Building Types

Creating safe and healthy buildings through good design

The possibility of transmitting or contracting COVID-19 and overwhelming our healthcare system is still a concern for many and needs to be part of the overall building design.

By Salas O'Brien May 19, 2021
A variety of high-rise commercial buildings in Chicago. Courtesy: CFE Media

Across the country, stay-at-home and social distancing mandates are beginning to relax, businesses are opening back up, and workers are transitioning back to their offices. The possibility of transmitting or contracting COVID-19 and overwhelming our healthcare system is still a concern for many.

For mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP) and technology engineers, it’s critical to focus on enhancing the health and environments of the buildings being designed. It’s critical to work collaboratively with stakeholders to form teams with the right knowledge and experience to identify, develop, and implement effective, reasonable and appropriate systems and processes that can mitigate the risk of transmitting disease.

Mitigate potential transmission

Implementing building entry control and reducing the need for physical touch are integral to lowering the risk of transmitting diseases. We review plans to verify appropriateness and suggest reasonable solutions. We provide:

Appropriate plans

  • Plan review
  • Space planning
  • Employee tracking
  • Biometric data
  • Building-entry protocols
  • Package-handling protocols

Reasonable solutions

  • Thermal scanners to detect fever
  • Local sensor and remote reset thermostats
  • Touch-free:
    • Flushometers and faucets
    • Waste bins
    • Drinking fountains and water fill stations
    • Soap dispensers
    • Security access controls
    • Towel dispensers
  • Occupancy sensors on lighting systems
  • Automatic doors
  • Voice-activated:
    • Appliances and coffee machines
    • Lighting controls
    • Information kiosks
  • Motion-activated, voice-controlled elevators
  • All wireless (touch-free) networks
  • Cell-phone-operated audiovisual equipment

Many of these upgrades and technological advances have been considered cost-prohibitive luxuries until now. In our new reality, they very well may be the key to maintaining the health of a building and its occupants.

Improve indoor air quality

Our experience with building systems allows us to quickly assess and identify financially reasonable modifications to a building’s current air system that will improve indoor air quality. In some climates, adding 40 to 60 percent humidification to indoor air may mitigate airborne transmission, improve immunity, and increase the body’s ability to fight off infection. HEPA filtration and air sanitizers, like UV-C light, can also mitigate the presence of airborne pathogens.

Another way to improve indoor air quality is to increase the flow of outside air into a building. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) recommends an increase of 30 percent above code to improve indoor air quality.

And finally, HVAC systems can be adapted to where air has less contact with fewer people, like systems that keep the air pattern downward so there is less spread of contaminants or systems that allow for individual air supply to and return from each office, workstation, room, or desk.

Enhance facility cleanliness

Heightened cleaning and disinfection practices will become a daily part of our new normal. We provide technical solutions to make it easier to clean and disinfect your space. We review your hygienic cleaning plan to identify areas of improvement and, if needed, provide supplemental sterilization services. We can also modify existing systems. Increasing faucet temperatures and setting faucet timers for 20 seconds encourage proper handwashing. Adding antibacterial and antiviral and/or UV-A/B/C lighting fixtures assist in disinfecting spaces. We also apply nanotechnology in high-touch areas to reduce cleaning.

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


Salas O'Brien
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.