As the threat of Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage, the importance of prevention and protection by every Malaysian against the attack cannot be dismissed.

The stark reality that the virus – which is reportedly mutating as we speak – is in the very air that we breathe in, calls for urgent attention to indoor ventilation.

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EdgeProp Malaysia's Guidance Note for the improvement of indoor air quality and ventilation in buildings amid the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond

Do you realise that we spend an average of 90% of our time indoors? That everyday we breathe in 18kg to 19kg of air? That Covid-19 particles stay in the air in aerosolised form for up to 16 hours?

Crisis-preparedness is one grave lesson from the Covid-19 pandemic which is threatening to bring countries across the globe to their knees.

Hence the urgent need for a guide on the what, why and how-to on ventilation and indoor air quality (IAQ) practices in both existing and new buildings.

On July 13, 2021 the Government unveiled a guidance note on ventilation and IAQ for the residential, non-residential and public areas during the Covid-19 pandemic. Kudos!

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Government’s Guidance Note on ventilation and IAQ

Some key Government recommendations include the opening of windows and doors as frequently as possible to introduce fresh air flow. The use of air purifiers indoors is also highlighted. While it is vital to mitigate and improve the IAQ of existing buildings, it is imperative that new buildings be designed and built for the new normal.

Moving forward, besides the all-important location, pricing and sustainable upkeep attributes, investors must tick another box – ask if the building or project has been designed and built for crisis-preparedness such as an airborne disease. Is the building truly future-proofed?

Championing IAQ

IAQ is a subject that is actively championed by EdgeProp Malaysia. In fact, the EdgeProp Malaysia’s Best Managed & Sustainable Property Awards was launched in 2017 with IAQ being one of the Awards’ key criteria. The Awards, the first of its kind, is supported by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and relevant industry stakeholders.

In light of the need for a serious push for IAQ in confined spaces, EdgeProp Malaysia in early July independently curated a Guidance Note on improving IAQ and ventilation in buildings amid the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.

Not just existing buildings, but new buildings too

The EdgeProp Malaysia’s Guidance Note has been prepared based on desktop research from authorities locally and abroad. Input has also been sought from relevant industry stakeholders and experts including Malaysia’s key property developers who have been recognised as “Responsible Developers” for their contribution to sustainable development in the country.

Input was also sought from partners and judges of EdgeProp Malaysia’s Best Managed & Sustainable Property Awards, where the latter have shared past findings on buildings inspected during the Awards judging process in the pre-Covid-19 years.

Some of the buildings inspected were more than two decades old and they were audited for their IAQ adequacy and other sustainable attributes.

The panel of judges comprised Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association Malaysia (REHDA), Malaysian REIT Managers Association (MRMA), Architect Centre, Malaysian Institute of Property and Facility Managers (MIPFM), Building Management Association of Malaysia (BMAM), Chur Associates founder and managing partner Chris Tan, Association of Property & Facility Managers Singapore, Institute of Landscape Architects Malaysia (ILAM) and EdgeProp Malaysia, represented by editor-in-chief and managing editor Au Foong Yee as the chief judge.

It is noteworthy that EdgeProp Malaysia’s Guidance Note discusses both existing and new buildings. The importance of fresh air flow indoors, cross ventilation and the use of air-purifying installations or equipment in confined spaces is highlighted.

We also stress that new building designs must be future-proofed and, for instance, provide for a space that can be appropriately converted for self-quarantine purposes.

There must be in-built air-purifiers inside every lift, pantry and place of worship or other confined common areas in workplaces.

In drawing up the Guidance Note, we have taken cognisant of the current economic hardship in the country and the reality that some existing buildings have not been designed and built for IAQ.

Hence, there are recommendations on ways to mitigate the design weaknesses in the most practical manner.

We also suggest the recommendations be implemented complementarily with and in addition to other measures to reduce the disease transmission, such as requiring building occupants to practise safe distancing, wear masks, carry out regular disinfection of high-touch points within the building and other compliant operating procedures issued from the State and/or Federal Government from time to time.

The suggestions are neither prescriptive nor exhaustive. Rather, they are intended to assist building owners, building managers, health care facility managers and members of the public in making considered decisions and actions in addressing key concerns with indoor virus aerosol transmissions.

The recommendations are also not intended to trigger a waiver or modification of existing regulatory frameworks and by-laws of each State/Territory of Malaysia. Land is a state matter.

The initiative seeks to examine if the suggestions could or should be adapted to operate complementarily with existing building conditions by-laws, house rules and ownerships.

Critically, creating awareness and a change in mindset is key to our winning this war against the coronavirus.

This story first appeared in the E-weekly on Aug 13, 2021. You can access back issues here.

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