Can engineers save the world?

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed engineers to improve indoor air quality

By Amara Rozgus October 27, 2020

Most of the news over the past six months has centered on one thing: the COVID-19 pandemic. And, as much as the public wants a new story to follow, the coronavirus has remained on a low, rolling boil ever since it hit the United States.

Other hot topics have popped up to challenge — and even dominate — the news cycle for one or even several days. Right now, politics and the election cycle tend to take over reports of overworked doctors or vaccine trials. But it’s nearly impossible to get away from the thing that consumes us: COVID-19.

The pandemic is an international problem. It’s being tackled from various angles on the medical front. Reports abound about a vaccination on the edge of being ready, or about countries vaccinating their essential workers, or a drug that seems to cure the virus’s ills.

The medical and research communities have been racing to help in any way possible. Social media groups have given doctors a forum to share best practices. Pharmaceutical companies have pledged to “stand with science,” and place research and clinical trials ahead of any external pressure. Diagnostic companies and state departments of public health are pushing the limits of what they can do with virus testing.

But as of this moment, there don’t seem to be any easy answers. People are still dying. Virus rates are going up in some places and down in others. Some countries are barring international visitors. Educators are wringing their hands over making the right choice for school buildings and students. We won’t know the results of all of these efforts until many years from now.

It remains a fact that, unless you live in a tropical country and don’t require any type of conditioned air, humans have to go into buildings. Whether it’s a home or multifamily dwelling, a school or a workplace, or a hospital or a manufacturing facility, the building needs to be prepared for humans.

Consulting engineering firms, much like doctors and hospitals treating COVID-19 patients, are often asked for the answers on how to keep buildings safe. What types of ventilation will be best for reducing the spread of the virus? Are there disinfection systems for both surfaces and air? How does an engineer design a smart building so that its occupants have both knowledge about and control over their surroundings?

According to Consulting-Specifying Engineer research released in July, 65% of respondents indicated that project demand for maintenance, repair and operation would increase. And 59% said that retrofit/renovation projects would increase as a result of COVID-19. That meshes with anecdotal reports I’ve received about engineers being extremely busy updating, upgrading and reconfiguring buildings in preparation for U.S. residents spending more time indoors during the winter.

While not all of these answers are available, some of the questions of indoor air quality are considered in a series of articles about ventilation, codes and standards and air quality in general.


Author Bio: Amara is the Editor-in-Chief/Content Strategy Leader for Consulting-Specifying Engineer.