How much do we know about the air we breathe?

According to the EPA, indoor air is up to five times more polluted than outdoors

We breathe, on average, 12 times per minute, 720 times per hour, and 17,280 times a day but how do we know our buildings are safe and healthy when it comes to air quality? Here, Laura Carminati, Product Line Manager – Sensors and Occupant Interfaces at Distech Controls, looks at some solutions.

We hear a lot about air quality and its undoubted impact on our wellbeing

and health. But when we dig a little bit more about air quality, people are referring mostly to outdoor air quality. The general perception is that we are exposed to outdoor pollution but once we are inside in the building, we are protected from air pollution. In a study made by French Consulting company ENABLE, 52% of French, 60% of Belgian and 62% of Shanghai residents were surprised to learn that we are exposed to more air pollution inside buildings than we are outdoors. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air quality is up to five times more polluted than outdoors.

What pollutants are found in our air and what effect do they have on occupants?

Carbon dioxide is a good place to start as it exists naturally in the atmosphere, it is a molecule produced by the human body through breathing. A high concentration of CO2 means that there’s a lack of fresh air and this can have a significant impact

on occupants including poor concentration, sleepiness and potentially headaches.

Overly high or low humidity levels can lead to mould and dust mites, which can provoke allergies and trigger other respiratory problems like upper respiratory (nasal and throat) symptoms and general discomfort.

VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids and are found in items such as paints, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment, glues and adhesives, and permanent markers. They can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination and nausea.

Fine particles are a mix of tiny solid and liquid particles that are in the air we breathe. Many of the particles are so small as to be invisible. Fine particles are considered mainly as outdoor air pollution, but they can be generated from indoor activities like burning candles, use of fireplaces, use of unvented space heaters or kerosene heaters and smoking. An exposure to fine particles can contribute to the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory complaints.

How can a Building Management System help?

More than ever, having a fully functional Building Management System (BMS) to ensure wellbeing in buildings is critical. A defective system can have consequences for the health of occupants by facilitating the transmission of viruses and bacteria. In all aspects of our lives, we expect the spaces we occupy to be healthy and trustworthy so that we can grow, learn, work and consume with peace of mind.

Occupants want to know that the building they are entering has measures in place to ensure the BMS is functioning correctly, that they will be alerted to any problems and that they can have control over their own environment. These measures can be classified into the two following solution types – proactive solutions that reduce the risk of contagion, and reactive solutions that advance optimal risk management.

In the first instance, there are a number of proactive measures that we can put in place to ensure wellbeing is at the heart of our buildings. These include managing indoor air quality, detecting occupied spaces, providing contactless comfort management.

Wellbeing is a priority

Occupants need to be central to how the building operates and human-centric solutions, such as the AI-powered Resense Move, are designed to enhance the comfort of people living, working and studying in the building.

With shared spaces becoming more common it’s important to know who is using a space and when. For instance, Resense Move will count the number of people

in a space and provide a proactive solution which immediately renews the airflow in the building according to the occupancy levels. The integrated visual LED indicator on Resense Move provides reliable information about the space, letting occupants know if there is a problem with the air quality such as a build-up of CO2 or VOCs. Resense Move is ideal for both new and existing buildings and not only improves the indoor air quality but will also save energy.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology is becoming an important part of the development of products to help support occupancy wellbeing. AI has its share of enthusiasts and doomsayers, but its promise lies somewhere in the grey area between those saying it will solve all our problems and those predicting disaster and chaos.

For many, the technology cycle is early, and there will likely be much discussion and upheavals as society figures out how laws will be created and applied. The AI learning can provide building owners and facility managers with more valuable data about their buildings so they can adapt systems and services, such as, HVAC and lighting system operation, cleaning rotas and even catering services to better serve the occupants as well as delivering performance and energy efficiencies. The ability to conduct people counting through an inbuilt thermal sensor in our Resense Move sensor would not be possible without the support of AI technology, the accuracy and learning which needs to take place would be limited without it.

When we enter a commercial or public building, we want to know that the air we breathe is as pure and uncontaminated as possible. Building owners and facility managers have a duty to provide occupants with a comfortable environment but they are also required to ensure their buildings meet sustainability and energy efficiency targets.

This is why Distech Controls created its global DC Space solution. Building owners and facility managers can install and use controllers for an all-in-one solution for fresh air renewal and demand-controlled ventilation. Resense Move collects the data and information on the building usage, which is then sent to the controller, providing the air needed. This combination creates an innovative, efficient and seamless system. The solution provides human-centric buildings without compromising on energy efficiency.

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