How Engineering Can Help Prevent Coronavirus
With Covid-19 cases rising, and so little known about the virus, it can be difficult to feel safe going anywhere right now. But as engineers, there’s always something we can do!
Scientists have established how contagious Covid-19 can be, and that the spread can be linked back to coughing, sneezing, sharing food, or basically anything that involves the spreading of droplets, which can then be transmitted into the air. At this point, this is something we’re all aware of. It can mean a lot for those going into work physically, living with others, or just trying to live their daily lives. How can we expect to not be within the same air space as others?
There are, of course, “low-tech” forms of changing our spaces in order to protect ourselves as much as possible, which we’ve seen many times in the last few months. Some of these low-tech options include the use of plexiglass, opening windows to create airflow, special seating arrangements, etc. But what about our heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that we use daily?
With the circumstances at hand, this is a great time to stop and think about how we can improve air quality in our buildings by using the technology we already use, like our HVAC systems. As is, HVAC systems have the potential to spread bacteria or viruses throughout a room, restaurant, office, or even separate rooms altogether. Even if you’re separated from others, reusing and recycling air can mean someone down the hall could potentially pass Covid-19 to you. Don’t be scared though, this doesn’t mean these systems are all bad! In fact, just a couple of changes in settings can really make a difference and create an even safer option for all of us!
Landlords, building owners and managers, or you (if you own your home or office) can configure ducted HVAC systems in order to increase the rate at which inside air and outside air is exchanged. There has been a lot of thought around how to create a better system for energy conservation, which includes reusing the air in our spaces. This isn’t best option for viral infections, however, and recirculating air is crucial. By increasing the rate of air flow from outside to inside, rather than reusing the air, we bring new air in and release air that could normally distribute the virus. In addition to these changes, rather than shutting off the HVAC systems at night or on the weekends, keeping them running is helpful to ensure air is always circulating and renewing.
Air filtration systems are some of the most efficient and effective methods for purifying air through HVAC systems, although others include irradiation and thermal sterilization, and more. Air filtration systems can also be beneficial to anyone in your home or office, as they can capture particles in the air and reduce the spread of bacteria and viruses. Of course, this all depends on what kind of filtering system you use. A HEPA filter, for example, will capture 99.99% of bacteria and virus particles, although they’re generally saved for spaces such as laboratories or surgical rooms, as these areas need to be as sterile as possible. Replacing filters in an HVAC system can sometimes be expensive, although can be extremely beneficial to our environments. (See below for a full diagram of different filters provided by McKinsey & Company)
Creating airflow pattern changes through an HVAC system can be another effective way to combat the virus. Think of an airplane or hospital room, for example. If one sets the system to mimic that of these spaces, the air will flow from ceiling to floor rather than from the front to the back of a room. This pattern allows multiple people to sit in one room together with less fear of spreading Covid-19. If Person A at the front of a room sneezes or coughs, the droplets will be sent to the ceiling or floor, rather than the back of the room. This decreases the chance of a Person B in the back of the room catching anything Person A could have had. Therefore hospitals have fewer transmission rates than a location such as a grocery store, or why an airplane is safer than an airport.
Unfortunately, there are still no individual filtering devices aside from the usage of masks, which has been the best way to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the last few months amongst those who work closely together or live with others. With cases on the rise, it’s important to understand how we can prevent the spread, and how our systems can be upgraded to do so. Luckily, just a few changes to a system we already have in place can do the trick!
Without engineering, we wouldn’t have systems in place, like HVAC, that can be recalibrated for our environmental or historical needs. While we will not always need to take these precautions, it’s important to know how these systems can help us, and what small changes to make!
Interested in more information regarding engineering in our daily lives? Come back to our blog weekly! At Davidovich & Associates, we have been reflecting on our new reality and the current situation within the design and construction community. We’ve restructured our multi-discipline departments, reduced overhead expenses, and implemented unlimited virtual meetings. We’re always excited to work with you! Send us an email to schedule a meeting with our team!