Safety

Clean Living: Creating a Pathogen-Resistant Interior

5 August 2020By Sara Ventiera
iStock/laughingmango

Written by

Sara Ventiera

Sara Ventiera is a contributing writer and former stewardess who covers food, travel, and other topics. Her work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, Food & Wine, NPR, Eating Well, and BBC Travel.

Life has changed dramatically since mid-March 2020, when it had finally become undeniable that the novel coronavirus was rapidly spreading around the globe. The world’s largest cities came to a screeching halt. Shops boarded up. Restaurants fired down the grills. Nights on the town morphed into entire weekends on the couch. Beaches and parks lowered the gates. And, all of a sudden, everyone’s daily habits and cleaning routines were examined under a microscope. 

All this focus on hygiene has had interior designers thinking up new ways to prevent the spread of viruses and pathogens in the home. Although yachts may have some of the cleanest interiors on the planet, there’s no doubt that these COVID-19-related design trends are going to make their way into refits as well. Read on to find out how the novel coronavirus is transforming the design world.

iStock/Kritchanut

Fears of catching COVID-19 from contaminated surfaces prompted many people around the world to obsessively wipe down groceries, leave packages unopened for days, and don plastic gloves before touching anything. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has clarified that touching contaminated surfaces does create some risk for catching the virus. “Based on data from lab studies on COVID-19 and what we know about similar respiratory diseases, it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes,” the agency writes. “But this isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

On a yacht that is wiped down every time a guest moves into another room, the risk of fomite transmission — touching contaminated surfaces — is even lower than on land. However, that slight bit of risk may prompt some yacht owners to incorporate antimicrobial surfaces into a refit.


Studies have shown that the novel coronavirus — and other viruses such as the flu — can live for hours to days on surfaces such as countertops and doorknobs.
iStock/electravk

Studies have shown that the novel coronavirus — and other viruses such as the flu — can live for hours to days on surfaces such as countertops and doorknobs. On metals, glass, and ceramics, it can remain viable for five days. On wood, it can live up to four. On stainless steel, it takes two to three days to die off.

However, there are common finishes that have intrinsic properties that destroy microorganisms on contact. And residential designers are expecting them to become even more ubiquitous. Copper and its alloys, brass and bronze, for example, kill viruses within hours. So does krion, a material used in countertops and bathroom finishes that resembles natural stone.

On a yacht that is wiped down every time a guest moves into another room, the risk of fomite transmission — touching contaminated surfaces — is even lower than on land.

Joe Yacobellis, director of design at New York-based Mojo Stumer, recently told Apartment Therapy, a publishing company, that he anticipates Richlite, a paper-based composite that’s naturally antimicrobial, will become more common in residential design. He expects the product, which has low-moisture absorption, will be used in more building facades, wall panels, countertops, and even furniture as a highly durable — and sustainable — alternative to stone and metal.

Joyce Clear of Clear Group International, a Connecticut-based design group that focuses on sustainable yacht interiors, is a fan of the recyclable material for refits. “It’s really durable, heat-resistant, and impact-resistant,” ideal for busy galleys, she says.

Cork flooring is another sustainable, antimicrobial, and water-resistant material that has already been creeping into yacht interiors. The cushy material softens sound and feels good under bare feet. It not only kills viruses and bacteria, but it also helps to prevent mold and mildew, an added bonus for marine usage. “The way they design cork now doesn’t look like it’s coming out of the 1970s,” says Clear. “They’re transforming a lot of products that could be seen as old-fashioned, renewing them into the modern age.”


Richlite uses antimicrobial products to ensure cleaner and more sustainable environments.
Courtesy of Richlite

Speaking of the modern age, touchless technology is expected to become much more commonplace in homes in light of COVID-19. Motion sensors on faucets as well as voice controls for ovens, lights, televisions, and music create fewer points of contact that require sanitization — and less need to worry about contamination of viruses and other common pathogens (think: salmonella and E. coli in the galley).

The uptick in touchless technology may even impact security updates. Keypads and fingerprint scanners are already available to track which crewmember is going where on some heavily guarded yachts. But given the fear of surfaces these days, retina scanners and facial recognition software might become more prevalent for owners who are particularly worried about contaminants.

Creating a Healthy Environment

While these technological advances can help with preventing fomite transmission, there is also a wave of wellness technology for the home — and yachts — that assist in creating a healthier indoor atmosphere. “Homes will be able to track air, water, and light quality throughout the day and night,” Max Strang, CEO of Florida-based luxury architectural firm STRANG Design recently told Apartment Therapy.

Monitoring these sorts of elements won’t prevent a person from catching COVID-19, influenza, or other viruses; however, a healthy living environment can help the body to better fight off infection and disease. Emerging lighting technology can synchronize with the circadian rhythms of residents, a feature that is especially important for the crew responsible for keeping the guests and vessel safe. The recommended range of sleep for an adult is somewhere between seven to nine hours a night — a time period that is considered a luxury in yachting.

Monitoring these sorts of elements won’t prevent a person from catching COVID-19, influenza, or other viruses; however, a healthy living environment can help the body to better fight off infection and disease. 

In the short-term, inadequate sleep can negatively impact judgment, mood, and ability to learn and retain information. It is widely known to reduce productivity and efficiency in the workplace and it may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury.

Lack of sleep leads to long-term health consequences, too, such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early death. Although it is a global issue, sleep-related problems affect somewhere between 50 to 70 million Americans of all ages and socioeconomic classes. The increased usage of smartphones and electronic devices has worsened the epidemic.

New lighting systems can help by emulating the circadian rhythm of the crew and guests throughout the vessel, says Clear. “If you have a tired crew, you’re not going to have an efficient crew. Health and wellbeing are really important,” she says.


iStock/andresr

Air Quality

These emerging smart-home systems, however, go well beyond fancy lighting into fighting pollutants and other pathogens. Some of these new systems can sense when Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), such as burning diesel, varnishes, and paints increase inside or even when a kid comes back covered in pollen, then adjusts its air filtration to suck up the undesirable elements.

According to the American Lung Association, “Breathing VOCs can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat; can cause difficulty breathing and nausea, and can damage the central nervous system as well as other organs.” All of which are susceptible to the deleterious effects of COVID-19.

This new breed of smart filtration systems improves indoor air quality — thereby lowering the risk of infections, lung cancer, and chronic lung diseases — by effectively ventilating indoor spaces. The less ventilation, the more likely diseases are to spread. Stagnant air can create excess moisture — a huge problem on boats — which can foster the growth and transmission of viruses and bacteria, as well as increase the spread of infectious disease.

This new breed of smart filtration systems improves indoor air quality — thereby lowering the risk of infections, lung cancer, and chronic lung diseases — by effectively ventilating indoor spaces. 

Some maritime-specific designers believe that systems that focus on cleaning the air should be the top priority for anyone concerned about potential pathogens getting spread around on board. “The level of cleanliness you have on a superyacht is so high, it is even cleaner than any kind of hospital,” says naval architect and designer Stefano Pastrovich. “I imagine it makes much more sense to buy a machine to clean the air inside the superyacht.”

Fortunately, this kind of air-cleaning tech has become far more prevalent over recent years — and way more common since COVID-19 got people thinking about respiratory droplets hanging around the air. Sales for air purifiers have skyrocketed with the spread of the novel coronavirus. Experts believe certain air purifiers can be as effective as opening up windows to dilute virus particles with fresh air.


iStock/deyangeorgiev

During the 2003 SARS outbreak, the Hong Kong Hospital Authority recommended hospitals use portable HEPA air purifiers to aid in reducing transmission of the virus to healthcare workers in cases where isolation wards were unavailable. The United States’ Centers for Disease Control offered similar guidelines for reducing viral concentrations of the SARS virus in the air for hospital rooms without proper ventilation. And recent research published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases indicates that air filtration can reduce the risk of transmission of measles and influenza.

Scientists believe that air purifiers could help combat the spread of COVID-19 in some situations. “We don’t yet have direct evidence that filtration works to reduce transmission of the novel coronavirus,” says Jeffrey Siegel, an indoor air-quality expert and professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto told Consumer Reports. “But we can infer from what we know for similar viruses, like SARS.”

Scientists believe that air purifiers could help combat the spread of COVID-19 in some situations. 

The consensus is that if someone in a household is sick with COVID-19, running an air purifier in their quarantine room could help protect others in the household, but there is a major caveat to its effectiveness, says Consumer Reports Chief Science Officer James Dickerson: “HEPA filters are very efficient at catching coronavirus-size particles, but the particles must first physically travel to the filter.”

And these filters do little to eliminate pathogens that settle on surfaces, where they can live for days. Ionized hydro-peroxide systems are far more effective. One version, a technology developed by RGF Environmental Group in the late 1990s that is installed directly into the HVAC system, creates hydroperoxides from moisture in the air through anair quality HVAC system with a rare metal catalyst and a hydrating agent that’s activated by broad spectrum UV light that reacts to ambient moisture. As an RGF paper spells out, the photohydroionization (PHI) technology ionizes the hydro-peroxides, which “supercharges” them. It essentially mists the indoor air with a weak solution of hydrogen peroxide, simulating the natural ions of the outdoors, and inactivates the virus at the source, eliminating the need to trap the contaminant in a filter.


iStock/1001nights

Zenga Marine, the marine industry distributor for RGF, has serviced the South Florida marine industry since 2009. As President and CEO Vince Doran explains, they use industrial-scale “RGF advanced oxidation technology coupled with a deep cleaning of the air-conditioning systems on board,” Doran says. “The result is a complete change of atmosphere on board and a distinct and long-lasting increase in the air quality on board.” 

Doran notes that the industrial machines, which have much larger fans and a greater capacity for production, can cover 2,000 square feet and the time it takes varies depending on what is being addressed. “As mold is common, and aerosol mold spores are quite complex, the calculation is normally 48-hour exposure for each area of the yacht,” Doran says. “We normally place five to eight machines on board to achieve successful remediation in sync with the cleaning of the air con systems, which normally takes one week on the average yacht.” It is safe to be on board during remediation, he notes.

“[This system] addresses a broad range of pathogens and the technology is the treatment of choice for hospitals, cruise lines, military field hospitals, hotels, and many residential and commercial applications,” Doran says. Studies and lab tests on both airborne contaminants and surfaces have found that ionized hydro-peroxide eliminates 99 percent of viruses and bacteria, 97 to 98 percent of molds, 80 to 90 percent of VOCs, 70 percent smoke, and 55 to 98 percent of odors.

Hydrogen peroxide has been used by the medical community for centuries, according to RGF. In the 1920s, in the UK, studies found that hydrogen peroxide therapy reduced the mortality rate for pneumonia from 80 percent to 48 percent.

This article originally ran in the August 2020 issue of Dockwalk.

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