Fitness trainer Suzy Levi installed an IOS-Aire filtration system when she reopened her St. Paul studio at 25% capacity in June. (Submitted photo)

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, fitness trainer Suzy Levi closed her St. Paul, Minnesota, studio and moved to virtual training for three months.

Opening in June at 25% capacity, Levi phased in in-person, one-on-one training, then apparatus classes and finally in-person studio/online instruction. Her 3,000-square-foot studio, Defining You Pilates & Fitness at 550 Vandalia St., used small air purifiers before adding an air filtration system built by St. Paul-based ISO-Aire.

“It’s huge, it is the size of a refrigerator,” Levi said. “It’s quiet and doesn’t make any noise. We’ve had several people say it made them feel safe about coming into the studio. I felt the system gave them confidence and peace of mind.”

The ISO-Aire commercial air filtration system has been used by restaurants, health care facilities, colleges, retail stores and nursing homes to remove 99.9% of potential air contaminants. The company uses a “multi-filtration technology” composed of HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtration, an ultra-violet light sterilization system and ozone-free bipolar ionization to kill nearly all germs, mold and viruses, including COVID-19.

Levi’s not alone in adding an air filtration system to her business. Employees and customers returning to commercial business spaces want property managers and employers to make clean air a priority because face masks, sneeze guards and bottles of sanitizers will only go so far in creating a healthy indoor environment. Improved air filtration may not kill all traces of COVID-19 or other airborne diseases, but it can make a significant dent in the spread of germs.

Better indoor air quality will help businesses “rebuild people’s trust that the spaces they’re returning to are healthy and safe,” said Sheri Brezinka, regional director of the West North Central division of the United States Green Building Council in Minneapolis. “Sustainability and health are very closely related, which is why it’s important for companies to double down on green building strategies as they consider reopening offices and other spaces.”

ISO-Aire in action

Though the air-filtration industry has plenty of competitors, ISO-Aire decided to build a line of filtration products after developing expertise by creating negative pressure isolation rooms for hospital clients. Those rooms, used for treating patients with various contagious illnesses, now sometimes house severe COVID-19 patients.

ISO-Aire owner Chuck Albers and his son, Kevin, placed in their products the most common approaches to cleaning indoor air — the industrial-strength HEPA filters, UV light and bipolar ionization. All three are proven effective, with bipolar ionization capable of diminishing COVID-19’s ability to infect people while eliminating odors, bacteria and mold. U.S. Bank Stadium has a bipolar ionization system, as do the locker rooms of the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

The family-owned company has evolved quite a bit since Chuck’s father, George, started it as a sheet metal fabrication business more than 50 years ago. The company’s 200 W. Plato Blvd. plant now produces the ISO-Aire line using American-made components bundled into units. Kevin Albers, who handles sales and marketing, said the company uses “all proven technologies. What we’ve done is we’ve put them together in a package that works well and can be easily adapted or implemented by any facility.”

Building owners trying to retrofit heating and air conditioning by adding these technologies would require redesigning their systems and adding expensive equipment. “It’s like turning a canoe into a car,” he said. ISO-Aire offers an alternative to a complete retrofit with its three models: a stationary floor unit, a mobile wheeled version, and a hanging option for ceilings.

Figuring out how many ISO-Aire units a client needs depends on variables including the number of people using a room and the level of air quality desired. Generally, an ISO-Aire unit exchanges air once an hour in a 6,000 square feet space, more times in smaller rooms.

ISO-Aire units cost from $4,000 to $6,000, depending on size. They can plug into wall sockets. A customer may need more than one to manage larger spaces, Albers said.

The units can potentially help save money on energy by recycling air. Bipolar ionization saves on HVAC costs by reducing the number of air exchanges involving outside air. “Our units not only help the existing system be more efficient, but they also allow you to have lower costs and cleaner air,” he said.

Changing the workspace

Joseph Nasseff, the owner of Joseph’s Grill at 140 Wabasha St. S. in St. Paul, Minnesota, installed three units in June after learning about the technology from the owners of ISO-Aire, who frequented his restaurant for lunch. “They went on and on about it and told me it would a good fit for here, and I said, ‘Yeah, it really would be,’” said Nasseff. “The patio’s been good, but people are going to want to go inside.”

Customers have complimented him on how clean the air seems in the restaurant and how little noise the units make, he said. The modules are prominent and generate conversation, and confidence, among customers who often ask questions about the air-filtration system. He distributes brochures to people who want to learn more about how ISO-Aire works.

The technology decreases dust significantly and helps customers with respiratory problems. A customer living with asthma told him she had not coughed in an hour and a half. “It’s a remarkable product,” Nasseff said. “It’s a no-brainer. I want people to feel comfortable coming in here. … It’s been a plus for us here, and we need every plus we can get.”

Annette Bing, owner of Family Salon in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, installed an ISO-Aire unit in June just before reopening. The response of employees has been uniformly positive because many expressed concerns before returning to work because of the pandemic, Bing said. Having ISO-Aire unit also decreases dust and chemical odors familiar in salons while making a favorable impression on clients. “People come in and say, ‘Wow, it smells so good in here,’” she said. “People were noticing it on their own.”

COVID has raised the importance of indoor environmental quality to building owners and businesses, said Chuck Albers. That concern has not been a national focal point for decades, and he hopes this time around it will last.

“There was a time in the late ’70s, early ’80s where the environmental condition of buildings was being looked at seriously, and then it faded just like the energy thing, it just all faded away,” he said. “But this pandemic is definitely bringing it right back to the forefront the need for better air and filtration.”