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Giving Thanks for The Year Ahead

Nov. 3, 2020
EDITOR'S NOTE: Looking past this mind-numbing election, pandemic, and continuing economic uncertainty, let's take stock and be grateful that necessity is causing so much accelerated innovation.

As our anxious autumn trudges toward another winter of discontent, it occurs to me that the most consequential U.S. presidential election of our lives will have already occurred by the time most of you read this essay. So, it would be pointless for me to make an endorsement here.  

That would also be a first for HPAC Engineering magazine, so I will decline to start that new tradition. Of course, that didn’t stop Scientific-American magazine and The New England Journal of Medicine from taking that unprecedented route last month, so I will defer to them. Suffice to say, if you are reading this column, I just hope that you voted. If nothing else, I pray that this year has reminded us all of our civic duty to our community and to each other. 

Toward that end, since this is our November “Innovation” issue, I prefer to focus on Thanksgiving, and the many gifts propelling our industry forward in this time of trial. Indeed, the first Thanksgiving, itself, was born in a moment of enormous national anxiety, declared by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, when the outcome of the U.S. Civil War was still very much in doubt. 

In this issue, there are more causes for hope. Indeed, engineering ingenuity is on the march.  

In fact, it would be hard to read our interview with new ASHRAE President Chuck Gulledge III and not come away energized, inspired, and generally more optimistic about 2021. A year ago, as president-elect, he had hoped to be able to lead ASHRAE into a digital future optimized by collaborative technologies. Well, like it or not, that revolution has arrived. As political consultants like to say, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” 

Of course, crisis is all around us this fall. But so are innovative solutions. 

Our November cover story looks at one of the first pandemic-era office buildings to open in the U.S., Chicago’s 12-story Fulton-East tower. Its broader use of air filtration systems, automated IEQ monitoring, touchless surfaces (including “Toe-to-Go” elevators!), wider floor plans, and open-air conference rooms are all features we should expect to see popping up in downtowns all across the U.S. in 2021 and beyond.  

Of course, it remains to be seen whether these health and safety enhancements will be enough to lure tenants back into these buildings sooner than later. 

As we have reported before, building owners also are turning increasingly to Ultraviolet germicidal technology to help combat COVID-19 in the workplace, in schools, hospitals, etc. Also in our new issue, UV Resources’s Dan Jones, who also sits on the related ASHRAE technical committee, updates us on what has truly been an extraordinary year for the market, which, as demand soars, is now beset by materials shortages. 

“Coronavirus is very susceptible to germicidal UV, so if it’s irradiated for a certain amount of time, it’s inactivated, and it can no longer infect you,” said Dr. Shelly Miller, P.E., a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder, speaking to USA Today in an Oct. 18 article. Quoted in the same story, Dr. Bill Bahnfleth, P.E., chair of ASHRAE’s Epidemic Task Force, added, “These systems can reduce the amount of active virus in the air by an amount equal to 10 air changes per hour or more of outdoor air, at a much lower energy cost.”   

So, take heart, weary reader. Solutions are emerging and multiplying, even if none of them are happening at a speed we would like. Slowly, but surely, we are still headed in the right direction this fall, even if daily news headlines remain grim. We just have to navigate into the new year safely and wisely, at a prudent pace that doesn’t send us back to square one. 

Give thanks. We can do this.  

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Questions? Comments? E-mail me at [email protected].