How pandemics affect sustainability in a building’s design

COVID-19 affected engineers and building professionals’ designs in many ways, including energy efficiency and sustainability

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer July 8, 2021


  • Matt Goss, PE, PMP, CEM, CEA, CDSM, LEEP AP, Senior Vice President – MEP/Energy Practice Leader, CDM Smith, Latham, N.Y.
  • Richard Heim, PE, LEED AP, Project Manager, RMF Engineering, Baltimore
  • Sean Lawler, PE, LEED AP, Principal, Project Manager, Affiliated Engineers Inc., Seattle
  • RA McNutt, PE, Mechanical Engineer, Lockwood Andrews & Newnam Inc. (LAN) Dallas
  • Kevin Miller, PE, LEED AP, Principal, Certus Consulting Engineers, Carrollton, Texas

What level of performance are you being asked to achieve, such as WELL Building Standards, U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification, net zero energy, Passive House or other guidelines?  

Matt Goss: We continue to see LEED projects more than any other, but increased discussion with respect to net-zero is taking place and as a result, we are being asked to design buildings with complete electrification in mind. As such, we’re seeing more climate control and domestic hot water generation via heat pump and geothermal technologies.

Sean Lawler: State-owned building projects in Washington are all required to be designed as net zero energy capable. Additionally, Seattle’s latest energy code has eliminated fossil fuel for building heating to eliminate carbon. Both of these requirements are driving designs to be extremely energy efficient — minimizing cost for heating/cooling equipment and renewable energy sources like photovoltaics.

What types of sustainable features or concerns might you encounter during COVID-19 that you wouldn’t on other projects? 

Richard Heim: Air side energy recovery presents a concern of cross contamination, which was always a possibility with certain devices. Avoiding those types of devices and using devices that have no potential cross contamination of the airstreams reduces some of the potential COVID-19 concerns.

What types of renewable or alternative energy systems have you recently specified to provide power? 

Matt Goss: Photovoltaics, although we are currently involved in evaluating a wind turbine installation for a client and have installed (and are monitoring) a weather monitoring station to capture site-specific data. 

Sean Lawler: Our Seattle and Washington State laboratory and health care projects include photovoltaics and solar thermal heating to meet the city’s energy code and state-owned building requirements. Additionally, some of our clients in Washington State are also requesting all electric designs to reduce carbon emission, which is possible given Washington’s high percentage of hydroelectric power.