ASSESSING THE ENERGY IMPACT OF PANDEMIC-RELATED VENTILATION UPGRADES ON WASHINGTON, D.C.-AREA COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS
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The COVID-19 pandemic revolutionized our relationship with indoor spaces. The respiratory nature of the SARS-CoV-2 virus transmission resulted in greater emphasis on adequate ventilation and air purification as effective methods of preventing the spread of disease indoors. Due to the novelty of this virus, epidemiologists have meticulously studied the most effective strategies for buildings. However, given the consensus on the substantial correlation between ventilation and energy performance, the proposed ventilation and filtration upgrades come at the expense of building energy efficiency, with potentially detrimental impacts to the goals of mitigating climate change. This study surveyed numerous high-performing commercial office buildings in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area to determine the most common upgrades to building ventilation implemented in response to the pandemic. Notable responses with direct influences on energy consumption included enhanced filtration (MERV 13-15) and frequent building flush-outs. Energy models calculated the energy use associated with the observed operational changes, reinforcing the established correlation between enhanced ventilation practices and energy consumption by showing that ventilation systems with upgraded filtration measures and more frequent air changes consumed more energy overall. Therefore, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a quantifiable impact on building energy performance and carbon emissions from an operational perspective, necessitating additional energy-saving measures to keep buildings on track with efficiency goals.