COVID-19 has had an undeniable impact on how we live – but how could the pandemic potentially change the way we approach ventilation as we learn from the coronavirus and tackle potential airborne infection control?

A fantastic article put together by our specialist Mechanical Engineering team has some thought-provoking ideas on how the pandemic could shape ventilation systems moving forwards.

There is an abundance of research into the importance of ventilation in buildings and yet, confusingly, for much of the pandemic the focus was on deep cleaning everything and avoiding surface-contact, while not noticing the air we breathe. As Simon commented in his article, “several months into the pandemic in the UK, the World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledged that there was emerging evidence that the virus could be spread by tiny particles suspended in the air, and that such airborne transmission could not be ruled out in crowded, closed or poorly ventilated settings”.

Research points to transmission being far higher in indoors spaces than outdoors, and one study showed that the odds of catching the virus from an infected person are roughly 19 times higher indoors than in open air. So-called ‘super-spreader’ events occur overwhelmingly in indoor venues, especially poorly ventilated ones (meaning air is not being exchanged, diluted, or filtered). One particularly interesting and informative case involves a restaurant in Guangzhou where an “asymptomatic COVID-19 patient infected nine other people, many of whom were sitting at other tables but were in the direct line of the air conditioner, which was blowing air from one end of the restaurant to the other”.

If the smaller, airborne particles (aerosols) are crucial, we should focus as much on ventilating our offices, public buildings, schools and hospitals  as we do on distancing, masks, and hand-washing.

The main forms of mitigation involve either diluting particles presence by exchanging air in the room with air from outside, or removing viral particles from the air with filters. There may be a number of strategies for countering poor ventilation and virus-laden particles indoors in this way, such as:

  1. Hospital grade ventilation systems becoming the norm across all varieties of buildings
  2. Changes to the maintenance and cleaning of ventilation systems, possibly with legislation and certification
  3. Minimising transmission through logistics e.g. minimum one hour between patients in hospital rooms to avoid cross-contamination


HSE guidance contains generalised advice: good ventilation can help reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus, so focus on improving general ventilation, preferably through fresh air or mechanical systems. Where possible, consider ways to maintain and increase the supply of fresh air, for example, by opening windows and doors” (unless of course they are Fire Doors). 

A summary of COVID-19 guidance has been developed by the Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Associations (REHVA), with additional content from Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) and Building Engineering Services Association (BESA).  Click here to view a copy.


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