According to researchers, the average person spends 90% of their lives indoors, or 72 years of an 80 year life (1). Before the pandemic, the idea of a healthy building was gaining in popularity and some of the concepts like noise reduction and healthy light seemed like good ideas, but hardly urgent or pressing to update. As the COVID-19 pandemic nears the two year mark, facility managers know all too well at this point the health concerns people have inside of their buildings and it primarily deals with one of those healthy building concepts - air quality. As Amazon’s chief health officer, Vin Gupta, recently stated, the biggest health challenge for public and work spaces this century will be ventilation and air quality (1). So what does it mean for a building to have healthy air quality, how does this change what it means to be a smart building and what can you do to stay in front of this change? Let’s take a closer look.
By now, you probably know the importance of air ventilation as it pertains to helping fight the spread of COVID-19. An under ventilated room becomes a big problem these days. According to Joseph Allen, Director of the Harvard Healthy Buildings Program, a poorly ventilated room can infect someone well beyond six feet of physical distance. It also has been a common characteristic of the big outbreaks we have seen (2). Step one is to take stock of the HVAC equipment you have running everyday. This equipment should be constantly checked, maintained and in some cases, planned for replacement or repairs. Step two should be upgraded air filters. MERV 13 filters are recommended. Prior to the pandemic, a lot of buildings used MERV 8 filters, but they only capture about 20% of airborne particles compared to MERV 13 which captures close to 90% (2). Finally, there should be protocols in place to open your buildings for fresh air to flush out the recycled air.
Transparency into the products your district is using to keep your buildings healthy is another trend. Being able able to easily reference the characteristics of your filters or door handles, for example, will show your district stakeholders that you have an eye on making your buildings healthier. It’s also not out of the realm of possibility to start receiving questions from community stakeholders, like parents, on the types of products you are using in the buildings. Being prepared to field those questions and being confident in your answers will go a long way these days.
Smart Includes Healthy
Prior to the pandemic, smart buildings typically meant energy efficient, frictionless security and convenience (3). Going forward, smart also needs to include a health component. Thinking about OT (Operational Technology) and building automation, it’s not only about when the doors should automatically lock but also about energy management and air quality controls. Building capacity and minimizing congestion is another concern that smart buildings will need to address (3). As always, when it comes to smart building technology and with some new controls in place, your IT team needs to be on board with implementing and understanding the technology as well as making it secure. As more things come online from an OT side, there are great chances for security breaches that can take systems offline or mess with your systems, like turning temperatures up or down in your building (3).
Help is on the Way
If it feels like managing your facilities was way easier two years ago than today, don’t worry you are not alone! The pace of change and speed in which all of these healthy building requirements have taken place is a lot to react to, all while managing your existing systems and teams. Your work is also now more front and center with others. That’s a lot of new pressure and stress that you didn’t have before. So how do you get funding for some of these updates and changes? This week a large infrastructure bill, called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, was signed into federal law, of which there is considerable grant money available specifically for schools to use to make improvements to their buildings. With over $500M available, the grants are for projects that include implementing technology and services to reduce energy costs and improve student and teacher health (4). This provides a potential path for your to upgrade your facilities to make them healthier and smarter without dipping into your district’s budget. To learn more, click here.
The other proactive thing you can be doing right now is investing in a work order and electronic facility records (EFR) system. As mentioned earlier, keeping a close eye on your assets, especially those tied to the health and safety of your buildings is critical today. Having an electronic work order system in place that auto-schedules maintenance and manage inventories is really a necessity at this point. Also, bringing your facilities digital so that you have electronic copies of your assets which make it easier to view histories, plan capital expenditures and log work will make your life easier in the long run. You will also be able to add and integrate building automation technology into your facilities with work order and EFR systems in place. Finally, outside services are available to help survey and digitally build your facilities and assets. These services give districts a huge head start because the grunt work of cataloging and tagging your assets in an EFR system is done for you. At MasterLibrary, we also offer these on-site services.
If you haven’t started getting your facilities healthier and smarter, it’s not too late to start. The sooner you can put a plan together and implement the necessary processes and technologies, the faster your district will start to benefit. To learn more about how facility managers are making the transition to these changes, check out our resource page on Next-Gen Facility Managers.
(1) Rosenbaum, Eric. “Amazon’s top doctor on why air quality is the biggest workplace health challenge of this century.” CNBC, October 22, 2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/22/amazons-top-doctor-on-biggest-work-health-challenge-of-the-century.html
(2) Caminiti, Susan. “Healthy buildings can help stop Covid-19 spread and boost worker productivity.” CNBC, Oct 25, 2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/06/healthy-buildings-can-help-stop-covid-19-boost-worker-productivity.html
(3) Hodgson, Karyn. “Smart Building Trends to Watch.” Security Magazine, Nov 11, 2021. https://www.securitymagazine.com/articles/96509-smart-building-trends-to-watch
(4) Hendrix, Charles. “$1.2 trillion infrastructure plan looks like another windfall for schools.” District Administration, Nov 8, 2021. https://districtadministration.com/infrastructure-jobs-act-contains-billions-school-education-biden-congress/?eml=20211109&oly_enc_id=7676G8111245F1R