Many apartments are taking precautions to ensure the safety of all residents by implementing new policies like closing common areas and issuing new cleaning schedules. They are also introducing more fresh air from outside into their HVAC system, so there is no recycled air. Read the article below for more on what steps these buildings are taking to protect their residents.
While apartment dwellers have spent the past two months socially distancing and minimizing time in common areas (or simply leaving town altogether), their building managers have hurried into action as well, instituting new policies including masks, cleaning schedules and package deliveries, all in an effort to keep residents as safe as possible.
They’ve also been grappling with a murkier problem: Protecting their residents from a virus that could potentially be airborne, and in some cases spread through air conditioning systems.
A study of how air currents spread Covid-19 throughout a Chinese restaurant made headlines earlier this month for its frightening implications about how the pathogen can scatter in enclosed spaces. And while there’s still a lack of conclusive information about how and if the virus spreads through ventilation systems—and if it does, how to stop it—managers of dense apartment buildings are eager to head the problem off at the pass.
Adding More Fresh Air
The biggest step most buildings are taking to minimize the risk of viral spread via HVAC systems is in many ways also the most straightforward: introducing more fresh outside air into their ventilation systems.
Increasing the percentage of outside air in a building “is the most concrete thing that I’ve heard designers being asked to actually implement,” said Kevin Edwards, a senior air quality analyst with New York-based environmental engineering firm AKRF. “You’re preventing recirculation of potentially ‘infected’ air, for lack of a better word, so you’re limiting the amount of time exposure happens.”
Two professional associations—the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE)—have released guidance documents for buildings regarding Covid-19, Mr. Edwards said, and both include recommendations for increasing the ratio of outside air being circulated in buildings.
“At 50 West Street [in New York City’s Financial District], we had the HVAC system altered in early March to be sure that there’s no recycled air,” said Seth Coston of Time Equities. “We had it set up so that there’s no air being recycled, and we’re supplying 100% outside air to all sections of the building.”
The introduction of outdoor air creates its own attendant demands in terms of the need for further air purification, and the capability for changing the ratios of fresh versus recycled air varies across buildings and air systems.
“Some systems can be upgraded [to include more fresh air], some cannot, depending on their age,” said Dr. Herman Sabath, founder of New York-based firm Indoor Environmental Diagnostics and Solutions (IEDS). “After this crisis, designers, architects, builders, and developers will have to think differently. The market will demand better ventilation systems, and this will be a definite new step and new requirement.”