By: Sasha Wedekind
While people spend 90% of their time inside, indoor air quality has not been a large focus of attention for facilities management and tenants until recently. The coronavirus outbreak is bringing indoor air quality into the spotlight as hospitals work to mitigate the spread of disease and offices, retail, and education facilities are considering strategies to reopen safely and minimize infection.
Green Buildings and Occupant Health Can Go Hand-in-Hand
The issue of poor indoor air quality is not new. Sick Building Syndrome has been understood for a long time as a building condition that results in people experiencing headaches, dry cough, dizziness, difficulty in concentrating, and other symptoms when being in a building with poor air quality.
Many buildings, while coming short of Sick Building Syndrome, might be inadvertently creating less than optimal environments for occupants by limiting ventilation. Recent research has demonstrated that poor indoor air quality has effects on productivity, decision-making, and well-being. Buildings are home to many sources of air contamination, including volatile organic compounds (from cleaning agents, furniture, and other materials), and bacteria, mold, and viruses. Poor ventilation exacerbates the presence of these contaminants.
Inadequate ventilation in buildings has a long history in the US, and stems from long-held energy conservation standards focused on airtight buildings with minimal airflow. Luckily, the definitions of green buildings are evolving. New technologies are enabling greener buildings to reduce energy consumption and support occupant health and comfort.
Advanced ventilation systems that enable higher airflow from the outside, air quality monitoring platforms and sensors, and new air purification technologies are becoming more common as available solutions in residential and commercial HVAC product bundles. Adoption of these technologies, however, has not been widespread, as customers remain largely oblivious to the effects of air quality on health and productivity.
Rethinking the Ventilation and Air Cleaning Status Quo
The pandemic might be the inflection point many market players have been waiting for. Chief operating officers are looking for answers on how to safely reopen offices, hospitality, recreational, education, and other facilities while giving employees, customers, and students peace of mind. Vendors have swooped in with solutions that support this vision, with air quality an inextricable part.
For example, Carrier has introduced its Negative Air Machine for hospitals that it says cleans contaminated air and prevents it from spreading to different sections of a hospital. Senseware, an intelligent building startup known for air quality monitoring, released a solution package in partnership with other vendors to help clients safely reopen their businesses. Molekule, a residential air purifier startup, launched a new product, now for healthcare use, and received a FDA 510(k) Class II Medical Device Clearance.
Most solutions so far have focused on the healthcare environment. However, many facilities managers, building owners, and tenants are eager to translate lessons learned from this segment into offices and other spaces. The opportunity is huge for vendors that can quickly position themselves as leaders in this fragmented market.