Modern, Efficient HVAC at the Y

Dear Y Members and Community,

Increasingly, we are hearing about airborne spread of the COVID-19 virus. First, please know that we are monitoring the latest guidance and make changes in protocols as appropriate. With this letter, we want to share information about the HVAC and filtration system at the Greater Burlington YMCA. 

New, Modern Facility 

Let’s keep in mind that we are fortunate to have a new building, thoughtfully designed with comfort and safety in mind. 

Air Filtration 

So, what happens to the air flowing through our building? How is it filtered? Filters have a MERV rating. MERV is the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. According to ASHRAE, an industry leading organization (the heating, ventilation, air conditioning industry, that is), “the fraction of particles removed from air passing through a filter is termed ‘filter efficiency’ and is provided by the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) under standard conditions.” 

So what’s a good MERV rating? According to ASHRAE, “MERV ≥13 are efficient at capturing airborne viruses.” We have found MERV-13 referred to in a number of articles, including one from Fortune magazine (see article link below) that sites MERV-13 as what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends. In fact, the article noted indoor spaces should “upgrade” their filters to MERV-13. Further, the article notes that MERV-8 filters are currently what is widely used. 

So, what filters do we use at the Y? Since we opened 298 College Street, our system has used MERV-13 grade filters. So, while others will have to upgrade to get to this grade filter, we are already there. Additionally, to help provided added protection, we have increased the frequency with which we change our filters since the pandemic was declared. 

Why don’t we use HEPA or a higher MERV-rated filter? HEPA filtration and maximum-rated MERV filters are not widely used in large spaces. They are generally seen only in hospitals, clean rooms, and other very specific spaces. You cannot simply put a HEPA filter into any system. There are multiple system requirements that are necessary to ensure it works with filters of that grade. In fact, putting too high a rated MERV filter into a system for which it is not designed can decrease air circulation below recommended levels or damage a ventilation system. 

Recent Tests of Air Circulation at YMCA

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, we have had testing performed to measure “air change calculations.” All results came in at desired levels. 

Air filtration/circulation just one part of the puzzle 

A journal article published by ASHRAE in May, 2020 stated that, in light of what is understood about transmission of the virus, “basic principles of social distancing (1 to 2 m or 3 to 6.5 ft), surface cleaning and disinfection, handwashing and other strategies of good hygiene are far more important than anything related to the HVAC system.” The science may be evolving, but I make note of this to ensure that we have perspective about filtration/circulation as just one tool to combat the spread of COVID-19. 

I hope that this is helpful. I would encourage anyone with additional questions to connect with me.


Imani James, Director of Facilities 


Pomerleau Family Y
298 College Street
Burlington, VT 05401
802 862 9622 (YMCA)

Camp Abnaki
1252 Abnaki Road
North Hero, VT
802 372 9622 (YMCA)

Additional Program Sites
in Vermont

Franklin, Grand Isle, Washington and Chittenden Counties