How can buildings decrease COVID-19 transmission?

How can buildings decrease COVID-19 transmission?

UC Berkeley researchers have released guidelines on regulating ventilation systems in buildings to reduce indoor exposure to COVID-19. The guidelines offer practical, step-by-step recommendations for settings and controls to increase ventilation rate and enhance air cleaning “as much as technically, environmentally, and economically feasible” under circumstances resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

The recommendations are based on smart-building research conducted in Singapore by SinBearBEST, a program within the Berkeley Education Alliance for Research in Singapore (BEARS), led by professor of electrical engineering and computer science professor Costas Spanos, also director of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute.

While the main transmission route of the coronavirus is by unprotected contact with an infected person or surface, airborne pathways have become an increasing concern. These building guidelines can reduce potential risks associated with plausible airborne routes.

“We need to do all we can to mitigate the spread of this virus.” says Spanos, “These mitigation techniques will contribute to safer indoor environments in commercial, residential, and institutional buildings, including schools and other public buildings.”

These recommendations were tailored for the tropical environment (Singapore is six degrees above the equator) where a third of the planet’s population lives and where optimizing air-conditioning use is a primary concern. This document was adopted by Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority last month and continues to be shared widely.

Highlights of the guidelines include:

  • Increase to 100% outdoor air intake in air-conditioned buildings
  • Stop recirculation and rotary exchangers in air-conditioned buildings
  • Open windows and turn off or reduce air-conditioning use in naturally ventilated buildings
  • Enhance air cleaning with high-efficiency media-based filters
  • Use Ultra-Violet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) or other physical means of cleaning air
  • Use Portable Air Cleaners (PACs)
  • Keep exhaust ventilation on 24/7
  • Consider airflow pathways in social distancing

The primary focus of SinBearBEST research, launched in 2011, is energy efficiency. In Singapore and the United States, buildings represent half of all energy usage. By applying information technology and embedded systems to market-based solutions, the program aims to stimulate the creation of new industry sectors in IT, energy technologies, engineering, construction, and related areas.