There’s a pressing question on a lot of people’s minds as commercial real estate buildings, retail stores, offices and schools begin to reopen following the shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How will these buildings remain clean and safe?
The Washington Post recently reported on how building managers across the U.S. are trying to figure out how they can reopen safely and prevent infection. Their focus has been on places the virus can spread like workspaces, bathrooms, elevators and heating, ventilation and cooling systems. Meanwhile, they’re also weighing the costs of any changes that they will have to make.
“Building owners and operators are looking at what they can do to make their buildings safer. It’s not just a real risk, it’s a psychological risk,” William Bahnfleth, an expert on indoor air at Pennsylvania State University and chair of the epidemic task force at ASHRAE, a global expert body on the management of building systems told The Washington Post. “People aren’t going to be inclined to go back into buildings if they’re concerned about how safe they are.”
Measures taken to keep buildings safe
Experts have said wearing facemasks and cleaning surfaces won’t be enough to prevent COVID-19 spread in office buildings, according to The Washington Post. Experts are recommending new ways to circulate and filter air in the building, which conflicts with a lot of buildings’ modern design. Today, many buildings have sealed off their “envelope” in an effort to reduce their heating and cooling costs. Meanwhile, it’s being recommended that CRE owners find new ways to get more fresh air in their buildings.
KIPP DC schools have heeded experts’ advice and has invested in several changes to increase safety as it pertains to in-building air travel. The school network has invested approximately $50,000 to reprogram systems to bring in more fresh air and install UV-C lights inside of building air handlers that are designed to kill viruses.
Meanwhile the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), which writes standards for indoor air systems, determined that COVID-19’S in-building airborne transmission is enough of a threat that building systems should be altered in order to stop it. Building engineers note the most the critical measure is to ensure air inside the building turns over often, mixes in a lot of fresh air and that it moves through filters that remove viruses.
“It’s the combination of ventilation and filtration that results in the indoor air quality,” Bahnfleth told The Washington Post. “So if you’ve got a good level of filtration and a good level of ventilation, that could be sufficient in a lot of environments.
Other experts recommended electronic devices like UV-C lights that can kill viruses that might slip past filters.
“Every 10 minutes, we’d like the air to touch a filter, or get diluted, or start to hit an electronic,” Raj Setty, an engineer who is president and principal at Setty and Associates and is advising KIPP DC on the reopening, told The Washington Post. “Something to kill things in the air.”
CRE owners will need strong connectivity to help keep buildings safe
The COVID-19 pandemic has posed somewhat of an uphill climb for CRE owners as a lot of companies are thinking of making their current telework policy a permanent one. Even the tenants who are willing to return to their building will want assurances that it’s safe to do so, however. If air quality control is one way to enhance safety as the experts say, it will be critical for CRE owners to ensure their wireless network is working so there are no lapses in their HVAC system’s operability.
A lot of tenants who decide to return to their offices may have been on the fence about doing so. CRE owners must do everything in their power to reassure their tenants that they made the right choice in coming back, and that starts with having a strong wireless network. There was a time that tenants demanded excellent coverage so they could do their work efficiently, but it’s even more critical that CRE owners meet those demands now that wireless connectivity could keep their tenants healthy while they are at work.