Boosting ventilation a challenge for some small business owners

Some shops in old structures trap more heat and cannot go without air-con

Fashion retailer Goodluck Bunch is looking to improve ventilation at its store, but cracking open the windows is not the most convenient for the two-storey shophouse in Bali Lane.

The windows can be opened only about 20cm, said the shop's creative director Quek Swee Ying.

"If the air-conditioning is not turned on, the interior would be sweltering. The infrastructure is old and thus can trap more heat," said Ms Quek, adding that the store is looking to buy an air purifier with a $300 budget and may add industrial-grade fans.

The Straits Times reached out to small business operators and real estate companies who say they have taken steps to improve building ventilation and air quality, amid concerns that the coronavirus may spread through airborne transmission in some settings.

A spokesman for Frasers Property, which manages malls such as The Centrepoint, Northpoint City and Tampines 1, and commercial properties, such as Frasers Tower and Alexandra Point, said its buildings employ high-efficiency filters in the air-conditioning units that are replaced frequently.

It has also increased the duration of indoor air purging at the office buildings it manages.

The Building and Construction Authority, National Environment Agency and Health Ministry released updated guidelines on May 25, following an uptick in Covid-19 cases in the community.

Under the new directive, spaces without mechanical ventilation - such as retail shops - should have their doors and windows opened as frequently as possible, with the air-conditioning reduced or turned off.

Portable air cleaners with high-efficiency filters may also be considered as an interim measure in enclosed spaces.

Perennial Holdings said it will be increasing its air-purging frequency from once to thrice a day. Street-level main doors at its malls will be kept open for 30 minutes, three times a day.

The spokesman said it will also work with its street-fronting tenants to keep their doors open for two hours and install ultraviolet lights for disinfection in its air-handling units, which are used to regulate and circulate air for air-conditioning systems.

The company will also incorporate plans to improve ventilation, such as having more open spaces and landscaping areas, in their upcoming projects like the redevelopment of AXA Tower and business park Perennial Business City.

Mr Amos Wong, owner of Belo Cafe in Upper Thomson Road, said the place will be too hot without air-conditioning.

"Can you imagine the heat in the kitchen with all the ovens? Equipment such as ovens, open flame stoves and fryers all generate heat as well," he added.

To keep the place cool, he is looking at buying fans, installing air curtains and paying for air purifiers, but Mr Wong is hoping he can keep costs to under $1,000.

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.