Building Technology and Safety: What COVID-19 Brings on the Table
The Good News
The construction and building technology have both improved and evolved over the years to help us encounter difficulties with building safety we faced over the years. Fire, water damage, collapse, and earthquake issues all led us to develop more advanced building codes for building designers, electrical, mechanical, structural practice as well as materials production. Architects and designers always have to keep learning to interpret the design standards and building technology in line with new rules to be able to create beautiful buildings that last long, even in the time of pandemics.
Between client expectations, the construction budget, the local bylaw and building code, most designers become as conservative as possible to deliver an ultra safe result which sacrifices the beauty and in times functionality. There are some exceptions, of course.
Architecture and art of building design are facing another obstacle to deal with. How will we design the buildings of tomorrow to deal with transmittable diseases?
Building Technology and the New Normal
Physical distancing, adjusted schedules, split shifts where possible, and implementing healthcare officials in operating businesses are all part of the new normal. Construction workers belong to no exception. New rules are deployed to maintain the strict limits defined by expert authorities in order to maintain productivity in the safest conditions available.
Engineers and contractors are on the learning curve, earning precious safety experience on a daily basis. Sharing knowledge has become essential, internally, and within industry associations, as well as with jurisdictions across the country. It leads to establishing new, more adequate protocols and educating others on what they needed to do to work safely.
The facemasks are obligatory for workers in some conditions, together with handwashing and hand sanitizing stations at worksites. Work crew transportation is limited, while worksites introduced non-contact temperature screening to identify carriers. Building technology keeps changing and adapting, too.
Innovation is the key to maintaining business operating as usual (or new norm!). It might seem, in the beginning, that general guidelines have covered every issue. Only after the project starts, it may become apparent just how many details need special attention. Have you been thinking about the possibility of hanging a large window while maintaining the recommended physical distance?
What May Change in Near Future
How can commercial and office buildings keep functioning? Is it possible for big offices to disappear and be replaced with small satellite offices? In such a case, something will have to be done with the vast existing square footage of empty office and commercial buildings. Who will pay for their mortgage and recurring maintenance fees?
Turning offices to residential units won’t make them suitable or justify the initial cost.
Even if they do, what kind of tenants will be renting them? Too many rental units available on the market will eventually lead to a rental unit market crash. That alone is sufficient reason to make the repurposing idea unattractive for owners of office buildings.
Some offices are operating with a reduced number of employees working simultaneously. It has become a necessity to create physical distance and a safe working environment. However, that situation won’t last forever. It’s not in the business’s best economic interest to pay the costly lease for big operating space with fewer employees.
How will the hospitality industry adapt? The pandemic heavily influenced the industry, with the number of guests lowered drastically. Would they continue their operation the same way?
The music industry, sports industry, and entertainment industry, in general, all have their survival depending on the mass public’s presence. We need ways to reformat the structure of existing arenas and theatres, to make them sustainable in line with the new normal.
Are we witnessing another industrial revolution, or is this just a temporary hiccup and everything will go back to normal?
Single-Family and Multi-Family Homes—What Can We Expect to Improve in These Buildings?
Ensuring adequate ventilation is the best standard practice for improving indoor air quality. Increasing ventilation alone is not enough to protect people from COVID-19. However, in combination with other best practices recommended by the Health Officials, it’s a vital part of a plan to protect yourself and your family.
Naturally, to improve ventilation in your home, you can open the windows or screened doors. You can also install and operate a window air conditioner with outdoor air intake or vent, with the vent open. Running a bathroom fan is another highly recommendable practice.
Can Building Technology Help Protect Our Loved Ones in Our Living Space?
Most of the new single-family homes are installing Heat Recovery Ventilation (HRV) which filters indoor pollution. If you are buying a house or have a house that doesn’t have one, I recommend installing one ASAP. If you live in a rental unit make sure the units are not interconnected through internal air ducts which can cause the air from one unit to spread to another one!
Most of the multi-family homes use separate ducking for each unit in order to avoid air mix between units. Check that with your building maintenance manager to make sure. In case your building has a different design, you should ask them to have the significant improvements done as some lives are depending on it.
Some building managers and others are trying to take steps to prevent contamination between rooms by avoiding the possibility of airborne transmission. Technicians should identify the ways and directions the air moves through spaces before installing new devices or upgrading air ventilation systems. Such tests should determine both the flow and leakage.
Several options are available. Some involve HVAC upgrades, and others are focusing on more straightforward solutions to address any problems detected. These solutions might include installing new doors or air curtains, as well as generating overpressure over suspended ceilings, and sealing any gaps.
Heating, Ventilating, and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) systems are a double-edged sword. Adequately designed and operated, these systems may help in reducing the airborne concentration of pathogens and microorganisms, lowering the risk of transmission through the air.
(HVAC) systems should not be modified without prior assessment. For maximum safety, such work should be conducted by an appropriately qualified and experienced engineering professional. Any system modifications done by an inexperienced person who does not understand the system or how it works, can increase risks. A wrong setting will have an impact on all other building systems, which could end up in more harm than good. The results would have adverse effects on health and safety, air quality, building air pressure/balance, performance/operation of the HVAC equipment, etc.
Recommendable modifications that require professional assistance to avoid the risk of negatively affecting the performance of the HVAC and other building systems include:
- replacing existing air filters with higher efficiency air filters;
- enclosing or separating rooms with temporary or permanent means
- changing fan speeds, along with adding supply/exhaust fans
- installing additional integrated filtration units
- blocking diffusers, or altering existing airflows
- altering the standard programming of system controls
All alterations to HVAC or other building systems should only be done in consultation with an appropriately qualified and experienced engineering professional.
Protect Yourself Beyond Physical
The vaccine will soon become available and calm the storm down. However, we can’t predict when the next episode of these epidemics will hit us. This might be a new NORM!!!
We are living in an era that the world powers are fighting over world domination. We, as consumers, are victims of their games. So, live like everything will be OK forever, but prepare as if you expect more of these plays.
The face mask is one of a temporary bandaid on the problem and is not enough to do the job.
You are probably aware that you don’t have to wear a face mask in your house or unit if you don’t have a visitor. Even more, wearing a face mask all day long is bad for your health as well. But we are social beings and we can’t jail ourselves inside all the time. We need to get some fresh air or meet a friend or go shopping, right?
Most communities and buildings have already implemented a safety protocol, which is good to follow.
Don’t panic! follow a simple protocol, and stay calm. The more you panic, the more you affect your immune system. Secure the best ventilation you can afford while at home. Wear a mask when you are in public closed areas, and wash your hands often. Stay away from unhealthy food.
Chinese medicine puts its trust into our own immune system to fight any disease. It would help if you did the same. Keep calm. No need to follow the bad news, which does nothing but make you anxious.
Remember, life is a journey, and we should take the ride with joy. These times will go by, and we will laugh at them in the near future. All we need to do is to prepare our community and adapt buildings for a better, safer and more organized future.
Keep smiling and let everyone see your smile even through your mask!!!
By Aryo Falakrou (My Home Designer)