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How COVID-19 will change the way we think about the built environment

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Matt White

Is your building as healthy as possible? Can you demonstrate that to your tenants, students, patients and customers?

This global pandemic of Covid-19 is forcing everyone to think twice about entering any building or just breathing the same air as someone they were not sheltering in place with. Those quiet concerns that once haunted us on airplanes when the cabin door was closed and that recycled air hit us in the face, are now a blaring concern as we consider returning to the spaces we once considered safe. As is the case in most situations of uncertainty, occupants are looking for reassurance that the spaces they need to re-enter are as healthy as possible.

Yes, “as healthy as possible,” since no one will ever be able to claim that they can eliminate all threat of infectious disease completely. You continue to ride in automobiles despite the odds that you could get into a life-threatening accident. Why would you ever do that? Measures have been taken… You keep your car in safe operating condition, you wear a seatbelt and do your best to obey the safety laws of the road. Having these safety measures in place, you crank up your favorite playlist, roll down the windows and enjoy a comfortable relaxing Sunday drive.

Is it possible to provide building occupants with the same level of comfort when things return to “normal?”

Let’s face it, many of the reactions for the general public have been based on fear of the unknown. This reaction is bigger than this pandemic. Those who are in the building business are now recognizing the need to demonstrate the health of their buildings. Gone are the days where you can win over tenants and draw in revenue on energy savings and efficiency alone. Buildings will now need to provide a mental and emotional reassurance that the space they occupy is as healthy as possible. This will no doubt drive further regulations in many larger metro areas to ensure just that.

Fortunately, our industry has some very smart folks who help create standards based on extensive research and data collection. ASHRAE has dedicated a large section of their website to providing resources that are publicly accessible and help provide a good perspective on what “as healthy as possible” means. At the Harvard School for Public Health, they have created a framework to demonstrate the “9 Foundations of a Healthy Building as a standardized, holistic approach to understanding how buildings impact the people inside them.” 

As an MSI we use such knowledge sources as the basis to make realistic recommendations to our clients on how they can take practical steps to ensure that best practices are in place. Once measures have been taken, occupants can be reassured that their space is as healthy as possible by demonstratable metrics and good communication. Combining trustworthy standards with best practice is both practical and efficient in a time of confusion and concern.

“As healthy as possible”, takes into account three areas of focus: Personnel measures, air quality measures and surface disinfection measures. Personnel measures would include hand washing, PPE, social distancing as recommended, occupancy tracking and any additional specific measures needed based on building use. Air quality involves filtration, fresh air exchange, measurement, proper sequencing and in some cases can include disinfection. Surface disinfection is not only the physical cleaning with spray/wipe solutions but the use of technologies such as UV energy, vaporized hydrogen peroxide, ozone, and other sterile light solutions which can be used in a wide variety of areas where surface cross-contamination is possible.

How healthy is your building?

First, read the information available on ASHRAE’s website, Harvard’s, For Health website and any other reliable sources of tech or brand neutral information. In other words, educate yourself on best practices.

Second, consult a trust-worthy partner like your MSI who can help you compare current operations and systems to see how well your building is applying best practice.

Third, implement any changes needed to ensure the health of your building and the comfort of your occupants.

There is no doubt that this pandemic has forever changed the perspective of being human, sharing spaces and even sharing the air we breathe. New standards for building health now exist in the minds of many and we can help you ensure that not only is your building healthy but that your occupants believe that all measures have been taken to ensure their comfort and safety.

Reach out today to discuss your thoughts, ideas and concerns. Together we can not only help your building return to “normal,” but prepare for the new reality that is inherently human.

Upcoming articles:

Next: Healthy sequences and operations – optimized air exchange sequences, filtration, air disinfection and more.

Later: The human factor – how occupancy and other human data can impact operations to ensure a healthy working space.

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