Back in June, we wrote a feature narrowing in on the fact that we need to make our homes and buildings healthier. We know that Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors—a statistic that might be higher due to the pandemic. The challenge here is pollutants are often two to five times higher than it is outdoors.

Key to fixing this hurdle is improving our HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) have made several recommendations for improving air quality and eradicating potential airborne viruses within building environments.

Of course, if we are looking at how to improve indoor air quality, we must look at the role of automation and the IoT (Internet of Things). For years, we have had technologies that can help us monitor and manage many factors inside our building—including indoor air quality—but now that need is greater.

Recently to address this topic, I sat down with Ron Crosby, technology and thermal systems leader, Trane Technologies, who says this very issue has been a big focus of his business for more than 100 years. He explains what has changed is now, the education of it has exploded in the past five months since COVID-19, and it is helping building owners through four pillars—dilute, exhaust, contain, and clean—all while helping to bring fresh outdoor air to dilute any type of microbiologicals that may exist in the building.

He gave me a great example of a restaurant in Guangzhou, China, which had somebody in the restaurant that became infected because of airborne transmission of COVID-19. To his point, what got lost in the media is the HVAC in that case did not have any outside air, so it was just recirculating the air within that room.

He emphasizes that we need to address this. We need strategies for improving the air quality in our buildings if we want to get inside again and reduce the anxious feeling running though our bodies. We need dilution, containment, and cleaning, as Crosby recommends. The example he points to didn’t have that. He raises an essential point if we want to help our building occupants feel safe—the IoT and building automation can go a long way in removing some of our building anxiety.

“One of the things we’re doing with customers is from a building-control perspective, we’re developing dashboards and we’re providing dashboards for those building owners so that they can show, whether it’s a customer or whether it’s a building occupant, here’s what we’re doing from a cleaning perspective, from a ventilation perspective, from a containment, from a relative humidity perspective,” says Crosby. “Here’s what we’re doing in the building so that we can make it safer, if you will, for that occupant.”

He says while not every building has a dashboard, automation can help ease people’s minds—and there are clear use cases. One example he points to is the K-12 schools, which are scrambling and trying to open up.

In our discussion, we agreed that the more people are aware of what is going on and what’s in the individual building or location, the more comfortable they are going to feel. Crosby says in his own building—in the office, factories, and labs—in addition to following all the guidance on masks and distancing, it also conducted IAQ assessments of all the facilities. With all those safeties in place, including the IAQ assessment, workers were much more comfortable going back into building and conducting their work.

As we have been saying all along, this is ultimately going to lead to more innovation and speed-up digital transformation. Crosby says there’s going to be a lot of innovation in a short period of time to build up the technologies, to help minimize the impact in the future—and this will certainly be the case with IAQ. He believes the big ramp up will be around building controls that are capable of saving energy in both pandemic mode and then non-pandemic mode.

In the end, he says everything the company is doing right now is getting tied back to building controls. “So, going forward, we’re going to be more comfortable because we understand things better,” he adds. “Couple that with increased ventilation, outdoor ventilation, with humidity control, with exhaust controls and with cleaning technologies, we’ll be able to beat this.”

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