As the economy reopens, many safety protocols are being put in place to aid infection control in commercial buildings, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical barriers, handwashing stations, no-contact sales, socially distant seating areas, and other protective measures are just a few.
Many of these safety measures may become permanent fixtures, leading those who plan new commercial construction projects to take a second look at their blueprints, material selections, and overall designs to see whether they accommodate infection control practices.
Designing spaces that keep us safe is always a priority but, in light of recent events, there is more action that can be taken to further enhance infection control in commercial construction projects.
Select Proper Materials and Surfaces
Traditionally, nonporous surfaces have been the go-to materials for maintaining sanitary conditions and preventing the spread of infection. Covid-19 has challenged that notion. Non-porous surfaces like stainless steel and composites have been shown to sustain droplets infected with coronavirus longer than many porous surfaces.
Materials like wood, leather, cloth upholstery, and other porous materials are worth a second look when designing spaces, as these types of surfaces diminish the lifespan of some pathogens that land on them. Using antimicrobial surfaces is still recommended but, no matter what surface you choose, diligent sanitation practices need to be followed.
Design for Social Distance
There are major considerations for both private and communal spaces in commercial buildings. In office settings, each individual will ideally be given their own office or a larger workstation. Shared offices, cramped call centers, crowded elevators, and narrow hallways are concerning for many business owners who want to protect their workforce. While some project owners of new or renovated buildings are looking for ways to expand areas to accommodate social distancing, others are looking to add multiple smaller communal areas like break rooms, conference rooms, lounges and cafeterias to minimize large group gatherings.
There’s concern over the wellbeing of visitors as well. Waiting areas or lobbies need to minimize congestion and allow enough room for seating, and reception desks need to have proper spacing. When designing buildings to accommodate social distancing, project owners may need to consider a larger footprint. Working with an experienced construction manager and architect can help maximize space while still ensuring safety. You’ll also want to involve a commercial interior designer to help you select proper signage, furniture finishes and fabrics, workstations, and partitions.
To prevent spread of infectious diseases in health care facilities, there are strict protocols for air exchange rates, negative and positive pressure rooms, and other ventilation standards. Owners building other types of commercial construction projects may want to consider similar measures as they plan their designs. Now more than ever, project owners and construction managers need to vet HVAC systems and subcontractors for commercial structures to ensure proper airflow.
Project owners should also consider how they can improve outdoor spaces to take advantage of the ventilation system that nature provides, along with its natural disinfectant: the sun. Designing outdoor seating areas with shade awnings, natural barriers, walking trails, and more provides additional meeting spaces when weather permits and also encourages healthy activities. These and other uses of outdoor spaces should be considered when doing a site evaluation.
Design No-Contact Entryways
Building designers may specify separate entryways and exits to help minimize overlap and foot traffic. Though a seemingly small measure, signage plays a pivotal role in ensuring guests enter and exit a facility properly to minimize contact.
Eliminating the need to touch door handles or pin pads for entry is another way to mitigate the spread of infection. Installing simple foot pulls to doors and using a scanner rather than requiring manual passcode entry to secure areas are good practices. While automatic motion sensor doorways are commonplace for entry into a commercial facility, increased use for interior spaces further promotes contactless passage throughout commercial buildings.
Recent events have brought new challenges to light for commercial construction project owners. Before moving forward with design plans that were drawn up months ago, it’s worth a second look to see where improvements can be made to minimize the spread of infection for workers and guests. Reach out to The Samuels Group to learn more about responsible building design and construction, and access our guide, 10 Questions to Ask a Commercial Builder, to help guide the conversation.