What the Best Building Automation Systems Have in Common
A building automation system allows for the control of a building’s operations through a central...
In Australia, aerosol scientist Lidia Morawska works with a device the size of a shoe that measures carbon dioxide in the environment, visiting restaurants, offices, schools, and other buildings to determine how well-ventilated they are. Outside, the monitor typically reads just over 400 parts per million (ppm), though areas with more traffic or industrial activity tend to have somewhat higher levels. When indoors, her readings sometimes shoot up to as high as 2000 ppm, even in buildings that seem well-ventilated.
This variability is not unusual; researchers have found similar conditions throughout the world, which poses great difficulties for preventing the spread of Covid-19. Indeed, transmission primarily occurs in enclosed areas, requiring limitations on indoor activities and precautions in indoor environments. As the World Health Organization (WHO) noted in a March 2021 report, poorly ventilated areas can quickly become infection vectors.
To protect the health of occupants and allow for strategic reopening, the WHO and other public health organizations have issued targets to make indoor spaces safer. However, experts in air quality and ventilation say these are a bare minimum, and more must be done to protect public safety. Additionally, Covid-19 is not the only concern; in addition to microorganisms, poor air quality can expose occupants to chemicals and other irritants that present a range of health risks.
For building owners who want to protect the health of occupants through the pandemic and beyond, a building air quality assessment is the first step toward creating safer built environments.
Covid-19 has made air quality concerns more urgent than ever before, but maintaining good air quality has long been a core component of facilities management in many industries. The ability to do this, however, is hampered by modern construction, which generally tries to improve energy efficiency by making buildings airtight. This can have the unfortunate effect of increasing levels of toxic substances in the air, including microbes like the coronavirus, which then travel through ventilation systems, spreading infection and reducing interior air quality throughout the building.
With appropriate controls over buildings’ heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, this can be mitigated by establishing engineering controls that allow for particle filtration and air disinfection while avoiding the dangers inherent in recirculating contaminated air through crowded buildings. Today, such solutions are becoming vital to reducing exposure to poor quality air and transmission of airborne viruses. While layout and building design, occupancy levels, and type of HVAC system all contribute to air quality, smart technology can identify contaminants earlier and take meaningful action to protect occupants.
A building air quality assessment is essential to evaluating the conditions inside your building and alerting you to areas of vulnerability. However, air quality isn’t measured by a single variable. Rather, a truly comprehensive air quality assessment is a multifaceted process that examines metrics like ventilation rates, zone temperatures, humidity, CO2 concentrations, and volatile organic compounds (VOC) levels.
Conducting a building air quality assessment requires gathering large volumes of data, which systems using Internet of Things (IoT) technology can do very well. Integrating IoT sensors that track a variety of air quality contaminants with cloud-based analytics software can make that data meaningful.
A building air quality assessment can include:
While one-off assessments can be valuable for creating roadmaps for improvement, an integrated building management system with an analytics layer allows these assessments to be made routinely and on-demand. By unifying building systems and applying analytics, you can also correlate complex variables with air quality to evaluate and refine your air quality strategy over time and ensure safety is maintained without sacrificing efficiency.
There is no single standard for air quality in commercial buildings in the United States, and many experts believe that common guidelines are not stringent enough to protect occupants. As a result, building owners seeking to safeguard health and safety are increasingly turning to the WELL Building Standard for guidance when performing air quality assessments.
WELL offers a performance-based methodology that measures, monitors, and certifies features in built environments that impact health, including those concerning air quality. Overseen by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), the WELL certification process seeks to make built environments healthier. This includes encouraging systems and strategies that:
By providing benchmarks, the WELL Building Standard helps building owners and facilities managers use building air quality assessments in ways that have a real impact. By suggesting various strategies to improve air quality, it also opens up new opportunities for reducing or eliminating contaminants, whether through building design, operational strategies, or altering behavior.
Conducting air quality assessments on a regular basis makes good sense for any building owner or facilities manager. This is particularly true at a time when air quality can have a dramatic and immediate impact on the lives of occupants and viability of businesses.
An advanced analytics platform like onPoint provides deep visibility into your building systems and conditions, including air quality, on demand and in real time. With user-friendly dashboards, onPoint allows you to easily perform building air quality assessments and continuously monitor variables affecting occupant health and safety. However, this advanced platform doesn’t just tell you when things are wrong; it can also provide data-driven insights and recommendations for improvement. With this, a building air quality assessment can become a springboard for a better future.
Jon Schoenfeld, PE is Buildings IOT's Vice President of Energy & Building Technology. He's been developing advanced algorithms for building automation applications for more than a decade and he applies his tremendous building expertise as he oversees the team of building scientists creating the onPoint platform.
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