Building Safety and Efficiency Post COVID-19
CW’s webinar discusses the need for green and efficient buildings, and more... May 2020
CONSTRUCTION WORLD (CW) organised a free webinar on ‘Building Safety and Efficiency Post COVID-19’ with a distinguished set of experts. Moderated by Pratap Padode, Editor-in-Chief, CW, the panel included Ashish Rakheja, President, International Fire & Safety Association of India (FSAI); Sanjay Seth, CEO, GRIHA Council; Richie Mittal, National President, ISHRAE; and Vishal Kapur, Chair-Technical Committee, ISHRAE.
An NCRB report on fire safety in India indicates that 12,748 Indians died in fires; 1,719 died from electrical short-circuits; 56 per cent of all fires are in homes; and 1,967 women died of cooking gas burst. Thirty-five Indians die of fire accidents everyday and 55 per cent of fire deaths are just from five states: Madhya Pradesh (1,986), Maharashtra (1,896), Gujarat (1,194), Chhattisgarh (976) and Odisha (897).”
On another note, he remarked that buildings use nearly 40 per cent of a city’s electric power and have begun to offer myriad services, including indoor air quality – expected to become a major performing metric – besides HVAC, maintenance services, security and, notably, fire detection.
He added that the current pandemic really highlights the need to adhere to planning and design. “We need to start looking at transformational changes in the buildings we design. There will be paradigm shifts in the design of various segments in real estate.”
Now, people will seriously think about air quality. Dilution in the air is the solution to the problem. Potentially, air quality will be the highest priority of every building.”
Here, Kapur observed, “Unfortunately, a lot of us in India are using air quality protocols, norms or suggestions possibly only for points and ratings, but the real requirement from a long-term perspective is missing. I have walked into hospitals during COVID with air-handling units running and realised there is 100 per cent outdoor air supply and the filters are just not there! So will we forget this after six months or a year?
Or will we take this seriously for the future?” Further, he added, “We have 1.2 million deaths because of air pollution and yet most people are not bothered about the air they breathe. That needs to change not just because of COVID but permanently – whether it comes in as regulations or self-awareness.”
“Our recommendations as guidelines are basically reinforcing the basics that were always part of design, but forgotten,” highlighted Rakheja.
So even in COVID, air-conditioning and ventilation systems can be safely operated in residential, commercial and healthcare spaces with specific controls for temperature, humidity and the amount of outdoor air coming in, maintaining hygiene levels and improving filtration points.”
Speaking of retrofitting existing systems, Kapur said, “You need a specialised qualified designer or contractor. That said, most systems can be retrofitted or modified without changing the entire system.You would need to change some components or parts. For example, our document says you can add a smaller treated fresh air unit to bring in fresh air or find other ways without changing the entire system. But again, these are required anyway, not only because of COVID.”
There is clearly a cost reduction if you follow some protocols, said Mittal. “So cost reduction is one angle on the commercial side.
On the residential side, probably just 5-6 per cent of people will use air-conditioning for residential applications. As of now, we recommend cost analysis be done on a life-cycle basis, not on the basis of initial or running costs. Then, there will be a better understanding of the saving.”
One lesson of the pandemic is that we cannot afford the luxury of not going green any further. “With the current crisis, green buildings become a huge opportunity for economic revival as well,” said Seth.
According to Kapur, the people who understand the technology do not understand the applications, and vice-versa. “You don’t have the right people operating the systems; you don’t have the same person understanding the technology and the application. Narrowing this gap is the only way clients can actually get the benefits. The education of the entire spectrum – from the operator and designer to the implementer and person conceiving the whole system – has to be thorough. Till then, I don’t see technology improving much in India.”
The healthy buildings we are talking about in the COVID era are an integral part of green building design, points out Rakheja. One challenge he highlights is that ‘green’ has still been elite. “It has not filtered down to the bottom level. That’s where the disconnect is – we have not connected with the common person.”
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