Building Readiness: Reopening educational institutions

There are many educational administrators who are committed to reopening but are uncertain about the best, most cost-effective path to welcoming staff and students back safely.

By Salas O'Brien August 3, 2021

Several best practices for mitigating disease transmission have been issued by the scientific community, but those recommendations haven’t been universally adopted by or integrated into buildings codes and standards. In general, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) remains the most comprehensive guide for those best practices. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and John Hopkins University have also published suggestions.

Cumulatively, the best practices focus on basic maintenance operations and engineering. They include:

  • Ensuring the HVAC system is working as designed and per ASHRAE/code requirements (i.e. with validated airflow).
  • Ensuring filters are clean (and at least MERV-13).
  • Confirming restroom hot water and soap is fully operational and that exhaust fans in restrooms are delivering exhaust airflow in line with code-required air changes.
  • Preparing for building readiness—operating the system for seven days and confirming current system conditions prior to occupancy.

As a comprehensive technical team of experts in mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems and ASHRAE standards, our team can evaluate your space and develop an in-field checklist of opportunities to improve your systems based on your building’s unique conditions. Salas O’Brien interprets and prioritizes mitigation techniques as follows:

  • Increasing ventilation. This is by far the most important objective. It’s #1 on AHSRAE’s recommendations and in all the studies analyzed by the Salas O’Brien team. There is plenty of evidence that well-ventilated spaces decrease transmission rates and risk. There also seems to be a correlation between the quantity of particles someone is exposed to and the severity of illness, making adequate ventilation the foremost goal. It’s important to not over-ventilate as well, but rather adhere to ASHRAE and code requirement levels for airflow.
  • MERV 13. ASHRAE recommends a minimum of MERV 13 filters. The higher the rating, the better the filtration. But beware of the tradeoffs. Increased pressure drop leads to decreased airflow and fewer air changes (decreased ventilation).
  • Restrooms. It is essential that everyone have access to handwashing stations. Furthermore, bathroom exhaust systems must be fully functional while providing necessary ventilation.


This article originally appeared on Salas O’Brien’s website. Salas O’Brien is a CFE Media content partner.

Original content can be found at

Author Bio: For more than 40 years, Salas O’Brien has been at the forefront of designing buildings that are healthy, sustainable, and cost-efficient.