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Indoor Air Quality Is A Concern As People Return To The Office. How Can Building Owners Keep Them Safe?


An international team of scientists recently called for “a paradigm shift to combat indoor respiratory infection.” At one time, the issue of indoor air quality might have been of interest only to select academics and building managers, but now, it’s on the top of everyone’s minds.

After more than a year of living with the coronavirus pandemic, most people are highly aware of the risks of airborne viruses. As downtown buildings begin to reopen their offices and urban multifamily properties work to attract new residents, owners are looking for ways to encourage tenants to return — and feel safe while doing so. However, many workers continue to be concerned about the indoor air quality in their shared offices.  

“The pandemic has already taught everyone a little bit about IAQ — even people who have never thought of indoor air quality in their life are now at least somewhat familiar with the concept that the quality of the air we breathe, especially indoors, matters to our health,” said Regina Vaicekonyte, vice president of Delos Labs, which is focused on developing solutions for improving indoor environments so that people within them can feel and perform at their best.

Delos has been doing research and providing solutions for indoor air quality for nearly 10 years. Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has been working to help building owners welcome back tenants and help companies keep their employees safe. 

Bisnow spoke with Vaicekonyte to learn more about how the public views indoor air quality, Delos’ approach to air purification and what lies ahead for indoor air quality standards. 

Bisnow: How has the coronavirus pandemic changed people's understanding of indoor air quality?

Vaicekonyte: The pandemic has propelled indoor air quality onto the center stage. Before the pandemic, it was something that largely only building researchers, HVAC engineers and facility managers devoted their time and attention to. In 2020, the whole world realized that the air around them can contain invisible particles with an ability to kill.

While timelines varied for different health organizations to officially recognize that SARS-CoV-2 is airborne, consumers wasted no time to better equip themselves to fight the virus. Portable air purifier sales skyrocketed in 2020, seeing a 57% growth rate, and many companies quickly went out of stock, unable to keep up with the demand. Valued at over $1B last year, the market is expected to continue growing and nearly double in size to over $1.9B by 2027.

Bisnow: How do you approach product evaluation when it comes to air purifiers? What product aspects do you prioritize?

Vaicekonyte: In reviewing any product, our main goal is to objectively evaluate it from a holistic health and wellness perspective. That way, when consumers use the product, they can be confident it will perform as advertised, does not contain or produce harmful materials and enables them to live a healthier life. 

We look at whether the product’s performance has been independently tested and whether the test results confirm its ability to remove specific pathogens and pollutants at the specified efficiency rates. Purifiers vary in their ability to remove different particles, so it’s important to understand which ones are best suited for removing the particles of greatest concern.

We also look at the technology an air purifier uses and whether it produces byproducts such as ozone. Certification by a reputable certifying body such as UL 2998 or the California Air Resources Board is another thing we want to see.

We also take into account factors such as the product’s ease of installation, affordability and its clean air delivery rate — is it sufficient based on the size of and activities within a space? A purifier that is well-suited for a one- to two-person bedroom will be insufficient for a classroom with 20-plus students, for example.

Bisnow: How do Delos' air purification solutions compare to air cleaners that use bipolar ionization?

Vaicekonyte: Delos’ air purifiers use patented disinfecting filtration system — DFS — technology that combines electrical charging processes with the means of mechanical capture to enhance particle capture efficiency. This forces particles to agglomerate — group with one another — creating larger particles, which the mechanical filter in the device can then more easily capture.

Bipolar ionizers, on the other hand, release negative ions into the indoor space, which then attach to airborne particles, making them stick together and fall to the floor and surfaces as dust. The particles themselves are not captured or removed by the ionizer; instead, the floors and other surfaces where the particles deposit would need to be cleaned manually. In addition, bipolar ionizers can emit ozone as a byproduct, which can cause wheezing and shortness of breath, and potentially lead to more severe chronic respiratory issues. Testing reports can help determine whether ozone emission is a concern for any given purifier. 

Bisnow: What will be the biggest impact of the pandemic on air quality in commercial buildings?

Vaicekonyte: I think the greatest impact of the pandemic might be the development of indoor air quality standards for buildings. A group of leading scientists recently published a call to action in Science to improve the quality of the air indoors as a way to help curb the spread of respiratory infections, including Covid-19 as well as others, such as the flu and the common cold. 

In the same way that drinking water regulations were implemented after countless people got sick and died from cholera and other infections, and in the same way we regulate the ingredients and quality of our foods and beverages to ensure people don’t consume things that are toxic or spoiled or contaminated, it is now time to shift our focus to tighter air quality standards.

After all, we eat and drink only a handful of times a day, but we breathe every few seconds — and mostly indoors — so it seems only logical to finally make that air as clean as can be.  

This feature was produced in collaboration between the Bisnow Branded Content Studio and Delos Labs. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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