Our friends from Airthings, leaders in indoor air quality solutions, recently joined us for a lively discussion to discuss evolving trends in the indoor air quality market and the indoor-outdoor continuum more broadly.
Martin Mcgloin – Airthings Product Manager and enabler for innovative change within our built environment – and Tamir Kessel – a leader in smart buildings and digital health industries at BreezoMeter – took us on a journey through five market trends emerging from 2020 for air quality: From what the h&*^%$#@k’s been going on in the air we breathe, to why we care all of a sudden, all the way to turning raw sensor data into something we can all work within a tangible, healthier manner.
Prefer reading? Here’s the write-up:
It’s True, We Spend 90% of Our Time Indoors
Human beings spend more time inside buildings than certain species of whale spend underwater. Yet when we talk about air quality, it tends to be in the context of what we breathe outside and often neglects what we breathe indoors.
Dyson, known for their superior air purifier products, did some research measuring levels of pollution, and PM 2.5 specifically. They used both indoor sensors and outdoor sensors across the LA area over a period leading up to July 4th and the big fireworks events, where PM2.5 is abundant:
The red line depicts the average outdoor air quality across the city, and the blue line, indoor air quality. Their research indicates you can’t disconnect one from the other. The relationship is critical, both from a scientific perspective and the human perspective; people are thinking about what they breathe whether they are indoors or outdoors.
Air Quality Awareness is Growing
We’re seeing air quality awareness and demand for actionable information on the rise. We built some data analysis for the number of requests made to the BreezoMeter API: how many people and how often our air quality data is being requested.
We found that the trend line clearly represents growth in demand for air quality information: It goes without saying that this peaked around the time of last year’s California Wildfires around September. With the wildfires, people across the US (and even all the way to Norway?!?!) were impacted and became very aware of the effects of smoke exposure and air pollution in general.
And a first-hand accou of what it is like living through these events in Oregon really drives home what we see in the data. The numbers don’t describe the personal impact and this is the impact felt from a generally healthy person, not to mention people who have respiratory conditions.
And this is the air we breathe around 28,000 times a day, yet we aren’t demanding more information about what we are inhaling. On the other hand, when you go into a McDonald’s you get a full nutritional breakdown for a cheesy cheeseburger, not to mention the wealth of information available on the ever-popular smartwatch!
We are tracking what we eat, our fitness progress, our every step & every heartbeat, we request the data and the insights to measure and make the changes to our lives to live a healthier life. Yet, when was the last time you walked into a building where there was an ‘air quality breakdown’ for all the pollution you’ll be exposed to inside that building? Now ask yourself, would you even expect this kind of information? Well, we believe that this expectation is evolving.
What Follows Increased Awareness about Indoor Air Quality?
The increased awareness surrounding our health and wellness is not going to go away quickly; it will go well beyond our health systems and impact the demand for different types of air quality monitoring products and air quality solutions for cleaner air.
1. Increased CO2 Monitoring
John Shaw Billings, the author of one of the first ventilation textbooks, points to a contradiction in our understanding of and appreciation for air, which has shifted with COVID-19: Though we find it very repulsive to put on someone else’s underwear, or to eat a piece of food out of another’s mouth, we don’t give a second’s thought to the fact that the air we breathe might have just been inside another person’s body a few seconds ago.
A key indicator that’s been helping us to answer this issue is CO2 monitoring. This type of monitoring is fast becoming a must-have for anyone that operates a public building because it’s a great indicator of how much other people’s breath is in the air around us. It’s also a great conduit for measuring the potential of virus spread – which explains the increase in demand for CO2 monitors in public indoor spaces, like our children’s schools.
In the webinar, Martin interviewed the team at Labots, experts in indoor air quality, to discuss changing guidelines for monitoring levels in school buildings in the Netherlands, the overall increase in air quality awareness, and what resulted due to parents’ concerns for the health of their children at school
2. Changes to the Way We Ventilate
In at least a few countries, recirculation of air is used as an HVAC strategy to minimize the energy impact and the cost of operating the building. But now, there’s a recommendation to switch to 100% outdoor air throughout all air handling units.
3. Focus on the Balance Between Building Health & Energy Efficiency
When we’re refreshing the air, at any percentage, you may be allowing other outdoor pollutants to enter indoors. And when we go from a 20-30% refresh rate to 100%, there are going to be unintended consequences, beyond energy efficiency, since our HVACs are not designed for this degree of outdoor air, and the controllers may not have the sophistication required for that.
This really brings our attention back to the balancing act which exists between energy efficiency and health when managing buildings. The focus on energy optimization alone is no longer enough.
New indoor environment certifications are giving guidance into regaining the balance between the health and well-being and cognition of the people inside the building and the energy usage of the building.
4. Science is Changing the Way We Think about Indoor Air Quality
In recent years, we’ve been surprised to discover some of the more unintuitive impacts of poor indoor air quality on people:
The Syracuse University Center of Excellence conducted a seminal study into office air quality, and the impact it has on our brains and our ability to perform as knowledge workers: They built a four-story laboratory with a very advanced ventilation system, and finely tuned the levels of CO2 and VOCs within the space.
They invited workers to do their normal job in the lab for a couple of weeks at a time. Every day, they would administer cognitive abilities tests that determined their cognitive abilities across nine different parameters and nine different areas. The study questioned the results when comparing the average levels of CO2 or VOCs that you would find in an average office environment with an increase in the ventilation rate, bringing the levels up a bit more, while ensuring ventilation of the space with outdoor air more regularly. What did they find?
The results showed that overall cognitive abilities increased by 101% – just by increasing the rate of ventilation in their spaces, including key parameters like strategic thinking. The cost in this study was associated with $40 per employee, per year. And the productivity gain that they estimated was $6,500, per employee. Ventilation, air quality, is a no-brainer ROI calculation!
5. Buildings Dynamically Leverage Indoor & Outdoor Air Quality Data
We’re moving from a static control calendar, in your building, to leveraging indoor air quality data and outdoor data, dynamically. All of this can be programmed into your building management system (BMS) or the controllers in your building to helps understand what’s happening outside, making our controllers more intelligent and simplifying the management of different threats from indoors and outdoors.
The new Well standard specifies that you need to have a display throughout the building at certain intervals that show the air quality data to the inhabitants and also organize these air quality education sessions at regular intervals to help spread and teach people why they need to take the air they breathe more seriously.
The tenant of the building, the resident, cares about the air they breathe wherever they go. So the building manager and the facilities manager should be thinking about not only protecting the tenant when they’re inside but also on their way to work on their way back from work. Why not help them choose the cleanest route between A and B?