Improving Indoor Air Quality

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Real Estate Network

AS PEOPLE INCREASINGLY RETURN to shared indoor spaces, COVID-19 presents a once-in a-generation disruption that focusses new scrutiny on the quality of indoor air and drives the opportunity – and demand – to make workers and customers healthier.

But healthy air challenges transcend the pandemic. From Beijing to Los Angeles and London, citizens are regularly warned to stay indoors because of bad air quality, as pollution and climate change cause issues such as smog and wildfire smoke. Fortunately, innovations in property technology (PropTech), specifically in the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) space, offers solutions to reduce pollutants and pathogens, and commercial property owners and tenants alike are taking notice. They’re pouring money into IAQ systems that offer real-time particle recognition and remediation.

PropTech firms can’t keep up with the demand from buyers in cities across the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Hotels, health-care providers, schools, restaurants, retailers, and offices are snapping up these smart, connected air monitoring and purification products to provide realtime data streams to improve air safety, occupant productivity and peace of mind. These “Internet of Things” devices combine wireless, internet-connected sensors and automation, with air quality data stored in the cloud and millions of lines of code to algorithmically adjust how the machines operate.

Simply put, they detect, predict, and remove germs and other pollutants, from dust to pollen and other allergens. Healthy air technology can also improve carbon dioxide levels. CO2 in spaces like offices can easily reach 1,000 parts per million (ppm) or two-and-half times the current level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. Meeting rooms, meanwhile, can reach 3,000 ppm (seven-and-a-half times the Earth’s atmosphere). Yet, a level of 1,000 ppm is enough to reduce cognitive performance in knowledge workers by 15 percent, according to researchers Harvard University, Syracuse University and SUNY Upstate Medical University.

Products like those made by the Bay Area company Wynd Technologies, are small, sleek personal air purifiers, placed on desks or transported in vehicles. Larger units (the size of dehumidifiers) handle rooms or offices. On a larger scale, companies such as Canada-based Oxygen8 are doing a brisk business selling sleeker, decentralized HVAC units bringing in 100 percent fresh air with no virus crossover using energy-efficient membrane technology.

Longer term, the insights these technologies provide promise to be even more disruptive. Sensor clusters (which resemble smoke detectors), like those also made by Wynd, can be mounted on walls, or integrated into buildings’ existing HVAC systems. The IAQ data provided by these sensors are used to predict and preempt air quality dropping below acceptable levels, using machine learning. Wynd is also building a very unique dataset which ultimately can be used to inform aid equip building owners, occupants and HVAC vendors as a compelling differentiator.

At one time, only health-care providers and NASA invested heavily in air filtration and monitoring. Now, healthy air technology deployments in buildings, from offices to restaurants, hotels, and schools, are ushering a new data-driven world, wherein real-time air quality readings and controls increase people’s actual and perceived level of safety.

Evidence-based healthy air machine designs are changing commercial real estate. The vast majority of North American buildings have big, bulky centralized HVAC systems (installed in the 20th century) that move around the same air with periodic, token infusions of outside air. They recirculate the same dirt, dust, and germs. In addition, they generally follow the same schedule for climate and air flow adjustments for every room, which is far less energy efficient. Oxygen8 has solved those issues. Their systems are small, decentralized and highly efficient. And they circulate 100 percent fresh air, cleaning and filtering it before it gets into the building.

For personal protection, healthy air “bubbles” or individual zones full of fresh air are revolutionizing real estate, too. The Washington Post, for example, recently featured a California restaurant’s experiment using Wynd’s mini air purifiers on customers’ tables, as the restaurant sought to create mini safe zones around individuals. The Big Sur eatery also installed sensor clusters, which are increasingly being placed on walls and in buildings’ HVAC systems. Research-based building standards – like the “Well Standard,” which was developed in the U.S. – are now
selling points for landlords trying to distinguish their buildings and offices as a central part of their return-to-work plans.

The NASA-like future is here now, and it’s a world where technology dynamically responds to carbon-dioxide and airborne particulate matter through intelligent ventilation and filtering out pollutants.
Dave Harris Kolada is a managing partner at
Greensoil PropTech Ventures of Toronto