How to Prevent Viruses from Spreading Indoors
Updated: May 27
After a year of lockdowns and millions infected, scientists studying the novel coronavirus have a new "playbook" to combat the spread of Covid-19. According to the Wall Street Journal, the playbook is the result of months of investigations on how the coronavirus spreads and affects the body. Their findings: mask-wearing, "worker pods," and good airflow are key factors in curbing the spread of infections in indoor spaces as the majority of Americans wait for vaccines to become widely available.
As the country moves to reopen schools, businesses and other public spaces, experts recommend replacing stagnant indoor air as often as possible, based on evidence suggesting that the virus can be transmitted through the air, regardless of social distancing measures. Large gathering places like restaurants, schools, offices, etc. are constantly recirculating indoor air with their HVAC systems to maintain a comfortable environment. The problem is, without the addition of fresh, clean air from outside the amount of pathogens and other indoor air pollutants only multiply. That applies to the air inside your home, too — without proper filtration and/or ventilation, your indoor air quality will only continue to worsen, harboring viruses, pollutants and other pathogens.
Exchanging stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air is crucial in creating and maintaining healthy indoor air quality, and, luckily, is easy to do. Jianshun Zhang, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Syracuse University, told the WSJ one of the best ways to promote effective natural ventilation is to open windows and doors on either side of your home to create a cross flow of fresh air. This kind of crossflow allows Mother Nature to exchange the air inside your home with cleaner outdoor air — and for free — but when the goal is to complete air exchanges rapidly, some mechanical assistance is required.
All HVAC systems require a certain amount of roof ventilation, like passive roof vents, attic and gable fans, and powered vents to actually expel stagnant indoor air, but they are not designed to draw air from the outside. Expensive filtration and purification systems can supplement in some cases, but are not always a viable solution for everyone. There are some systems, like whole house fans, that are designed to not only expel dirty indoor air, but also to complete air exchanges with fresh, clean outside air in a matter of minutes, and for cheap.
The cost savings associated with whole house fans are just as impressive as the ability to clean indoor air. When used in conjunction with other HVAC systems, studies show whole house fans can actually reduce energy costs by up to 90% and operate for a fraction of the cost of other systems, without the need for additional filters or purification systems. Whole house fans are nothing new, but technological advancements have only made these systems better, resulting in more energy-efficient, quieter, and longer lasting fans — with little to no maintenance required and manufacturer warranties, they are among the few home appliances you'll only have to install once, and enjoy the benefits for years to come.
While the Covid-related lockdowns will be short-lived, the renewed focus on indoor air quality will linger for generations. Even legislators and developers are exploring ways to ensure optimal ventilation becomes a standard in new construction, meaning cost-effective and efficient ventilation systems like whole house fans will play an important part in protecting us from airborne pathogens, coronavirus or otherwise, well into the future.