by Niel Franzese
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is becoming increasingly clear that many of the rapidly developing strategies being adopted in all sectors of the economy and public life for dealing with the pandemic are here to stay. Acceleration of already existing trends such as working from home and online shopping are some of the most apparent, but other developments affecting the AEC community may be less obvious. New educational, medical and office spaces are being designed and constructed to better accommodate social distancing, easy sanitation and flexible usage patterns, and these trends are impacting not only obvious areas like floor plans and layouts, but also core components of buildings themselves that have long been the focus of “green” construction discussions, such as those focused on improving environmental air quality and overall quality of life for building users.
Since the leading scientific and medical authorities have formed a consensus that the coronavirus can be spread through aerosolized droplets remaining suspended in indoor air supplies, one focus of improvements to the design and construction of new and existing facilities has been HVAC systems. These improvements include better circulation of fresh air, heightened filtration standards, and the deployment of newer technologies like ultraviolet germicidal irradiation to clean the air we breathe. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has taken note of these trends, and issued its own set of recommendations for creating safe and healthy work and business spaces, which include:
- Increasing the percentage of outdoor air, potentially as high as 100% (after considering HVAC system capabilities for both temperature and humidity control as well as compatibility with outdoor/indoor air quality considerations).
- Increasing total airflow supply to occupied spaces, if possible.
- Improving central air filtration.
- Increasing air filtration to as high as possible without significantly diminishing design airflow.
- Generating clean-to-less-clean air movements by re-evaluating the positioning of supply and exhaust air diffusers and/or dampers and adjusting zone supply and exhaust flow rates to establish measurable pressure differentials.
- Using portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan/filtration systems to help enhance air cleaning (especially in higher-risk areas).
- Considering using ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) as a supplemental technique to inactivate potential airborne virus.
These and other recommendations, including the input of HVAC and related design professionals, can be implemented in existing structures, as well as during the design or construction phases of new projects. They also nicely compliment traditional green building concerns related to pollution reduction measures and creating designs that enable smooth adaptations to changing environments. The AEC community, and those focused on the green building space in particular, are well suited to lead and advance these efforts, and to help ensure that we do not lose sight of them as we move through this pandemic and into the future.
Niel Franzese is an attorney with Robinson+Cole and represents owners, contractors, subcontractors, sureties, and design professionals in all matters of construction contract drafting, negotiation, and construction-related litigation.