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Improving Your Building's Air Quality Monitoring With 24/7 Analytics

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Shayne Taker

Earlier this year, four leading tech companies announced they will work with the University of Miami Institute for Data Science and Computing (IDSC) to identify ways in which IoT, data analytics, and cleanroom technology can be combined for real-time building air quality monitoring.

Nick Tsinoremas, Vice Provost for Research and Computing and IDSC founding director at the University of Miami, says: 

We have already captured data and found ways to improve building health on campus. It is our intent to build a global data repository and apply deep data science to make indoor air quality as easy to understand as outdoor air quality.

This landmark study could have significant implications for the future of indoor environments. But you don’t have to wait for the research results to take action on air quality. Forward-thinking facility managers are capitalizing on the affordability of smart sensors and advances in analytics software to create sophisticated building air quality monitoring systems.  

Smart Building Air Quality Monitoring

In a smart building, air quality monitoring relies on strategically-placed IoT sensors that gather data in real time. Software, such as analytics software or smart building software, assesses this data to create insights into building air quality. A monitoring system with intelligent analytics gives facility managers greater control over indoor air quality than ever before and ensures buildings are healthy places to work, live, and play. 

Air Quality Guidelines

To effectively monitor building air quality, it is important to understand air quality standards and guidelines. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines on toxic airborne substances include the following: 

  • Carbon dioxide occurs naturally in the air, normally averaging 300-400 parts per million (ppm). Indoor levels of over 7,000 ppm can affect human health, but occupational limits are set at a cautious 5,000 ppm.
  • Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and lethal gas, and one of the most dangerous. According to the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), the threshold should not go over 25 ppm (parts per million) over an eight-hour period, while the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends no more than 35 ppm.
  • Formaldehyde is one of the most common volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and can come from a variety of sources, including building materials, household products, and even furniture. Its threshold limit values are .1 ppm over a 40 hour work week and .3 for short-term exposure.
  • Methylene chloride and dichloromethane both occur in solvents and have a threshold of 250 ppm. Long-term exposure results in problems with the central nervous system.
  • Nitrogen dioxide affects the lungs adversely and should be present at a maximum of 100 ppb (parts per billion).
  • Particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or smaller is especially dangerous, as such tiny particles can easily infiltrate the lungs and cause adverse health effects. You should maintain levels of no more than 25 micrograms per square meter over the course of 24 hours.
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons include several semi-volatile organic compounds that can be hazardous to people’s health. While each type has a different threshold, naphthalene is the most volatile, with a recommended limit of 10 ppm.
  • Radon is a radioactive gas that forms during the natural decay of uranium in soil. Though it is a carcinogen with no set safe exposure level, the EPA will act on radon levels of 4 picocuries per liter of air.

Using smart air quality sensors that work in tandem with continuously operating analytics software, it is possible to look at these values in real time and over the long term. 

24/7 Monitoring

Indoor pollutant levels vary over time. Continuous monitoring through IoT-enabled sensors and analytics means data will reflect all such variations and give you the ability to act on real-time data immediately. You will also be able to identify historic trends and air quality with variables like temperature and humidity.

The Impact of Outdoor Air

A key advantage of using smart technology for building air quality monitoring is the ability to predict indoor air quality based on outdoor air quality. Facility managers who understand the relationship between outdoor and indoor conditions can easily adjust ventilation systems or make other modifications to enhance indoor air quality. Common strategies include:

  • Improving air change rate within the building from infiltration and mechanical ventilation. 
  • Removing pollution from the air supply in the immediate vicinity of the building. 
  • Increasing the tightness of the building envelope.

A smart building platform can create accurate models that help all stakeholders understand the relationship between the quality of air inside and outside of buildings and identify opportunities for improvement.

Covid and Air Quality

The Covid-19 pandemic has put building air quality monitoring and building ventilation in the spotlight like never before. Many facility managers have had to quickly optimize their building’s capabilities, install new equipment, and add new practices to their daily routines to protect the health of building occupants

Some of the most commonly recommended strategies to maintain safe indoor air quality include: 

  • Increase the ratio of outdoor air to indoor air as much as possible.
  • Generate air movement from cleaner environments adjusting the position of exhaust and supply air dampers or diffusers and optimizing exhaust flow rates. 
  • Increase air filtration as much as possible without significantly diminishing airflow.
  • Increase airflow to the most occupied spaces. 
  • Inspect filters to ensure they fit correctly. 
  • Run HVAC systems at maximum outside airflow for two hours before and after buildings are occupied.
  • Using more natural ventilation, including opening windows whenever possible.

For the best results, facility managers should consult knowledgeable professionals with the expertise to recommend proven strategies and technologies for building air quality monitoring.

The Value of Analytics

Selecting the correct sensing devices, controllers, and gateways is essential to create a responsive building air quality monitoring system. But monitoring without analysis offers few ways to resolve air quality issues. That’s why any air quality monitoring system must include cutting-edge smart building software with advanced analytics. By distilling data to meaningful insights, detecting and diagnosing faults, and making reliable predictions, analytics are the key to improving air quality in any commercial building. 

Learn how to decipher common indoor air quality sensor readings for commercial buildings. Get the free eBook here.



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