by Tom Quinlan
At the beginning of the pandemic, the issue of shared air dominated circles in the construction industry. First, it was a major concern in the assisted living and nursing home facilities. As colleges begin to reopen, it’s become a concern as well. Let’s be honest, it’s a concern for us all.
Frankly, as a general contractor specializing in a number of niches, including educational and other institutional facilities, making buildings safer for everyone – staff, students, faculty, etc. – is the primary issue. To that end, we can learn a lot from what’s been done for assisted living and nursing home facilities.
How do we Handle the Shared Air within a Classroom, Building or Dorm?
Right now, in some facilities, the HVAC system can act as a delivery system for the virus throughout the building. Somebody at one end of the building could infect somebody at the other end of the building, with the virus being delivered by the HVAC system through the duct work. No amount of social distancing, cleaning or quarantining will stop this issue. This is a problem that needs to be addressed to help ensure against future outbreaks.
The spread of germs in any facility has long been an issue. Having gone through and still fighting a pandemic has led experts, specifically mechanical engineers and HVAC specialists, to develop systems and solutions for shared air that meet the following criteria:
- Effective at mitigating virus and pathogens
- Can be installed on existing units
- Does not require changing of UV bulbs (no UV bulbs involved)
- Proven in the market
- Compatible with all systems
- Additional benefits beyond mitigation of pathogens and virus
- Identifiable costs
Of course, the technology to address COVID and its variants are still a work in progress. There are some other mitigation efforts construction companies have also implemented. Those include but are not limited to:
- Using anti-microbial materials and hardware – hospital grade hardware, fixtures, and coatings that all kill up to 99% of harmful bacteria when cleaned regularly.
- Specialized wipe-on products – We are working with engineers and architects to test wipe-on products that leave a film thinner than a human hair and will provide additional resistance to bacteria and viruses. This could be a great benefit to use on existing hardware, light switches and other common areas people touch.
- Antimicrobial paint –Painted walls comprise the largest surface area within a classroom, dorm room or other campus residence or facility. Taking away walls as a breeding ground for viruses eliminates a large potential for the spread of various viruses.
- Cleaning the HVAC system – HVAC systems can spread bacteria and virus spores that can easily move sickness through any building. Cleaning the duct work should be part of any facility’s ongoing maintenance plan, during and after construction.
Shared air has always been the elephant that was literally in the room. Those in the construction industry knew it had risks. Those risks have come home to roost. The good news is these risks will now be addressed once and for all in ways that will make it much, much safer and healthier for students, faculty, staff and visitors going forward.
Everyone, stay safe and healthy. This will end. We will all get back to some sort of normalcy in due time. But the way we do things and how we handle issues, particularly in construction, will change forever and for the better.
Tom Quinlan is president of South Coast Improvement Company.