Measuring Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) has become a necessity rather than a nice to have feature. It is essential that building owners and facility managers consider many questions before they select a particular device or sensor to measure the IAQ. Some of the salient questions include cost, easy of use, energy efficiency, IoT compatibility and additional functionality. Keeping these in mind will not only ensure that you are maintaining excellent indoor air quality standards but also align it with your goals of cost and energy efficiency.
The United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA) defines indoor air quality (IAQ) as “the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants”. In their everyday activities and transactions, commercial property managers often fail sometimes to realize the impact of air quality on the health of occupants. Often than not, occupants of commercial buildings think there is a problem with their air quality only after an issue has been detected from the surrounding air they breathe. This however, is a less than accurate test for air quality. That is why the EPA came up with a standard classification for air quality. The classification table known as the Air Quality Index (AQI) ranks air quality from 0 to 500. Based on the AQI, higher air quality values correspond to an increase in the hazardous nature of the indoor air quality in commercial buildings and every other building.
The table below shows the different types of indoor air quality based on different ranges of air quality values.
Image Source: https://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=aqi_brochure.index
With the World Health Organization reporting 1 in 8 deaths to be caused by air pollution, there is an ever-growing need for commercial building owners and commercial property managers to pay more attention to this health menace.
Advantages of Monitoring Indoor Air Quality by Commercial Buildings
Given that air is absolutely essential for everyday life, it is impossible to overstate the importance of measuring its quality. Below are a few salient points on the advantages of monitoring indoor air quality in commercial buildings.
Apart from financial incentives such as discounts and loyalty deductions; non-financial incentives could go a long way in establishing a commercial property ahead of its competitors in the same industry. One of the ways through which this can be achieved is by demonstrating to occupants of commercial buildings that their health and wellbeing is a priority. Through the installation of indoor air quality monitoring devices in commercial buildings, occupants get to feel more comfortable within such buildings, than in buildings which haven’t got air quality monitoring devices. A happy occupant could just as easily turn into a long term tenant as well as lead to a referral.
2. Reduction in air-related health problems:
Aside from the WHO report of poor air quality being responsible for 1 in every 8 deaths, poor air quality has also been reported to cause significant damages to the mental health. Commercial buildings sometimes host thousands of people alongside machineries. Without a proper air monitoring system, all of this people could be vulnerable to the effects of poor indoor air quality. By installing indoor air quality monitoring devices in commercial buildings, the management of the building will become proactive in taking actions to protect against potential health problems caused by poor quality air.
What Does a Basic Indoor Air Quality Device Measure?
On a basic level, most indoor air quality monitoring devices provide measurement for Particulate Matter (PM) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC).
PM: Particulate Matter refers to particles, which can be inhaled. With its standard measurement in Microns, these particles which once inhaled sometimes get directly in to our blood streams could cause significant damage to the human system. Most indoor air quality monitoring devices measure between PM0.5 and PM10. That is particulate matter with size ranging from 0.5 micron to 10 micron. A common example of particulate matter is dust.
VOC: Volatile Organic compounds refer to gasses. They include Carbon dioxide and Carbon monoxide, amongst others. These gases are in themselves very dangerous to the human immune system. When combined with other gases in the atmosphere at high temperatures, the react to form an even more lethal concoction for the human brain and respiratory system.
As the the importance for monitoring indoor air quality grows, indoor air monitoring devices for commercial buildings often measure a combination of temperature, relative humidity, PM0.5, PM2.5, PM10, VOC, CO2, CO, HCHO and O3. Due to new regulations and standards, IAQ monitoring devices are expanding their capabilities.
6 Questions To Ask Before Settling On An Indoor Air Monitoring Device For a Commercial Building
1.What is the cost of an indoor air monitoring device?
Commercial buildings are constructed with the primary purpose of yielding dividends for their shareholders. It is therefore imperative that cost be taken in to consideration at all times before making a decision or taking actions with respect to the commercial property. It will be of no benefit for a commercial building to install an indoor air monitoring system whose initial cost and maintenance cost will leave it bankrupt. Cost is therefore crucial when deciding on whether or not to install an indoor air quality monitor in a commercial building. The average price of home indoor monitoring system ranges between $150 - $250. Taking this baseline in to considerations, commercial buildings could leverage a discount from the manufacturers based on the scale of the commercial building. A decision on whether to go for a high end indoor air monitoring system will have to be based on the current profits being generated by the commercial building as well as what marketing and rents manipulations can be made to keep the building at the profit making end.
The decision on whether or not to get an indoor air monitoring system for a commercial building must not always be financially motivated. It could also be ventured in to as part of the commercial building’s corporate social responsibility.
2. Is the indoor air monitoring sensor energy efficient?
Energy management is key to the operations of any viable commercial property. Commercial buildings are constantly in search of better energy management strategies. Indoor air monitoring devices are energy consuming by nature. Commercial property manages therefore have the task of striking a balance between getting an air monitoring system that is most effective as well as energy efficient. Reaching such a balance is not easy, and they will have to wade through a lot of indoor monitoring devices currently flooding the market.
The scale of a commercial building offers it a unique opportunity to request a custom made indoor air monitoring system from a manufacturer. To ensure that the building gets exactly the kind of indoor air monitoring system it wants at the least possible cost, manufacturers could be called to bid on the project.
The plus side to this is the fact that commercial buildings through their HVAC systems already release a lot of energy. With the proper engineering, the energy given off by the HVAC systems of commercial properties can be harnessed and recycled to power air monitoring devices within the building.
3. Is the indoor air monitoring system IOT compatible?
Most commercial buildings today are moving towards becoming smart. Smart buildings represent the future of commercial buildings. At the forefront of enabling the realization of smart buildings is the Internet of Things (IoT). Any commercial building not already running on an IoT platform will have to begin making provisions on how to incorporate this advanced technology in to their daily operations or risk getting left behind. IoT gives any technological device the ability to connect and communicate with other tech devices while providing real time data or taking critical action.
The idea of having sensors and devices, which can measure the quality of indoor air, is outstanding. But will it not be better if the readings from these air quality monitors could be leveraged to take automated actions? That is exactly the kind of technological advancement IoT brings to the table.
Before buying an indoor air-monitoring device, facility managers will have to consider the possibility of having the device hooked up to an existing or yet to be incorporated IoT platform.
4. Does the indoor air quality device have any additional functionality?
Let’s face it, a doll is good, but a doll, which can sing, is better. The same rational applies to indoor air monitoring devices. Sure, the primary intention is to get an indoor air monitoring device which can provide accurate readings on air quality, but it wouldn’t hurt for it to come with a little extra. Extra could imply the measurement of additional properties, which affect air quality.
For example, on average, most indoor air quality sensors measure particulate matter at 2.5 microns. It will be better to have one, which measures particulate matter not only at 2.5 microns, but also at 0.5 and 10 microns. Furthermore, some sensors only measure some variation of temperature and CO2; it will be better to have one, which also measures several other conditions such as CO, O3, HCHO, and VOC.
5. How easy is it to use the device?
Most commercial buildings already have specialist staff for every department. Add to that the fact that there is always the need to maximize time while keeping costs down, the last thing a commercial building’s operations want to do is hire more staff for a cost center and spend a lot of time in training.
When going for an indoor air monitoring system for a commercial building, the building’s management will have to take in to consideration how easy it is to use the device. Some air monitoring devices come with visual displays and desktop applications. It is necessary that management gauge the ease with which they can incorporate this new functionality in to their routine. Should the building run a Building Management System (BMS), and then management would have to look at a possibility of synchronizing both systems.
6. Does the IAQ sensor meet regulations you are looking to adopt?
As indoor air quality becomes increasingly important, organizations are looking to meet specific standards or compliance including WELL Building Institute standards, ASHRAE, OHSA, LEED and RESET. Standards set forth by each of these organizations require a variety of data, reports and more.
Before settling on an indoor air quality monitoring device, one needs to evaluate the criteria they must meet and whether a device can not only enable them to receive a standard but maintain it. For example, the WELL air quality standards have mutilpe standards that require individual conditions that need to be met with on site performance and verification tests.
It's important to evaluate all aspects of a certification before settling on an indoor air quality device. Some things to evaluate are record keeping, the length of time data must be kept and environmental conditions that must be measured.
In conclusion, measuring Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) has almost become a necessity rather than a nice to have feature. However it is essential that building owners and facility managers consider many questions before they select a particular device or sensor to measure the IAQ. Some of the salient questions include cost, easy of use, energy efficiency, IoT compatibility and additional functionality. Keeping these in mind will not only ensure that you are maintaining excellent indoor air quality standards but also align it with your goals of cost and energy efficiency.