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Indoor Air Quality Monitoring: You can’t manage what you don’t measure
Sensgreen’s Sanela Habbab on the need to monitor IAQ in real-time, collate actionable data, and implement proactive ...
Sensgreen’s Sanela Habbab on the need to monitor IAQ in real-time, collate actionable data, and implement proactive solutions based on predictive analytics.
Although there are limited existing legal controls on the quality of air within a building, the conversation around Indoor Air Quality is finally being offered its well-deserved spot under the limelight, especially after the attention it has garnered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has triggered a wake-up call to the quality of air that people are inhaling every minute.
It’s no surprise that people are becoming increasingly selective about the hospitals they visit, their office spaces, as well as the quality of air within their own homes – given the fact that a majority of people around the globe are spending increasing amounts of time indoors.
With the dawn of digitalization – and the gradual openness to adopting the fourth industrial revolution – the time has come to leverage technology to improve people’s health and boost building efficiency.
Companies such as Singapore-based artificial intelligence-powered HVAC solutions firm, Sensgreen, are now aiding this transition by offering cutting-edge solutions that can monitor Indoor Air Quality in real-time through IoT devices, and systems that can intelligently interpret the collated IAQ data to offer proactive solutions based on “smart” and predictive analytics.
At the outset, Sensgreen monitors indoor air and helps get HVAC systems under control by analyzing indoor air quality data on a single dashboard.
Speaking exclusively to MEP Middle East, the UAE Country Manager at Sensgreen, Sanela Habbab, says: “Times have changed with the dawn of the digital age. In a broader sense, monitoring Indoor Air Quality in buildings can provide large amounts of data and provide new insights that will guide future rules for designing and operating facilities.
“The collection of Big Data on IAQ, coupled with more capable indoor air quality sensors will enable us to investigate more complicated problems. Now, in real-time monitoring, you can make sure that your building is running as safely as possible; that people are healthy; and that you’re saving on money through cost-effective and energy-efficient HVAC solutions.”
Developed by Sensgreen, the SensNode and Sensboard are intelligent IAQ solutions that allow building owners and managers to make data-driven decisions to improve their IAQ.
Listing out the benefits of this novel IAQ technology, Sanela Habbab explains: “With Sensgreen technology, you are provided real-time air quality data; you can determine the level of air pollution in your building; you can support the implementation of air quality goals or standards; you can track the collated Big Data to follow trends of air pollution, and you can even get insights into the source of pollution.”
What makes this even more interesting is that the Sensgreen Plug n’ Play solution is based on a cable-free smart wireless sensor network, with an IoT platform for building IAQ management that minimizes airborne infectious disease transmission, and improves comfort, productivity, and energy savings.
Habbab explains, “With custom dashboards, it is now possible for construction stakeholders, building operators, facility managers, and maintenance personnel to monitor data, detect aberrations, set alerts and notifications for critical readings, and provide real-time feedback, along with a detailed analytics report.”
“You can’t manage what you don’t measure!” she adds.
Sanela Habbab, UAE Country Manager at Sensgreen
Buildings are dynamic entities and the way to improve air quality starts with aggregated data. Today, it’s possible to view quarterly, even annual, air quality measurements with handheld devices to diagnose the problems within a facility.
Without real-time monitoring, it’s likely that people will miss key events that might occur periodically, which are not in line with the existing measurement schedules. For instance, outdoor wind could bring industrial pollutants with the altering of wind directions. Existing filters might lose their peak performance and might need to be changed more frequently. Ventilation might not be enough for the peak occupant loads, as the design and operation of the facility could be different.
Habbab reiterates: “Real-time monitoring and constant analysis of aggregated data can help understand peak hours, anomalies, and seasonal changes due to weather and outside variables.
“We need to decide with the power of data, instead of having to decide with a few sporadic data points throughout the year.”
Good IAQ requires consideration of both indoor air pollution levels as well as thermal environmental parameters. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines different fundamental ways to improve indoor air quality (IAQ), including the detection and control of the sources of pollution; increased ventilation; the maintenance of thermal health; the periodic maintenance of air filters, including HEPA and MERV; as well as the use of air purifiers.
While air quality is typically considered a key health indicator, another primary concern is also the strong relationship between building energy efficiency and IAQ, especially in commercial and institutional buildings.
It is a known fact that heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are among the largest energy consumers in buildings. IAQ heavily depends on HVAC performance, and conversely, proper air exchange to raise IAQ is essential for energy efficiency in buildings.
IAQ is affected, for better or worse, by a number of factors, including the outdoor climate, human activities within the space, building components and furnishings, as well as the quality and efficiency of the building’s HVAC systems.
This is why it is essential to understand the role of each of these factors in preventing, investigating, and resolving indoor air quality problems.
Sanela Habbab adds: “Many pollutants are found indoors that can harm our health. Understanding and controlling some of the common pollutants present in workplaces, hospitals, schools, and homes can help improve indoor air quality and lower occupants’ risk of health problems associated with IAQ.”
Various sources cause air pollution. These include vehicle traffic, shipping emissions, building heating, industrial production, agricultural emissions, fossil fuel, and biomass energy generation, among others.
“Although outdoor air pollution often captures the headlines, indoor air pollution doesn’t seem to be breaking news. This is despite the harsh reality that indoor air is much more contaminated than outdoor air,” Habbab elucidates.
Indoor environments differ from region to region and country to country due to differences in climatic conditions, lifestyles, and construction practices. Regardless of these differences, many industrialized cultures are increasingly faced with a growing number of similar indoor air quality problems.
“As earlier mentioned, quality is a function of the concentration of pollutants in the air within the building. It includes a mixture of physical, chemical, and biological pollutants from outdoor ambient air or inside the building, from building materials, furniture, furnishings, or even occupant activities,” Habbab says.
“Physical pollutants include particulates, asbestos fibers, artificial mineral fibers, electromagnetic fields; Biological pollutants include viruses, bacteria, molds, pet allergens, mite allergens; and Chemical pollutants include semi-volatile and volatile organic compounds or VOCs, inorganic gases, among others”
According to the WHO, poorly ventilated buildings are among the main reasons for rapid spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus – the villain behind the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is because aerosols remain suspended in the air or travel farther than 1 meter. Different types of air quality parameters affect aerosol suspension in the air,” Habbab explains.
She also pointed out that indoor air quality affects the transmission rate of the virus in three different ways:
1) Virus Survivability
A virus is a genetic material coated in a protective layer of protein that latches onto a living host in order to replicate. The surrounding environment impacts the virus’ ability to both survive and locate a host, with research indicating that both temperature and humidity affect these processes.
2) Immune System
Once a virus has entered a host, it is up to that host’s immune system to remove it, and air quality has been shown to impact immune strength.
3) Duration of Exposure
Increasing the duration and intensity of exposure increases the risk of transmission. As larger groups of people inhabit an indoor space, CO2 levels rise, and building ventilation is required to bring fresh air back into the building.
Risk assessment has been identified as a necessary step in opening buildings and workplaces, and following a structured risk assessment model is an essential component for a safe return.
As more people return to the office, measuring the health of office buildings will become critical to ensure air quality levels do not exceed the threshold benchmarks that would increase the likelihood of viruses spreading.
It’s a known fact that when IAQ is poor, it means that the indoor air contains high levels of pollutants. Common health impacts include, and are not limited to, building-related illnesses such as asthma, weariness, irritability, and headaches – all of which can be easily abated or eradicated if Sensgreen’s solutions are implemented within buildings.
Habbab says: “Modern lifestyles lead us to constant contact with the inside ambient conditions. We’re spending most of our time in offices, schools, and houses. It is easy to say that inhalation exposure is ongoing, and our most extensive exposure to pollutants occurs indoors. It is our responsibility to ensure that employees, students, and customers breathe air that is as healthy as possible.
“For us at Sensgreen, our primary goal is to ensure proper indoor air quality monitoring and the provision of scientific and technical oversight ensures a healthy indoor environment. Our mission is to raise awareness on IAQ and highlight the irrefutable evidence that indoor air quality poses significant and immediate health risks,” Habbab concludes
“It is imperative to start with making the air visible, and measuring its components. In light of the ongoing worldwide air pollution problem, it is time to learn more and take indoor air quality seriously for our health and wellbeing.”