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The contribution of green buildings in the fight against COVID-19

An analysis by China Green Building Council

December 2019 saw an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) which has now spread widely around the world.

Prevention and control are key elements when facing major public health emergencies. To contain the epidemic, the areas for residents’ activities are restricted to communities and remaining indoors. Therefore, as a gathering base for most people, buildings now play a significant role in preventing and controlling the COVID-19 virus. Community and building-based prevention and control measures have become one of the most important methods of fighting against the epidemic. These include self-isolation, community management, elevator disinfection, environmental cleaning, open windows for natural ventilation, etc.

Green building is a milestone in the building technology development process in China. The latest national standard of China for green building assessment is Assessment Standard for Green Building (GB/T 50378-2019) (hereinafter referred to as ASGB), which was issued in March 2019. ASGB adheres to the technical route of people-oriented, performance-based and quality-improved, while aiming at implementing the concept of green development and expanding the connotation of green buildings. GB/T 50378-2019 absorbs new technologies and new concepts in the development of building technology and takes into account the safety, durability, health, liveability and accessibility for occupants of all ages.

The criteria for green buildings, as outlined in ASGB certification, are beneficial to the COVID-19 prevention and control. The positive effects of green buildings in the COVID-19 prevention and control can be summarised into five pillars:

  1. Providing the basic functions for epidemic prevention and control
    The requirements of ASGB that contribute to COVID-19 prevention and control: for the occupants, include natural ventilation, indoor disinfection and cleaning and avoiding gathering; for property management, include waste management, information publicity, information management, air quality and water quality monitoring, stable operation of building equipment and skills in responding to the epidemic.
  2. Providing convenience and facilities for epidemic prevention and control
    Providing convenience and facilities for epidemic prevention and control are the basic guarantee for the orderly progress in epidemic prevention and control. The requirements include: enable buildings occupants and site workers to provide quick access to medical equipment and facilities; effective personnel and vehicle control; providing conditions to add relevant signs to alert people; changing the room function when necessary (medical rooms, transitional residential rooms, isolation and observation rooms, supplies storage rooms, etc.)
  3. Reducing the risk of infection and preventing cross infection
    In addition to providing the basic functions and convenient conditions for epidemic prevention and control, the building itself should also “isolate” the virus as much as possible to reduce the risk of infection. The requirements of ASGB in this regard include: controlling the collusion of air and pollutants; controlling the exhaust backflow of kitchens and bathrooms; setting up effective water seals to reduce the risk of virus transmission through drainage pipes and stools; controlling the concentration of indoor particulate matter; optimising the building space and plane layout to enhance the effectiveness of natural ventilation; controlling air conditioning system by zones; well-designed site wind environment for dissipation of viruses and harmful gases.
  4. Promoting and protecting the health of occupants
    Currently there is no specific antiviral drug against the novel coronavirus. COVID-19 is actually a self-limiting disease, which mainly depends on the body’s immunity. ASGB regulates water quality, air quality, fitness and antibacterial function building materials to promote occupant’s health in order to reduce the risk of getting disease and enhance the ability of resisting viruses. The requirements in this area include: the concentration of indoor air pollutants such as ammonia, formaldehyde, benzene, total volatile organic compounds, radon, PM2.5 and PM10 shall be controlled; moisture condensation shall not appear on the inner surface to avoid the growth of pathogenic bacteria such as mould; smoking shall be prohibited in the building; water safety should be ensured; setting sports and fitness venues to promote physical movement; using green building material with antibacterial function.
  5. Stabilise work and living environment during the epidemic prevention and control
    During the period of the epidemic, maintaining a stable work and living environment is essential for prevention and control. The requirements of ASGB in this area include: ensure occupants’ health from water quality; providing convenient public service facilities (supermarkets, vegetable markets, hospitals and other public service facilities).

When facing COVID-19, ASGB plays an active role in providing a basic guarantee and convenient conditions for COVID-19 prevention and control which is beneficial to the victory against COVID-19.

With the development of building technologies in China, buildings start to emphasise their health performance. Assessment Standard for Healthy Building (T/ASC02-2016) was issued in 2016 which specifically focuses on the health performance of building. It is thought that as a result of COVID-19 more attention should be paid to the health performance of buildings, in order to make a greater contribution to the response to major public health emergencies in the future.