COVID-19 has brought indoor air quality to the forefront of public discourse. The economic and social upheaval that the coronavirus pandemic caused have put millions at the risk of extreme poverty due to unemployment and fewer man hours.
The coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity for building owners and business leaders to rethink the future and shift their focus towards more user-centric concerns with health and well-being as a priority. Here are some important lessons to take on board:
#1 Health, safety, and wellbeing come first
The indoor air quality solutions solutions that enable health, safety, and well-being are investments with manifold returns, not unnecessary costs. Building occupants are increasingly demanding better IAQ, and they’re taking action to ensure their demands are met. The past few years have been defined by an increase in class action lawsuits due to poor indoor air quality. Settling these problems can be costly, and at times, they are not covered by general liability insurance policies.
As people learn more about the risk borne by airborne illnesses like COVID-19 and other pollutants, they are increasingly aware of the problems associated with bad IAQ and its effect on their health. To avoid possible litigation, business leaders should pay close attention to complaints and promptly address them. It also helps to maintain a holistic IAQ management strategy embedded in building operations and effectively execute it.
Committing to health, safety and well-being might seem like an unnecessary expenditure, but it will yield direct benefits when employees reiterate with increased commitment and enthusiasm levels. From the perspective of the employees, implementing IAQ solutions that significantly improve their health and well-being will show that they are genuinely valued. They will feel a more profound appreciation than they would with generic benefits. If workers feel valued, they are more inclined to be productive at their duties. In fact, every dollar invested in wellness-related activities provides an approximate return of about 6$.
Investing in IAQ solutions that facilitate well-being and health will also help to establish a positive company culture. Workers who feel valued are more likely to collaborate with others and have a positive attitude towards work.
IAQ solutions that improve occupant health and well-being include:
Ventilation ensures the proper balance of gases within an indoor environment. It also manages and reduces contaminants from occupied building spaces. Another critical aspect of healthy indoor air is humidity control. Buildings with faulty ventilation systems trap moisture, which condenses and becomes a breeding ground for mildew, mold, and bacteria. A proper ventilation system maintains proper ideal indoor humidity, thereby eliminating the problem.
Unlike conventional filters, high-efficiency air filters comprise dense, pleated glass fibers that increase total surface area and limit air-flow resistance. They are recommended for removing particles smaller than 0.6 microns in environments with dangerous fumes, particles, and chemicals.
Air cleaning products can use UV light and ionization to eliminate viruses. These devices can be integrated into the air distribution system to destroy virus particles.
Note: while all these methods are effective, they do not substitute for social distancing, wearing masks, and wearing hands. These still have to be observed to further reduce the risk of virus transmission.
#2 Preventive maintenance is essential.
Preventive maintenance programs contribute to a proper indoor environment by limiting the spread of airborne contagions and pollutants. They enable building managers to monitor their buildings’ IAQ infrastructure, allowing them to find problems before they escalate into a full-blown crisis.
The value of preventative maintenance is clearly evidenced in a COVID-19 outbreak that occurred in Guangzhou at the start of 2020. Three families sat at adjoining tables in a crowded section of a local restaurant, and an individual at the middle table suffered symptoms later that day. Nine other people from the three families tested positive within two weeks.
A thorough investigation of the event led researchers to conclude that a lack of outdoor air supply and poor ventilation facilitated the spread of the contagion. These problems could have been resolved through preventive IAQ maintenance practices such as.
- Proper ventilation, i.e., improving exhaust ventilation and increasing the supply of outdoor air in building-usage areas with high risk of virus exposure.
- Advising workers to contact health care providers or public health departments whenever they develop serious breathing problems. All the information needed for this (such as phone contacts and other contact details) should be provided to all workers.
- Training administrators and employees on how to limit the risk of virus exposure and what to do in case of COVID-19 infection.
Proper maintenance depends on the quality of both the materials and procedures used in operating and maintaining the building components, including the HVAC system. Facility management teams who understand building systems are a vital resource in preventing and addressing indoor air quality problems. However, they can only do so if they know how their actions affect indoor air quality. This may require making changes to existing practices or introducing new procedures regarding odor and contaminant control.
Procedural changes may include maintaining ideal pressure relationships between building sections, regulating ventilation quantities, and scheduling building maintenance activities so they occur when the facility is unoccupied.
#3 Single point solutions do not guarantee good IAQ
Conventional IAQ systems rely on single-point measurements of pollutant levels, such as carbon dioxide or particulate matter monitors. However, this method does not provide a complete picture of indoor air quality conditions which is influenced by a number of variable factors.
Smart devices for continuous monitoring of important air quality factors eliminate the challenges associated with isolated measurements. They are capable of assessing several IAQ indicators in real-time. This facilitates a comprehensive yet simple and effective air quality management process. The instruments can collect conclusive and accurate IAQ records on air quality metrics such as; carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, TVOCs, ozone, and more.
The instruments’ software can set benchmarks for humidity, temperature, and concentrations of harmful contaminants. When these presets are not met, the devices can activate and manage the air conditioning and ventilation systems. The instruments can also turn heating on or off. Continuous IAQ monitoring creates a detailed profile of a building’s indoor air environment, and a detailed analysis of the data allows for efficient energy and resource management. It provides the raw data needed to identify trends and correct problems, enabling a favorable indoor environment that benefits a building’s occupants.
#4. Implementing IAQ practices is not enough.
Communication and engagement are integral to the success of any IAQ management program – the public needs to see clear and consistent evidence that business leaders are taking the necessary measures to ensure the proper indoor air quality in the form of democratized reports and indoor air quality assessment data.
As buildings reopen and people return to public spaces, they will want reassurance that building managers value their safety. Effectively relaying IAQ efforts will build confidence and encourage consumers to re-enter public spaces. Building managers should provide occupants with information on issues such as the most prominent IAQ problems, including details on different pollutant types. They should also discuss the solutions being implemented to prevent these threats. This might include how building ventilation systems are managed and how vital IAQ aspects such as humidity and temperature are controlled.
#5 Healthy buildings are the future.
The rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically affected the way we live and interact. As the full impact of these events becomes clearer, business leaders must do more than just adapt to COVID-19. They must prepare for a different world – one where healthy buildings are not just important but crucial. The pandemic has led to a systemic change in how workspaces are perceived, designed, and managed. Executing strategies that benefit occupant’s well-being is now a top design priority. Healthy building strategies are now the new standard in building operation and design. As schools, businesses, and other institutions reopen, occupant health and safety will be a top consideration. Healthy buildings will continue to be an effective long-term tool to achieve this goal.
To ensure buildings are healthy, managers should ensure they meet the following criteria.
Healthy, sustainable air
This feature requires a commitment to improving the quantity and quality of outside air within the building and maximizing natural ventilation with mixed-mode HVAC systems. This should be implemented along with separate ventilation systems for thermal cooling, filtration, and pollution source control. Studies have shown that high-performance ventilation systems reduce respiratory infection by 9-20% and increase individual productivity by as much as 10%, with minimal energy expenditure.
Healthy and sustainable thermal control
This feature requires separate ventilation systems for thermal conditioning and thermal dynamics. Buildings should also provide thermal controls designed to ensure load balancing and provide radial comfort. Studies suggest that this approach limits the incidence of sick building syndrome while saving about 25% of a building’s air conditioning energy.
IAQ is now a crucial and widely recognized aspect of public health. By extension, this makes it a vital component of any business process. Lessons like this will help industry leaders incorporate effective IAQ practice into their operations, thereby enabling sustainable growth.