Health and wellness initiatives continue to increase across the corporate landscape. The changing attitudes may seem revolutionary as expectations placed on the workplace environment have shifted radically in the last few years. The pursuit of Healthy Buildings now threatens to bring upheaval to the Commercial Real Estate (CRE) market.
More than a tag line, the notion of Healthy Buildings appeals to all. To expect any tenant to subject their employees to a workspace environment that will negatively impact their health is nonsensical. The mere mention of a Sick Building Syndrome is enough to raise internal alarms about current and future occupied spaces.
What will it look like as we transition to the era of Healthy Buildings? We’ll get you started with key trends that you need to be aware of, especially as they relate to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ).
Left in the Dark
The problem with the vast majority of buildings is that no one knows whether it is Healthy or Sick. Besides unhealthy conditions that are so obvious that people feel ill almost immediately, most buildings provide no indication whatsoever that a health problem is imminent or lurks nearby.
The reason for this uncertainty is that buildings were not designed to advance Healthy Building initiatives. Take IAQ as an example. A conventional Building Automation System (BAS) was designed to control infrastructure assets such as HVAC and lighting systems; the BAS wasn’t necessarily designed to advance health and wellness initiatives.
To illustrate the point, the American Society of Heating Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 62.1-2019: Ventilation for IAQ specifies its updated standards for ventilation system design and acceptable IAQ. Multiple methods are allowed to control common pollutants indoors to reduce the risk of health concerns in new and existing buildings.
Three procedures for ventilation design are specified, namely the IAQ Procedure, the Ventilation Rate Procedure, and the Natural Ventilation Procedure. Historically, the Ventilation Rate Procedure is the most commonly used method to control contaminant levels through airflow specifications. Significantly, real-time IAQ measurements are not required because it relies on proper ventilation to indirectly solve the pollution problem.
No one actually knows whether an air pollution problem exists in a given building. Even validation procedures through one-time testing of IAQ levels will not tell you when and where a problem existed when considering the entirety of the interior space.
Building owners, property managers, and most importantly tenants are left in the dark.
Building Infrastructures are Functionally Obsolete
Obsolete building infrastructures are pushing the adoption of IoT for Health and Wellness. As noted, a BAS provides critical functionality in controlling HVAC functionality. That HVAC equipment can commonly represent 40%-60% of a building’s total energy consumption, concretely justifies such scrutiny. Technology continues to advance HVAC performance and sustainability trends in the industry.
Continued growth is expected as building owners and operators grapple with the inevitable onset of obsolescence in a building’s BAS infrastructure. Technological obsolescence inevitably descends due to building age, but functional obsolescence is the most disruptive. Whenever needed or desired functionality cannot be delivered (e.g., real-time IAQ), the currently-installed BAS is functionally obsolete.
Real-time CO2 measurements in all shared workspaces are rare even in the newest and most advanced buildings. Advanced IAQ measurements such as Particulate Matter (PM), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Formaldehyde, Ozone, or Carbon Monoxide are practically nonexistent.
This functional obsolescence is shockingly pervasive across the entirety of the CRE market. Not only is this deficiency increasingly becoming obvious, but the tolerance for such a deficiency is also rapidly dissipating. Tenant aren’t comforted when no one knows whether their interior space is healthy or sick. A property manager telling them that their HVAC system meets the minimal ventilation requirements will do nothing to bring comfort or assurance. The fact that neither the property manager nor building engineer knows the real-time state of indoor air pollution conditions will make it immediately obvious that the property manager cannot manage IAQ. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.
Healthy Building Certifications are Increasingly Becoming the Norm
The fact that Healthy Building certifications such as LEED, WELL, BREEAM or Fitwel even exists tells you something about the changing marketplace. Is a Healthy Building certification any different from any product safety certification? Of course not! For example, any purchaser of an electronic hardware product would want some assurance that a product safety certification has been performed to ensure against exploding batteries, shock hazards, etc.
Tenants desiring a Healthy Building certification to ensure against indoor air pollution follows the same line of thinking. A building owner should stand behind their building, certifying against adverse conditions that are known to impact building occupants. That a tenant’s employees would possibly be exposed to hazardous air pollution conditions for 40+ hours/week only highlights the issue and normalizes the reasonableness of the concern.
Healthy Building certifications are on the rise. Building owners beware that the prize is more than a plaque on wall in the lobby; tenants are increasingly sensitized to the seriousness of the issue. Should indoor air pollution conditions actually be found to exist, remediation will be expected. At that point, the building owner will be in a reactive posture, which will diminish the building’s reputation in the marketplace.
Healthy Building Metrics are Part of a Growing Asset Digitization Trend
Tenants care about Healthy Buildings. This shouldn’t surprise when you consider the rapid rise in IAQ monitoring products in the consumer space. Tenants care because their employees care about IAQ.
CRE assets will be increasingly defined and valued using Healthy Building certifications and ongoing IAQ assurance programs. These documented and verified building features will increasingly differentiate commercial buildings. Tenants will evaluate the suitability of commercial space based on those factors, which can be digitally represented to prospective tenants on any sales sheet. It will be simple for prospective tenants to evaluate the relative health or sickness of a building based on those verified certifications and IAQ assurance programs.
The desire for Healthy Buildings is the natural consequence of prevalent corporate health and wellness initiatives. The increasing focus on the ability of a building to assure a healthy work environment will force technological changes in the building infrastructure. The Internet of Things (IoT) will certainly play a role in that revolution as access to real-time IAQ data will be increasingly required.