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Indoor Air Quality and Productivity—Keeping Spaces Safe and Productive

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Jason Pohl

The link between indoor air quality and productivity in the workplace is becoming increasingly clear. While researchers have long understood how fine particulate matter (2.5 microns in diameter or less) and other pollutants are able to infiltrate buildings, research has typically not dealt with their effects on the human brain until recently. Now, that is changing, and new knowledge is shaping the way buildings behave.

A 2021 study by researchers at Harvard University found that indoor air pollution, including fine particulate matter and carbon dioxide, significantly reduces cognitive function in office workers of all ages. They also identified inadequate ventilation as a key cause of poor indoor air quality. 

This research is part of a growing body of evidence that supporting business interests means supporting healthy environments. Smart building platforms are the most powerful tool for creating safe workplaces that optimize productivity and protect the well-being of workers. 

The Relationship Between Indoor Air Quality and Productivity

The introduction of outdoor air into building ventilation systems dilutes pollutants from indoor pollutants (a prime cause of indoor air quality problems) while dispersing other pollutants already in the air. This is vital for maintaining healthy conditions, and has, along with air filtration, become a top priority in many buildings since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

But the Harvard study shows the implications of ventilation go far beyond preventing infectious disease. As Joseph Allen, one of the study’s authors, says:

Our research consistently finds that the value proposition of [better ventilation and filtration] extends to cognitive function and productivity of workers, making healthy buildings foundational to public health and business strategy moving forward.

This supports results from a 2015 study that found an 8% uptick in worker productivity when ventilation was doubled. When quantified monetarily, that translated to approximately $6,500 annually per employee. The study also showed that enhanced ventilation improved health and reduced absenteeism. Additionally, the health and economic benefits of well-ventilated buildings are not limited to longer-term exposure. Even short-term exposure could be associated with lower cognitive function, which means indoor air quality must be a consistent priority.

Comparing Costs and Benefits of Improving Ventilation 

Maintaining good indoor air quality is more challenging in some buildings than others, particularly those designed to boost energy efficiency by minimizing infiltration of outdoor air. Improving indoor air quality in such buildings requires smart strategies and investing in the right tools, but the return is well worth it—and is more affordable than you think.

Doubling the ventilation rate of the minimum recommended by (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) costs less than $40 per person annually. Energy recovery ventilator (ERV) systems significantly reduce these relatively low figures, leading to actual cost savings. Considering the relationship between indoor air quality and productivity, the benefits more than make up for any increased energy expenditure. However, you don’t have to sacrifice efficiency to keep your building healthy.

Optimizing Indoor Air Quality

To keep air quality healthy, airborne pollutants first need to be measured. Smart devices can identify the amount of particulates, chemicals, gases, and other airborne pollutants in real time. However, this only offers a snapshot of what is happening at a single point in time. Often conditions within a building change, depending on the time of day, season, or other factors. In order to be effective, data must be continuously collected and examined.

Internet of Things (IoT) technology allows building owners to set up comprehensive yet relatively inexpensive monitoring systems. This involves strategic placing of air quality sensors and other monitoring devices with IoT capabilities throughout a building. 

When positioning monitoring devices, consider the following: 

  • Begin with areas where indoor air quality issues have been reported or are suspected 
  • Ensure wireless Internet access is sufficient for transmitting data
  • Use recessed outlets whenever possible to allow for wireless installations 

Once in place and gathering data on indoor air quality, the gathered data must be evaluated. 

A mobile-first smart building platform that enables analysis of current and historical data in real-time  is ideal. A platform with machine learning capabilities will identify trouble areas, system anomalies, and time-related trends, allowing maintenance staff to make any necessary adjustments. An advanced platform like onPoint will also clarify relationships between complex variables to give you deep insight into how your building functions and reveal opportunities for improvement. You also gain sophisticated automation capabilities for better, more consistent air quality and optimal efficiency.

Ensuring that the air in your building supports occupant health and productivity has never been more important. With smart technology, it has also never been easier. 

Buildings IOT offers the state-of-the-art services and products you need to improve indoor air quality and productivity. Contact our team of experts to learn more about what we can do for you.



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