Image Courtesy of Josh Hild from Pexels.

Can Copper Alloys in ironmongery protect in the spread of Virus and Bacteria in our environment?

Eimear Ennis Associate Director at NODA Architects has been researching the impact of COVID and how we can bring better design practices into our specification of Ironmongery to limit spread of disease.

The directive given from the government and WHO is that viruses are spread easily by direct contact when you touch a contaminated surface. Washing hands, cough etiquette and hygiene are areas where we can reduce the spread of these germs which are invisible.

Black spots in offices are areas which are frequently touched and can provide a suitable environment for bacteria and virus to multiply and to survive for a few hours or in some cases days. Door handles are one of the most touched objects in office spaces and hospitality and where are lot of germs/bacteria and virus can harbor. There are several factors which influence the spread of these germs.

  1. The material it is made of

  2. Temperature

  3. Location

Material:

Most ironmongery is made of stainless steel; bacteria and virus can live on this metal as proved in laboratory testing. However, it is found that it cannot thrive on copper and its alloys. Silver is also another natural product which can kill off bacteria however it is not effective in killing all types of virus. We know that in hospitals that anti-microbial handles are used to stop the spread of virus and bacteria, but will we be implementing this as a standard from now on? What is the cost of implementing this? Will this give peace of mind to employees that it is not relying on cleaning staff to go through all the doors and ensure they are wiped down every evening?

There has been much research done on the benefits of copper and its alloys. Southampton University have been leading on this, particularly Dr Sarah Warnes and Dr Bill Keevil

https://www.southampton.ac.uk/biosci/news/2015/11/10-using-copper-to-prevent-the-spread-of-respiritory-viruses.page .

Their research has indicated that a product will need to have at least 60% copper to be effective.

There are many different grades of copper and its alloys:

  • Copper

  • Dilute Copper Alloys

  • Brass. Copper levels are about 66% Zinc 34%

  • Bronze. Copper levels are about 60% tin 40%

  • Copper Nickel Alloy. Copper levels are about 65% Nickel 35%

  • Nickel Silver Alloy

Temperature:

A dry room temperature of 20 degrees means that most virus can thrive for up to 8 hours.

Locations:

In Health care all doors as industry standard are specified with an antimicrobial alloy. For Hospitality and Office Fit Out this is not the case, however logically not every door needs to be treated with the same higher specification. Doors that are most frequently used should be made of the copper alloy and be antimicrobial and not necessarily riser doors etc.

On research, there are a lot of antimicrobial sprays and films flooding the markets. These are relying on silver ion technology. This may get us over the initial psychological hump of returning to work, particularly in large office spaces. It still relies on a proper cleaning regime but it kills effectively all bacteria on the door handles. One company suggests that it can kill bacteria such as SARS, MRSA and e coli.

copper cables.jpg

From my recent lockdown experience I spent an afternoon with my ten year old researching the difference between bacteria and virus and not wanting to get into the whole science of it, but one is living and has a cell…the bacteria, whilst a virus is non living and needs a host to survive. So the silver ions attack the nuclei of bacteria killing it and therefore inhibiting its growth, does this mean it can disable a virus as it is not “alive” until it finds a host? This is something that will need to be further tested. As with any coating they are only as effective as they last but it clearly will help in preventing the spread of  bacterial infections and as such is not a bad thing given the amount of hours lost through staff illness.

The Allgood Contego is used extensively in the NHS Hospital sector, it is a 70% copper alloy product which aesthetically looks like stainless steel. It claims to be cost effective with the investment recouped within two months based on fewer infections transmitted in hospitals and being able to get patients out of hospital quicker.

It is practical, it saves lives, but as a designer the aesthetic question is at the fore. We do not want to be living in sterile environments, there still must be an element of design. Talking to Peter Kenny from Mooney Architectural he agreed with this sentiment saying, “something like the Contego range would not be a fit all solution from a design perspective, however they are [Mooney Architectural] currently working on other choices.” To date they have experience that some Developers are re-specifying on jobs and looking at various options:

 

  1. Automated door sets

  2. Doors on hold open devices and relied back to fire panels if on escapes

  3. Introducing antimicrobial handles on frequently used entrance doors.

 

So, in Hospitality and Fit out projects we can be proactive and ensure that we select ironmongery with copper alloys of at least 60% copper. On a quick overview Samuel Heath products are solid brass based, so by definition these will be inherently microbial.

On a multiply door job this would not be very cost effective, Peter has suggested Allgood Continental as an alternative which in turn is inherently microbial.

So, the trend for copper, brass and bronze may continue for a while longer but not only out of aesthetic desire but as an effective way to prevent disease transmission. Or will it be business as usual in ten months’ time?

Image Courtesy of Mooney Architectural C

Image Courtesy of Mooney Architectural Continental Handle

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