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Last edited 05 Jan 2022
Effective ventilation in buildings
The World Health Organisation has published information about the airborne transmission of COVID-19. This information further emphasises the importance of having good, effective ventilation in a building.
Ensuring correct air change rates in an occupied space has always been an important design consideration - one perhaps perceived as only being critical in healthcare settings. Given our ‘new normal’, the emphasis on correct air change rates across all occupied settings is becoming crucial.
The air change rate (ACR) in a room is a function of the ventilation supply or extract flowrate (in l/s or m³/h) and a function of the volume of the room (m³). The resultant air change rate, normally expressed as air changes per hour (ACH) (h-1), gives us an indication of how many times per hour the ventilation system provides the room with new fresh air.
Ventilation is paramount to dilute the concentration of airborne contaminants and it is important to understand how contaminants are diluted, in order to establish procedures, i.e. time that has to pass between patients entering a room in a hospital.
 Making calculations
By means of visualising the air change rate in a room, if we have an empty glass simulating our room - which is sitting under a tap acting as our ventilation system - and the tap is turned on the equivalent air change rate is a count of how many times the glass can be filled with water in a certain period of time. If some or all of the water misses the glass and goes directly down the drain, the air change rate is effectively reduced. As in the case of a ventilation system, consideration would also need to be given as to what the consequences may be if the tap water were contaminated.
If the source of contaminants is still in the room, the ventilation system will eventually provide a steady state concentration of contaminants, which is diluted if compared to the source. If there are (airborne) contaminants in the room, but the source has left (e.g. the patient has left the surgery) the ventilation system will purge the contaminants with every air change.
The decay of the concentration can be expressed by the equation:
We do have to take into account the fact that the air supplied must be fresh, i.e. not recirculated and that the ventilation must be effective; fresh air must not be short circuited into the extract and it must reach everywhere in the room, to avoid areas of high contaminant concentration (stagnation).
This article originally appeared on the BSRIA website under the title, "New World Health Organisation information emphasises effective ventilation in buildings." It was published July 2020.
- Air change rates.
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