Many studies by the U.S. Green Building Council (as well as other groups) show the importance of indoor air quality and the direct impact it has on occupant health. Sick building syndrome (SBS) affects many commercial and residential buildings—according to the World Health Organization, as much as 30% of the global building stock is affected. SBS includes a range of illnesses resulting from time spent in a polluted building. There are a variety of causes of SBS, from pathogens to particulate matter, from allergens to volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde.
With many Americans spending as much as 90% of their day indoors, it seems like a healthy indoor environment should be a greater concern for building managers. Yet for all the research being done on indoor air quality, there is a general lack of interest in rectifying the situation. Just as it is difficult to convince people of the importance of exercise, bad indoor air quality is a chronic health concern that many are loathe to devote energy to. It seems that an automatic system to regulate the indoor environment is needed.
Integrate with the New Environment
Outside of experimental and university studies, few systems exist that combine ventilation, filtration, and monitoring systems to optimize indoor air quality. The onus of combining data from expensive monitors with implemented solutions may not be one that already-overburdened building managers bother to handle. To be fair, there are a number of aspects to indoor air quality that interact in complex and often unexpected ways. The current trend to tighten a building’s envelope leads to less ventilation, ultimately trapping contaminants inside. Urea formaldehyde adhesives are popular in building materials, but the previously leaky buildings of the 1980s prevented the buildup of formaldehyde from becoming hazardous in most cases.
One way to rectify this buildup is to increase the ventilation rates of HVAC systems. However, increasing ventilation rates leads to an increase in energy use, oftentimes cancelling the energy savings gained from tightening the building in the first place. In addition, many commercial buildings experience wide variation in the levels of occupancy and activity of different zones, yet don’t have matching variable ventilation rates. CO2 sensors and other proxies of activity can be used to adjust ventilation to match occupancy, but advanced and integrated systems do not currently exist. It still falls on the building operator to do the bulk of adjusting ventilation.
Newer sensors are coming onto the market, such as the Beagle sensor, which promises data delivered remotely to homeowners at an affordable price. These sensors can deliver diagnostic feedback on light, noise, pressure, humidity, and air quality (primarily CO2). This makes it easy to monitor indoor air quality, but it does not offer a control feature. Many other multi-variable sensor units have entered the marketplace in the past 5 years, such as the Air Quality Egg and CubeSensors. However, none of these products integrate easily with HVAC systems already present in homes and buildings, making controlling indoor air quality a hassle for building owners.
More data is available on the quality of indoor environments than ever before. There is a huge opportunity to integrate this data into control systems and improve the indoor environment. Watch for Navigant Research’s upcoming Indoor Environmental and Air Quality report for further analysis of this market.
Tags: Building Innovations, HVAC, Indoor Air Quality, Intelligent Building Management Systems
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