Indoor Air Quality, Long Overlooked, Takes Center Stage In Push For Healthy Buildings
In 2019, when commercial real estate tenants were asked what they most wanted out of an office space, the answers ranged from tech-enabled spaces to rotating food vendors. One thing that wasn’t on the list, however, was air quality monitoring tools. This year has changed all that.
With an airborne illness raging, building owners and their tenants are calling for a heightened focus on indoor air quality to help keep people safe in homes, offices, hospitals and entertainment venues alike.
For industry experts who have been paying attention to the effects of indoor air contaminants and pathogens for decades, these upgrades have been a long time coming. They will also likely have benefits long after the coronavirus pandemic is over.
“While it’s of course especially important to monitor indoor air quality now, ‘Sick Building Syndrome’ has been an issue long before COVID-19,” said Benjamin Skelton, president of Cyclone Energy Group. “Air quality monitors can help owners keep track of the contaminants that will continue to cause problems after the pandemic is over.”
Skelton and his team at Cyclone have offered energy-saving solutions and insights for commercial real estate building owners since 2012. In 2018, they began offering indoor air quality sensors and consulting services to help landlords learn more about the air in their buildings and how they could improve it. Bisnow spoke with Skelton to learn more about the importance of indoor air quality and what building owners can do to keep their tenants safe from airborne contaminants.
Bisnow: When we talk about measuring indoor air quality, what are we actually measuring?
Skelton: There isn’t a clear definition of what’s considered “good” air quality, but there are limits to what’s considered acceptable for the amount of contaminants we breathe indoors. In office buildings, multifamily buildings and retail spaces what we’re mostly tracking are levels of CO2, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter, which can range from dust to viruses like SARS-CoV-2. People can only tolerate a certain amount of these contaminants before they start to experience adverse health effects, which is why it’s important to monitor them.
Take CO2, the carbon dioxide we expel when we breathe. If there are too many people in a space that is not ventilated properly, you’re going to have high CO2 levels, which can cause people to feel tired and less productive.
Bisnow: What are some mistakes building owners are making when it comes to improving air quality?
Skelton: Thanks to updated building codes that require a level of ventilation designed to reduce the risk of elevated contaminants, owners of newer buildings have never really had to think about air quality after they pass initial inspections. However, energy-saving strategies have taken center stage over the past two decades and it's not clear if air quality is being maintained.
Most owners are already doing a good job if their buildings are up to code, and they don’t need to spend a lot of money on secondary air cleaning devices or UVGI cleaning devices that haven’t been proven to work. What it really comes down to is maintenance — if you're changing your filters regularly, bringing in good ventilation and using the right tools to consistently monitor the air quality to make sure contaminants are staying in check, you have healthy indoor air.
Another mistake owners might be making right now is doubling down on sanitation without checking how cleaning products are impacting their air quality. Volatile organic compounds can be found in cleaning products, which are being used more than ever these days. While it’s important to keep buildings extra-clean during the pandemic, we also have to pay close attention to the level of these compounds that are in the air. Owners don’t want to make people sick while they’re trying to keep them healthy.
Bisnow: How can building owners properly monitor their air quality?
Skelton: We have a managed consulting service where we can come in and install sensors throughout your building where you want to monitor air quality. We can monitor the levels of 16 different contaminants, which is significantly more than most sensors can pick up. Those sensors can transmit data to a dashboard that building owners can view from their laptop or phone and see in real time what the air quality is in their building and get up-to-the-minute alerts if a major issue or change is detected.
We track temperature, humidity, CO2, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter as small as half a micron. To give you a sense of how small that is, a human hair is about 50 microns, and scientists believe that the particles that carry the SARS-CoV-2 virus are in the range of an eighth of a micron.
A lot of other companies just offer sensors and then leave building owners to figure out for themselves what the data those sensors produce means. We offer our service as consultants so we can explain the data, how buildings can make adjustments to improve their data and how they can know whether they are doing enough to keep their indoor air clean. Additionally, as new air quality regulations and standards come out, as they have in the wake of the pandemic, we can inform our clients and let them know what they need to do to comply.
Bisnow: Do you see the demand for these tools and services remaining high after the pandemic?
Skelton: We started offering our sensors and consulting services in 2018 and got almost no traction from our clients, except when they were looking to achieve LEED or WELL Building certification. Since the pandemic, more clients are seeing the value of these tools and demand for our services is on the rise. I believe that the combination of how the pandemic has gotten us all to think more about air quality, paired with the growing trend toward creating healthier buildings, will sustain that demand.
This feature was produced in collaboration between the Bisnow Branded Content Studio and Cyclone Energy Group. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.