The global COVID-19 pandemic is placing unprecedented pressures on our society and resources. With the UK lockdown still very much in force many of our offices and shops are now sitting empty.
However, that's not the case for all buildings. Many, such as Data Centres, Art Galleries, and Schools must be kept operational to maintain our nation's treasures, protect essential infrastructure and support the children of our key workers.
But how we operate these buildings, and many others that will gradually be brought back online will be different. Indeed, in the short to medium term, how we use and occupy a wide range of buildings will be significantly influenced by our new experiences of working from home on-mass. We will not merely go back to how things were before COVID-19.
For example, how we use ventilation systems to improve the health of building occupants will need to change, and so will the management of occupancy levels to maximise the implementation of the Government's behavioural recommendations. How we alter the traditional recirculation of exhaust air to save energy will need to be changed; the use of certain types of cross-over heat recovery devices will need to be turned off.
The Government have recognised the need for various buildings and infrastructure to be continued and maintained going forward, and the DofE has published the requirements for operating schools which includes the recognition of the engineering systems within the buildings.
Engineering skills in these changing circumstances are crucial to minimising potential risks to building occupants, and this is clearly where the industry needs to increase collaboration and sharing of experiences.
Never has the need for engineering expertise and skills in the built environment been needed more. Some of the areas to be considered include:
- Maximising the use of fresh air to purge buildings
- Development of new technology to reduce risks
- Avoiding the recirculation of exhaust air into the supply system
- Humidity and temperature strategies
- Maintaining equipment while respecting social distancing
- Managing the level of occupancy while observing Government guidelines
For the foreseeable future, engineers and maintenance technicians will need to work together like never before to help occupants stay safe and well inside non-domestic buildings.
SPIE UK Energy & Engineering Director