Manish Sharma, vice president and chief technology officer, Honeywell Building Technologies says that improved air quality can create occupant wellbeing.

The rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations across the UK is a first step towards restoring normality. As more people are inoculated, we expect this to help start a return to more traditional work/life patterns. What is clear, however, is that lingering concerns about workplace safety will delay some people from returning to their conventional place of employment. To help overcome this reluctance, building managers need to be able to enable occupant wellbeing through the creation of safer workspaces.

Honeywell’s recent survey of office workers across the UK, Germany, United States and Middle East found that 68% of surveyed workers do not feel completely safe in their workspaces and nearly 1 in 4 (23%) of remote workers would consider looking for a new job rather than return to a site that did not implement necessary safety measures. This clearly demonstrates the need for employers and building managers to make their spaces safer for occupants.

A fundamental step to achieving this is by optimising the indoor air quality of a building. That may sound straightforward but in practise the success of a clean air strategy is dependent on just a few interrelated actions.

Keeping up with regulations and guidelines

The scale of the global pandemic has resulted a wide range of responses from governments, NGOs and industry organizations about how best to improve building environments. The volume of information can seem overwhelming but it all breaks down into five key actions:

  • Audit a building’s air infrastructure to identify its strengths, weaknesses
  • Use tools, such as IAQ measurements, air filtration, thermal imaging stations, access control, contact tracing, mask detection and crowd counting, to identify potential exposure points
  • Maintain operational parameters, including temperature, humidity, ventilation and particle count, within optimal ranges
  • Make the right data readily available to the right people, in the right time, through advanced, operational dashboards
  • Use a combination of on-premises and cloud analytics to monitor real-time results

Applied consistently, these steps will help provide the best possible standards of occupant safety within a building. To achieve the ideal outcomes there needs to be a focus on optimising a building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Implementing a multi-layered approach designed to improve air quality will help provide the greatest level of overall protection.

Optimal air exchange

Ventilating small spaces – such as our homes – may require little more than opening a window. For larger commercial buildings effective ventilation needs a careful balance between bringing oxygenated air from outdoors and removing stale air, heavy with particles, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and gases. Using indoor air quality sensors is an effective way of monitoring the presence of a range of pollutants and the latest generation of sensors enables building owners to strategically outfit their buildings without significant expenditure.

These sensors can be used to help create a healthier environment and are a valuable tool for improving overall occupant satisfaction. A survey conducted by the British Engineering Services Association (BESA) found that 70% of workers believe that poor air quality in their office has a negative effect on their productivity and wellbeing.

Alongside managing the rate of ventilation, the use of air filtration and cleaning technologies are important in improving building health. One of the latest innovations in air quality is the use of electronic air cleaners, which use an electric charge to help remove solid and liquid impurities from the air without impeding air flow. Electronic air cleaners can be paired with a UV system that emits ultraviolet light to damage the DNA structure of certain microbes at the cellular level and inactivate various viral, bacterial and fungal organisms – thus providing filtration and disinfection in one system.

Factoring in temperature and humidity

Air quality is not just about the outright cleanliness of the air but also associated factors such as its temperature and its relative humidity. In most cases, the optimal range for humidity is around 40-60% as this is where the communication of pathogens is at its lowest. On the other hand, excessive humidity promotes the growth of dust mites and fungi, which are known to exacerbate respiratory conditions and allergies.

Managing indoor air temperatures is a more complex balancing act. Studies show that Covid-19’s survival rate decreases as temperatures rise: However, higher temperatures have an impact on occupant comfort and humidity levels. Running a building management system in the most effective and efficient ways requires a balance between comfort and safety.

Layering solutions

The answer is to take a layered approach. There isn’t one solution that will improve indoor air quality – it’s working to combine many factors to help improve indoor air quality. It doesn’t always have to be a complicated process of ripping out old equipment and starting from scratch. It can be a straight-forward HVAC upgrade with modifications or adding specific solutions that address concerns and minimize potential side effects. A well configured Building Management System (BMS) and sensing technology allied to a connected data solution can give building operators the insight and control to create a cleaner, healthier built environment.