Why the quality of the air you breathe has never been so important

Air quality has become a hot topic, as workplaces and public buildings start to welcome back more staff, tenants and visitors. Social distancing,...

Why the quality of the air you breathe has never been so important

Air quality has become a hot topic, as workplaces and public buildings start to welcome back more staff, tenants and visitors. Social distancing, mask wearing when in close proximity to others and enhanced ventilation are all advised to help reduce the spread of Covid-19.

But are you aware that there are technological solutions that can actively reduce the transmission of bio contaminants – such as viruses – by optimising the air we breathe?

Monitoring, filtering and controlling indoor air quality (IAQ) can provide people with greater comfort and confidence in their workspace environment.

Air quality linked to infection probability

Surprisingly, the UK currently has no regulations to govern indoor air quality. That's why in May 2021, a group of experts in disease transmission called on the government for that to change, as became apparent that viruses such as Covid-19 are often airborne transmissions, carried in the air circulating in indoor spaces.

The good news for anyone involved in managing workplaces, and other indoor spaces where people gather, is that we don’t need to wait for regulations to minimise these risks.

Healthy building standards

As people return to work, and social venues start to open up, adhering to ‘healthy building’ standards is the best way to reassure people that their environment is safer and complies with industry guidance. To reduce the risks of airborne transmission of infectious agents, the general advice is to increase the air supply and exhaust ventilation, supplying as much outside air as is reasonably possible.

A 2019 study published in Scientific Reports found that providing even minimum levels of outdoor air ventilation reduced influenza transmission (commonly known as the flu), as much as having 50-60% of the people in a building vaccinated.

Latest REHVA guidance

In addition to general guidance provided for employers and building owners in the World Health Organisation (WHO) document 'Getting workplaces ready for COVID-19', the Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Associations (REHVA) has published additional recommendations on how to operate and use building services to minimise the spread of Covid-19.

These include:

  • Operating mechanical ventilation systems in commercial buildings one hour before and after building usage time is sufficient, as long as you operate a minimum three air changes per hour during occupancy
  • Changing the CO2 setpoint to 550 part per million (ppm) in demand-controlled ventilation systems, in order to maintain the operation at nominal speed
  • In the heat recovery sections of the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, using plate heat exchangers and enthalpy plate exchangers with permeable membranes

Using existing technologies to monitor for viruses

When it comes to actively reducing transmission of viruses, the technology already exists within the HVAC controls of many building energy management systems (BEMS).

For example, did you know that it's possible to monitor the air for common pollutants including bio contaminants, and then activate improved air cleaning processes and fresh-air ventilation to minimise any threat?

Determining your air quality score

The best way to determine the quality of a building's internal environment is to have an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) survey. When our team at E.ON1 Control Solutions (ECS) carry this out, we use the latest sensor technology to collect detailed information about IAQ, then grade it based on leading medical research and industry best practice. This process then determines a building's IAQ score.

Our team has also implemented a "wellness pod" multi-sensor solution that can operate as a stand-alone application, or as part of an integrated BEMS (where it can also support HVAC-related energy savings). We can also provide visualisation and telemetry for analysis of the IAQ using our digital value and cloud-based services platform, Optimum.

Each "wellness pod" can measure six key environmental parameters and provides high-precision real-time readings for:

  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Particulate matter
  • Barometric pressure

All have an impact on your building's air quality.

For example, studies have shown that controlling relative humidity (RH) reduces transmission of certain airborne infectious organisms, including some strains of influenza and potentially Covid-19. The scientific literature finds maintaining RH between 40% and 60% creates the most unfavourable conditions for the survival of micro-organisms.

Link to increased productivity

An added bonus to improving air quality is the long-established link to enhanced productivity. For example, a study by Oxford Brookes University found that maintaining lower levels of carbon dioxide boosted employee work output by 60% and improved test scores by up to 12%.

It's in any landlord, building or facilities manager's power to support a smarter, more productive and healthier workforce.

That sounds like a good news message to share as we recover together from the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

If you need help determining if your current systems are fit for purpose – or how best to implement improvements to ensure your premises complies with healthy buildings best practice – get in touch. We are here to help.

1 npower Business Solutions, part of the E.ON group

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