What Makes Building Ventilation Good Enough to Withstand a Pandemic?

Roof ventilation

Here’s what it takes to upgrade HVAC systems — and how to know if particular indoor spaces have done it.

January 11, 2021
Linda Poon - Bloomberg

In October, students at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, held an intimate jazz concert at a bar downtown, with an audience of about 20 peers and faculty members — all of whom held digital passes indicating they’d recently tested negative for Covid-19. Two jazz ensembles performed, sometimes with masks and coverings for their instruments, and other times without.

Behind the scenes, mechanical engineering professor Ty Newell tinkered with the airflow, turning the exhaust and recirculation fans on and off at different points during the night. His students monitored for changes in the air quality, using a special instrument to measure the concentrations of carbon dioxide and fine particulate matter, both key to determining if a building is well ventilated.

The experiment sought to highlight the significance of proper ventilation, something that Newell said hadn’t been paid enough attention, until now. As evidence suggesting Covid-19 can spread through aerosol transmission continues to mount, health experts are focused less on sanitizing surfaces and more on improving indoor air quality. In December, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finally put out its ventilation recommendations to combat Covid-19, based on standards set by ASHRAE, or the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.



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