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All Eyes on Indoor Air Quality

By now we all know Americans spend on average about 90% of their time indoors, where concentrations of some pollutants are often two-to-five times higher than typical outdoor concentrations. Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic switched into high gear, all eyes have been on indoor air quality.

There is good reason for this too. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) suggests indoor concentrations of some pollutants have increased in recent decades due to factors such as insufficient mechanical ventilation and increased use of synthetic building materials, furnishings, personal care products, pesticides, and household cleaners. Add to this the growing concerns around asthma and the spread of disease, and everyone wants quality air in buildings. But what will this mean for builders and property managers?

When the pandemic first started, many people were saying to simply open up your outside air vent wide and flood buildings with fresh air. Logically, this might make sense, but if you live in a place like Chicago or Florida you know this isn’t always the best answer. There are certain months of the year where you would absolutely not want outdoor air circulated indoors—for good reason.

So, what then is the solution? Well, in a word, data. I recently sat down with Dan Diehl, CEO, Aircuity, to discuss everything including indoor air quality. This company provides an indoor air quality monitoring platform that provides ventilation optimization in buildings. Initially, it was used in laboratories and critical environments, but has since evolved to many different types of commercial buildings. Think schools, life sciences buildings, commercial offices, and government facilities.

“Our job is to measure indoor air quality, to do it very reliably and accurately over the life of a building,” says Diehl. “That’s been the biggest challenge in the industry for more complex indoor quality data. So, we’re talking carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, which is all harmful gases and then small particulates, which have obviously gotten a lot of headlines over the recent pandemic with the aerosol-based transmission of COVID and other things.”

The value of this technology is twofold. For one, it can help control ventilation for energy efficiency and help decarbonize the built environment. Second, it can help with health and safety of the occupants, as it monitors indoor air quality.

“So, if you want to know the reality of it, we still tell people all the time less, way less than 5% of all buildings, have ventilation optimized related to indoor air quality,” he explains. “So, we get the privilege of working on Apple’s world headquarters and Google’s headquarters and University of Pennsylvania and our clients are people that own operate and care about the constituents and they care about the energy. I mean, it’s that simple. And they’ve tried it other ways and they realize that they’re spending more money trying it the other way and they’re not getting the results. So, they come back to our type of accurate control and ventilation management.”

While mandates and compliance only apply in a few areas—like animal care facilities and operating rooms, just to name a few—many people are beginning to realize a “set-it-and-forget-it” approach just isn’t cutting it anymore. Prescriptive data can help make better decisions going forward.

Looking to the future, indoor air quality will continue to be a priority for many in order to minimize indoor air pollutant and the adverse health effects that have been attributed to some specific pollutants. Perhaps the answer lies in having the right data to make decisions about what is working well with ventilation and what needs to change.

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