Andy Davis of Siemens UK, who serves on the board of the KNX UK Association, argues he case for taking indoor air quality seriously in every building.

I am a career advocate of intelligent control for all types of projects but I still think a lot of projects need to get the basics of health and wellbeing right before worrying about more intelligence! It may not be as sexy and human-centric lighting but we need to really take indoor air quality (IAQ) seriously. Until we do, intelligent control cannot fulfil its potential and we will not get the energy efficient, healthy and productive environments we must surely all aspire to?

We need to ensure more project managers, consultants and engineers give higher prominence to humidity, CO2, PM2.5 (fine dust) and VOC (volatile organic compounds) control before we start worrying about the next steps. All have the potential to impact health, wellbeing and productivity in offices and classrooms etc. Once projects broaden the range of values they want to measure and control, then we have the right data to ensure buildings are operated efficiently and healthily.

A quick reminder of the scale of the IAQ challenge, beyond the already-mandatory control of noxious fumes etc. We all know by now that even small increased in CO2 levels can have a drastic effect on cognitive functions. Inadequate ventilation quickly results in lower productivity. Siemens market research found estimates of productivity gains from 2-18% as a result of keeping CO2 level sunder control. The middle ground was taken by the Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (REHVA) which estimates the gains at 10%.

I could quote myriad sources and figures all day but it can all be translated into hard cash. A 2017 study at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health suggested that doubling the ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers) recommended ventilation rate from 10 to 20 litres/sec/person would increase costs by less than $40 per person er annum. However it also said that doing so would also deliver productivity gains of $6500 per person per annum. On that basis, it should not be hard to persuade a client to invest in optional IAQ measures.

Energy and IAQ go together

I do believe that every project, from the most simple to the most complex, can be engineered to deliver the optimum environment. Energy efficiency has been high on everyone’s agenda for years, with health and wellbeing at best a secondary consideration and at worst something to pay lip service to or to take only as far as regulations and codes of practice require. The two should not be mutually exclusive. We live and work in virtually airtight buildings these days: it’s not as if effective ventilation means throwing open the windows to the elements and haemorrhaging heat energy. We have the tools we need to integrate HVAC control with occupancy and demand with real-time dynamic interworking between the devices controlling different applications. There is just no reason NOT to include IAQ control.

That neatly leads me to KNX, which is a key part of the open protocol landscape, working alongside protocols such as BACnet to ensure projects of any scale, be they brand new, refurbishments or evolving mixes of legacy and new infrastructure can benefit from intelligent control. Implicit in that is buildings needing to capture more data on occupancy, environmental data and energy usage. The name of the game is total room automation, with systems like Siemens Desigo, which offers KNX compatibility. By opening a building control system to products from over 500 manufacturers, KNX gives systems engineers all the scope the need to achieve just that.

Does COVID-19 blow all this thinking out of the water? This time last year I’d have been talking about how office space per person has decreased from over 50m3 1970 to less than 15m3 in 2017. Now we hear about how social distancing in the office and more working from home will likely persist for the foreseeable future. We do know, however, that it only takes small changes in IAQ to affect concentration and decision making – the potential for IAQ control to add value does not go away. Building managers will be looking carefully at balancing running costs with occupancy: don’t let them forget to include the productivity gains of better air quality in their calculations.