Indoor Air Quality & the Importance of Real-Time Data for the Workplace

Indoor Air Quality & the Importance of Real-Time Data for the Workplace

02/02/2021

As lockdown 3.0 continues, commercial building owners and operators are turning their attention to preparing for the return of their teams to the workplace. This return is likely to be phased, tentative and not necessarily in 2021. This virus is less predictable than previously thought and there is a real fear amongst workers of returning to the workplace prematurely.

 

One of the big conversations happening is around indoor air quality. In Ireland, traditionally the focus was on insulation for heat retention rather than ventilation, however, as building practices and materials have improved in line with building regulations, the increased air tightness of our buildings requires a much greater emphasis on mechanical ventilation and well-designed air flow. While there has been a consistent move towards enhanced indoor air quality, the measuring or ongoing monitoring of this has been quite poor. Even where the systems and technologies were in place to monitor indoor air quality, the reporting tended to be periodic and therefore historic, rather than real-time. Also, despite most contemporary monitoring systems allowing for dashboards with tenant or occupant-access, this was not being used or relied upon. Unsurprisingly, since the spread of Covid-19, this has changed hugely. Not only are property owners and managers  paying more attention to the real-time monitoring of the quality of the air within their buildings, they are getting better at communicating these levels to building occupants. This communication will be key to restoring trust in the safety of our workplaces.

A recent US publication stated that indoor air quality could “spark or stall recovery” for commercial real estate. This is a bold claim to make considering the multifaceted approach required to make workplaces and all commercial properties safe. The thrust of the article was that consumers have always impacted on the profitability of commercial real estate through ever-spiralling demands, for example, an impressive lobby or reception area is not longer enough, building users are demanding an ever-increasing list of amenities and features.

 

Interestingly, we see that the features in demand by building users in 2021 go beyond the aesthetic and into the building operations, including air conditioning, heat exchanges and ventilation – all of which impact on the quality of the air within.

 

In Ireland, windows have routinely been considered adequate in terms of ventilation, resulting in ‘stuffy’ rooms and incidences of mould in the damp winter months. This will no longer be good enough for workplaces and the teams inside them. This shift was already happening, the pandemic placed some urgency around it. The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) is now recommending increased rates of direct fresh air supply and exhaust ventilation. Recirculated air systems and transfer of air from one occupied space to another should be avoided where possible. In practical terms, this means running ventilation systems at a higher volume rate than would ordinarily be necessary, and central ventilation systems with recirculation mixing boxes should be set to full fresh air and full exhaust to avoid any possibility of contaminants being recirculated into the space. Also, the use of recirculation fan coil units and split-type air conditioning units is to be discouraged unless there is an adequate source of fresh air, mechanical or natural, to the space.

We have written previously about the role of building ventilation in curbing the spread of COVID-19, link available here: 

https://mckeon.ie/understanding-the-role-of-building-ventilation-in-curbing-the-spread-of-covid-19-in-2021/ 

 

About McKeon Group

Established in 1950 and ISO certified for more than two decades, McKeon Group offers expert construction, fitout and building services. The family-run Group delivers projects, services and maintenance across a range of sectors for State, local authority, FDI and private clients. For more information, contact: www.mckeon.ie

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