Optima’s Post Pandemic Design Recommendations

There is a lot of speculation of how best to combat pandemics within the built environment for the future. There is a public fear about being indoors in close proximity with other people. This applies to the current pandemic as well as future pandemics. Optima Engineering has always had the goal of making new and existing buildings as safe, comfortable, and efficient as possible. However, those three items often conflict with each other. Therefore, our first goal must be Safety.

With that in mind, we feel that a four-prong approach is best for all building types:
1. Limit and control access to the building.
2. Minimize what has to be touched in the building.
3. For items that have to be touched, provide materials that do not allow pathogens to live on them so that they cannot be transmitted.
4. When pathogens do make it into the building, try to eliminate them.

Number 1: Do our best to only allow authorized people into the building who are healthy. Some buildings have to let the general public in, but many do not. You can use technology to limit access to authorized people. In addition, you can utilize technology to screen those who are authorized by various means, including temperature readings.
For public buildings, you can still scan for temperature, but you can also integrate door access with the number of people inside the space, limiting the capacity without having someone at the door with a counter.

Number 2: Hopefully we have reduced the number of people with pathogens from entering the building with Number 1, but there will still be people who enter who are infected. So Number 2 is to reduce the amount of things which need to be touched, thus reducing the amount of pathogen transmission on surfaces. This includes door handles, push buttons (elevators), toilet and sink handles, switches, thermostats, etc. All of these items can be handled via voice or motion or Bluetooth proximity with readily available technologies. We are all used to telling Alexa to do things in our homes, but we are not utilizing these technologies on a large scale for our commercial buildings.

Number 3: Even though we have reduced the items that need to be touched, there are still items that will need to be touched. Se need to be smarter about what those materials are made of. Copper is one of those materials that will actually kill viruses when they land on the copper surface. Also, certain materials allow viruses to live for days on them: the design community should avoid those materials!

Number 4: Optima calls this the “Kill the Tiny Bastards” stage. In spite of the first three items, people who are infected will be within our buildings with or without a mask and will breathe out pathogens, which have the potential to infect others in the building. At this point, we need to do our best to eliminate the pathogens. There are a variety of methods to do this, but there is no “One size fits all” solution to this problem. Existing technologies that can assist in eliminating pathogens include UV lighting, flushing out the building with outside air, controlling the humidity within the building, and enhanced air filtration, which includes one of our recommendations, needlepoint bipolar ionization. While “Dilution is the Solution”, i.e. flushing out the air within the building with fresh air from outside the building, this is not a good solution if your climate is anywhere other than San Diego. UV lighting and humidity control can help, but they are more like “wait for them to come to you” solutions, while needlepoint bipolar ionization is more like a “search and kill” solution. Again, none of these options will eliminate pathogens, and all buildings are designed, built, and operate differently and in different climates, so you need a building design professional (and we happen to know some) to help you with your assessment of your new or existing building.