As people return to the office, local governments face a number of health concerns. Not all of these are directly related to COVID-19, although many are. Preserving the health of employees is paramount, but that means ensuring that a safe return happens. It also means dealing with other concerns, such as the risk of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks from stagnant water or an accumulation of pests due to the building having been left empty. So, what should local governments think about with the return to the office? And how can you implement the necessary changes while still prioritizing building energy efficiency and water conservation?
A core concern is to think of ways you can go back to not what was there before, but to something considerably better, improving health, safety, and sustainability.
Thermal Temperature Scanning or Screening
Some buildings have been adding thermal temperature scanners to entrances. These systems are designed to determine body temperature, and thus detect fever, in a way that is unobtrusive and doesn’t slow the flow of people into the building.
However, while these scanners can indeed detect if somebody has a fever, they are not highly effective at reducing COVID-19, especially when it comes to detecting breakthrough infections. Not everyone with COVID-19 gets a fever, so thermal temperature scanners should not be overly relied on. They may also detect individuals with other illnesses. However, the low effectiveness is something to consider. They are, however, more useful for determining occupancy.
While many people are still working from home, or are able to do so with minimal inconvenience, it is a great time to update systems for monitoring energy use. Smart whole-building meters can monitor energy use better, helping you determine what is working, and what isn’t, in regards to your building energy efficiency. As people return, you can see how much energy different functions use, and this can give you a really good basis for analysis.
Any steps to reduce energy use without affecting productivity should be looked into.
Sensor-Based Occupant Tracking
In many cases, you will be bringing people back into the office in stages. Sensor-based occupant tracking can be used to help enforce capacity limits on canteens, rec rooms and other public areas, encouraging your employees to stagger usage and minimize the amount of time spent in more open areas.
Moving forward, this kind of occupant tracking can be useful for finding people if the building has to be evacuated or for assessing internal traffic patterns in general, so it’s a good investment that will pay off long after the pandemic is over.
Smart HVAC Systems
One of the biggest societal changes after the 1918 influenza was improved building ventilation. Many people are saying that the same needs to happen now. Upgrading your HVAC systems to use HEPA filters can be expensive in older buildings, but is great for infection control, improved indoor air quality, and sustainability.
Smart HVAC systems take things a step further by allowing the system to adjust the temperature according to usage and occupancy. Combined with occupant tracking, the system can literally change the airflow in real-time as people enter and leave. These systems are new and still somewhat expensive, but even in the interim, you can upgrade HVAC systems and at least adjust by time and estimated occupancy.
In addition to Smart HVAC systems, products using UV-C Technology provide clean, disinfected air to a building. When outside air passes through UV-C, a type of ultraviolet light wavelength, the light alters the DNA of pathogens and microorganisms, such as mold spores, bacteria and viruses. It’s like installing a giant light bulb inside an HVAC unit.
The UV-C stops the pathogens from multiplying and returning to the air, and in return creates improved and safer air quality to an entire building.
UV-C is the only CDC-approved technology that provides both energy and maintenance savings while improving indoor air quality. It’s one product that provides multiple benefits.
Tracking Water Consumption
One issue with reopening buildings is stagnant water in the pipes, which can cause Legionnaires’ Disease. It’s vital for the pipes to be flushed before people move back in. However, the lack of occupancy also makes this a good time to install better systems for tracking water consumption. This can then allow for improved conservation of water resources.
More efficient use of water helps control costs and protects the environment. This includes the water used by the HVAC system as well as your plumbing (low flow toilets can make a huge difference, and closing bathrooms is a lot easier while you have fewer people in the office).
Bringing everyone back into the office is a chance to do things better. Improved energy and water efficiency, better ventilation, and occupancy tracking systems for your building will support safety and energy use, both now and in the future. To find out more about our building sustainability solutions, contact Envocore today.