Guth Deconzo Consulting Engineers vice president, Jeremy McDonald, explains why improvements to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) are important to move beyond COVID-19 and to build a defence against future pandemics.

Fixing sick buildings is much better than fixing sick people.  Improvements to ventilation and the use of high-performance air filters and other air purification technologies are necessary in this day and age. Buildings that have deferred maintenance and investment in modern HVAC may require more complicated and expensive solutions. 

Although some buildings may require an expensive investment, we need to weigh this against the cost of our health and well-being.

There are plenty of low cost or no cost solutions that can drastically improve IAQ, such as cracking a window which reduces the intensity and quantity of virus particles and their ability to spread to more people.  There is a historical precedent for this common-sense strategy.

In response to the Pandemic of 1918 when more than 20,000 New Yorkers died, ventilation was seen as one of the key attributes to protect residents from the devastation of the pandemic. Back then, New York City officials dictated that building heating systems were to be designed and sized to operate with all the windows open, since it was recognized that ventilation was key to purge the virus from indoor spaces. If it worked 100 years ago, it will work today.

One of the main challenges in getting people to pay more attention to poor indoor air quality is that the problem is invisible. Because air is so fundamental to our existence, most of us don’t even think about it but HVAC engineers think about air every day, all day and it’s time to listen to them in the fight against airborne illness. 

My frustration, which motivates me to write and speak out on the issue of air quality, is that our leaders are not getting it and they aren’t listening to engineers.

But public health officials aren’t really talking about indoor air quality either, so a lot of politicians probably don’t want to go against the narrative.

We are constantly hearing 'Wash your hands, wear a mask, and socially distance-where possible.' We need to add simple, yet time-tested ventilation strategies to our messaging, which we all know implicitly makes sense to folks from all political persuasions.

Perhaps with improved messaging from our leaders and initiatives to fix our broken HVAC systems we can truly address this pandemic without arguing about the viability of masking and vaccines.

It is clear that vaccines are a key tool in beating this pandemic. But, without addressing the fundamental issue of indoor air quality, we may be putting a "BAND-AID" on the current problem, missing out on the opportunity to improve public health for the long term.

About the author

Jeremy McDonald, 54, is vice president of Guth Deconzo Consulting Engineers. He is an engineer with  more than 25 years of experience in HVAC design, energy services, commissioning and the construction management industry. His expertise includes indoor air quality assessments, with a focus on higher education and healthcare (hospitals/nursing homes) facilities. To read and download his “COVID-19: Business Best Practices Guide” visit:


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