Buildings are complex environments. Inside them exist a number of contaminants that can have a negative impact on the well-being of those who spend time in them. And when well-being is affected, so is staff morale and productivity. For this reason, the importance of monitoring indoor air quality within a building is absolutely vital. It allows steps to be taken to improve air quality, office-wide.
The good news is that when it comes to indoor air quality, ‘monitor and improve’ technology has joined the smart revolution. This means that keeping the quality of the indoor environment at its optimum can become an automated process, freeing up resources, and leaving nothing to chance.
Join us as we explore how smart building technology is revolutionising the way in which indoor air quality is managed, and why it’s so important that your workplace is a healthy place.
What is indoor air quality?
Indoor air quality (IAQ) refers to the air quality within and around buildings. The quality of the air within a building can be negatively impacted by a variety of contaminants, some of which are generated inside the building, whilst others come in from the outside.
Typical pollutants that can affect indoor air quality include:
- Indoor contaminants emanating from building materials, furniture, furnishings, appliances, office machines, cleaning products and paints and varnishes
- Contaminants created by activities such as cooking, heating and cooling a building
- Pollutants entering the indoor environment from outside, including traffic emissions, industrial contaminants and viruses
- Natural radon gas that enters buildings from the ground
- Ambient dampness leading to mould and bacteria growth
The location of a building can affect its indoor air quality. What’s more, the quality of the air inside a building can vary from room to room.
Why is indoor air quality important?
Public Health England estimates the annual death toll in the UK from air pollution at between 24,000 and 36,000, with associated healthcare costs between £8 billion and £20 billion.
The pandemic pushed air quality into the spotlight. People now want reassurance that the buildings in which they spend their time are adequately ventilated and that the air they breathe is monitored to ensure it is clear of contaminants and viruses.
Many of the contaminants that may be present in the air have the potential to trigger or worsen respiratory illness. They can also contribute to sick building syndrome, which can lead to symptoms such as headaches, blocked or runny nose, dry and sore eyes or throat, coughing or wheezing, dry and itchy skin, skin rashes, tiredness and difficulty concentrating.
This is where the value of healthy buildings comes in, and indoor air quality plays a vital role in achieving healthy buildings. Without a healthy building, productivity could suffer, and businesses could have trouble retaining and attracting staff.
How is air quality regulated?
Much of the academic and regulatory work on air pollution is concentrated on the outdoors, or on industrial or occupational exposures. There is widespread call by a range of industry bodies to promote the well-being of building occupants by setting official standards for IAQ. However, there is a way to go yet.
There are, however, voluntary schemes that building owners can join if they wish to demonstrate their commitment to improving indoor air quality.
Such schemes include:
- Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), ‘BREEAM Hea 02 Indoor Air Quality’
- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
- WELL Air Quality Standards (WELL v2)
The following bodies are involved in regulating outdoor and indoor air quality in the UK:
- The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (formerly the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government), which takes the lead on Building Regulations via its Housing Health and Safety Rating System
- The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which funds the national UK monitoring network for air pollution outside
- The Department of Health and Public Health England (formerly the Health Protection Agency), which lead on the health impacts of air pollution
- The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which leads on limiting exposure to harmful levels of air pollutants at work
How is indoor air quality monitored?
A building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system is responsible for maintaining good air quality inside the premises.
Where a building is devoid of fresh air via opening windows, or where it is considered hazardous to open the windows, perhaps due to high levels of outside contaminants, the HVAC system will be relied upon to filter incoming air and then route it to wherever it is needed most, either for heating or cooling. Dust, allergens, pollutants and other particles are all removed to help purify the air and improve air quality office and premises wide.
But to ensure IAQ is maintained at safe levels, indoor air quality monitoring is necessary. The good news is that technology exists which allows ongoing monitoring of various IAQ parameters, via Internet of Things (IoT) powered sensors. This monitoring can provide both reassurances, as well as early warning of a drop to undesirable or dangerous levels.
With early warning, building or facilities managers can either take steps to improve the air quality using the data provided by the sensors, or evacuate the building to ensure the safety of its occupants.
But this is by no means the extent of the technology’s capabilities.
Smart HVAC technology has the power to automatically control inputs to building management systems, for example increasing or decreasing outdoor air flow rates in line with changes in occupation rates, or even with varying outdoor pollution levels. This means that building or facilities managers are freed up to focus on other tasks, and that when it comes to a safe working environment, nothing is left to chance.
What is SMART HVAC and how can it manage and improve indoor air quality?
A smart HVAC system is powered by Internet of Things technology. It is made up of a network of interconnected motion and noise detectors, humidity sensors, thermometers, geo-fencing and location indicators, as well as real time weather data fed in from the internet.
All of this information is channelled into a central dashboard, where artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning unite to trigger automated changes to the HVAC system, making adjustments to coincide with changing environmental conditions, as well as reacting to fluctuations in the quality of the inside air.
As well as triggering automated changes to maintain healthy levels of indoor air, a smart HVAC system will also feed valuable data to facilities managers. They will then be able to use this data to make informed decisions, such as whether to invest in the likes of dehumidifiers or humidifiers; to analyse whether it’s time to repair or replace ‘leaky’ appliances and plant, and to monitor the efficiency of current ventilation systems.
How to achieve a ‘smart’ HVAC system to improve indoor air quality?
Smart Spaces is an Internet of things powered, app-based platform that has the ability to automatically control the HVAC element of a building management system. It makes it possible for managers to analyse, regulate and maintain healthy indoor air quality.
Interested in discovering how Smart Spaces could improve your indoor air quality?
Request a free demo or get in touch to discover how Smart Spaces could help you improve the efficiency of your HVAC system, improve indoor air quality, and bring numerous other benefits with it.