house, for which boring old staying-home-and-self-isolating did not end up infecting the whole house.

We don’t use HEPA filters on the furnace; we don’t have pets, and home-furnace filters aren’t really designed or intended to filter pathogens, they’re to protect the equipment. With that in mind, MERV-12-rated filters seem to be the sweet spot for cost-effectiveness.

But considering the fact that we’ve had no discernible transmitted illness in-house since the pandemic got rolling, that SwordfishUV widget might be the best two hundred bucks I’ve ever spent.