Stacey Lucas, commercial and marketing director at Sontay, looks at air quality challenges in buildings and how CO2 sensors can play an important role in helping to create a comfortable environment for building occupants.

The fact that we spend 90% of our time indoors has placed a huge importance on the quality of the air we breathe. COVID-19 has fuelled this issue even further, which is why the ability to monitor, evaluate and change the settings of workspace air in real time will have to become the new norm for building managers and owners.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also focused a lot of attention on the amount of indoor space people should be allowed to share in order to maintain distance and prevent viral spread. With the UK government gradually encouraging people to return to work now the lockdown period has passed, the quality of our indoor air has never been more of a priority.

Sensors can monitor myriad elements that affect our indoor climate including temperature, which in relation to an office environment is found to be comfortable at around 22°C. However, relative humidity, if not managed correctly can make a room feel hotter or colder than the actual temperature reading. A sensor can help overcome this issue by measuring humidity levels to ensure an ideal 50% reading is maintained.

CO2 sensors

A CO2 sensor with traffic light indication provides a clear visual indication of when a workplace requires ventilation due to deterioration in the indoor air quality. When we exhale we emit CO2, which if left unchecked in a busy office environment for example, can lead to headaches due to increased CO2 concentration levels. A CO2 sensor with an LED traffic light-style display can help alleviate this issue. When showing green, for instance, the sensor is indicating that a room isn’t over-occupied and the risk to air quality is low. Should the sensor show amber, it’s a sign that windows require opening or fewer people need to be in the room to maintain the same healthy indoors environment. When the sensor turns red it is a call to action, as it indicates there is not enough ventilation in the room. At these last two stages, if a sensor is connected to a building management system, it will work with its strategy to bring the levels back to the optimum level by opening vents and running fans to introduce fresh air.

To monitor the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOC) in indoor spaces – borne from hand sanitisers and cleaning agents – air quality sensors are able to measure VOC levels and alert the BMS or occupants of the need to take action when a potentially hazardous reading is recorded.

Light level and occupancy sensors offer further relevance to the ongoing pandemic, particularly in relation to the nationwide lockdown, when many offices in towns and cities remained empty whilst lights and other energy sources continued to burn unmonitored within the buildings themselves. An estimated 40% of a building’s energy costs are attributed to light usage; therefore installing a sensor which operates lighting based on a building’s occupancy and interior light levels has financial and environmental benefits.

With UK office workers gradually returning to their old workspaces, building sensors will play a huge part in ensuring offices are managed safely and sustainably.