With the pandemic having taken the world by storm, the term IAQ or “Indoor Air Quality” has become a much more familiar term to many – certainly for those in the HVAC and facilities management lines of work. Up until this point, many of us did not give much thought to the quality of air in the buildings that we live and work in, but rather took it for granted that it was good.
COVID-19 has changed that, including just what constitutes good IAQ in our indoor environments versus bad and how does one make improvements to move from the latter to the former. Overall, there is some very promising work being done that will have a positive impact on the quality of the air that many of us breathe.
To identify a good solution to IAQ, we first need to understand the importance of air quality as well as the components that make air quality unhealthy. ASHRAE, a recognized authority on the topic states the overall issues of IAQ as follows in their document entitled “ASHRAE Position Document on Indoor Air Quality”:
“INDOOR AIR IS THE DOMINANT PATHWAY FOR EXPOSURE TO AIRBORNE CONTAMINANTS GIVEN THAT PEOPLE SPEND MOST OF THEIR TIME INDOORS, AND INDOOR AIR COMMONLY CONTAINS NUMEROUS CONTAMINANTS ORIGINATING FROM BOTH INDOOR AND OUTDOOR SOURCES. MANY OF THE CONTAMINANTS IMPACT HEALTH, COMFORT, WELL-BEING, LEARNING OUTCOMES, AND WORK PERFORMANCE. IT IS IMPORTANT THAT IAQ IS CONSIDERED IN THE DESIGN, CONSTRUCTION AND OPERATION OF BUILDINGS AND HVAC SYSTEMS.”
So, what is good IAQ? It can generally be defined as indoor air that is clean, clear, and free from pollutants. Such pollutants might include:
- Particulate Matter (i.e., Smoke, Dust, Pollen, etc.)
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC; found in fabrics, paints, carpets, etc.)
- Pathogens such as Bacteria, Mold, and Viruses
While established thresholds for IAQ vary, that fact that minimizing the impurities and pollutants in the air leads to better air quality and thus a healthier environment for all occupant within a building is widely accepted.
Know that we have established a basic understanding of the key contaminants that lower the quality of indoor air and pose health concerns, the questions that arise are:
- How do I know what the quality of my indoor and outdoor air presently are?
- What are my options for improving my IAQ?
- How do I verify that I have improved the air quality as I introduce new systems?
What does a good solution look like? A good solution should:
- Enable you to measure your present air quality in addition to monitoring it after any changes to assess the impact of the changes
- Proactively alert you to adverse air quality issues based on continuous monitoring of the air
- Provide predictive maintenance functionality to replace more costly schedule/preventative maintenance where possible
- Leverage new, safe technologies to clean your air in the most cost-effective way possible
- Effectively use the data that your system is creating to continuously optimize your air quality with the greatest efficiency.
Additional things to consider in sch a system should include:
- Efficacy – how does it work, and can you measure everything that you want to
- Cost – does it come with significant recurring energy or maintenance cost
- Scalability – is it a long-term investment that can be scaled and incorporated even more functionality as your need – i.e., Smart Building
- Proof – has there been third party testing and validation of the technology
The best approach is to find a good IAQ solutions provider that understands how to integrate the necessary components for an optimal system utilizing purification systems to purify the air; sensors to measure the various attributes and quality of the air; and an integrated smart building software platform to visualize and monitor the data, as well as alert you to problems.
IAQ, although we can not see it or physically touch it, it has a tremendous impact on our over all well being and performance.