In recent months, the ‘healthy building’ movement has emerged as a key solution for addressing COVID-19. The novel disease is commonly transmitted by air and shared surfaces, which has amplified the urgency to finding new solutions for air ventilation and filtration, lighting quality, and cleaning practices and protocol in buildings. This has evolved the ‘healthy buildings’ from a ‘nice to have’ amenity for tenants to an urgent push for mandatory improvement projects. Facility management teams are tasked with identifying strategies to improve building health, while balancing priorities to minimize operational cost and ensure building efficiency. Put simply, when building owners integrate new COVID-response efforts into operations, the estimated energy use may increase, leading to higher operational expenses and therefore increased carbon emissions.
“When considering indoor environmental quality, questioning how much fresh air is appropriate for energy use and human health is imperative in the next steps toward evolving building codes and standards… We know what the sweet-spot is for energy efficiency and we know that increasing fresh air helps both dilute airborne viral particles and cognitive responsiveness. The next leap is toward testing them in combination with one another.”Dr. Joseph Allen’s How Sustainable are COVID-19 Mitigation Strategies for Buildings & People?
Identifying and implementing strategies to achieve a balance between these critical components of building operations is easier said than done. As new ‘healthy building’ solutions emerge, facility management teams may need to refine settings to hone in and strike the right balance. Building Management Systems (BMS) are a key tool in the response, and their effectiveness is enhanced by next-generation software and IoT hardware that can access equipment performance data without the need for sub-metering. This granular performance data helps operations teams optimize equipment performance and stay ahead in the market.
New guidelines and requirements have amplified the urgent need to integrate these new building features. In 2019, ASHRAE released new guidelines for air ventilation and filtration to improve indoor air quality. ASHRAE’s protocols, which already quickly adopted into local codes and green building standards, have been expedited by the need to avoid recirculated air in the COVID-19 era, citing that HVAC systems can play a significant role in transmitting germs. To maintain leadership in the market, these needs must be addressed. Though intimidating, the process can be broken down into three main steps:
Collect data, including building energy performance and health metrics, such as temperature, humidity, and CO2. Gauge ventilation, pressurization, and filtration rates in spaces, understanding air changes per hour and fresh air intake, This baseline measurement will guide the process to identifying areas for improvement. Once this information is collected, it must also be translated with tools and resources to help determine the ideal range for these measurements.
The insights may highlight areas of improvement in the building, whether indicating the need for an increase in flush cycles, outside air circulation, or more specific temperature or humidity controls. The settings may adjust throughout the year, due to outside environmental conditions, building occupancy levels, or imbalances in the system, and changes in health guidance, so this step is iterative and requires modification while monitoring the insights.
This is the opportunity to get ahead of other building owners, who are currently struggling with how to begin this intimidating process. However, as codes and mandates become more strict to ensure human health and building performance, these elements will be increasingly critical. Adopting these modifications overtime will reduce up-front cost, increase payback period, and establish the building portfolio as a leader in human health and environmental performance.
The building industry will continue to innovate and adopt solutions that respond directly to Coronavirus and similar future viruses. The trick is to future-proof buildings from an operational cost, energy efficiency, and building health perspective at the same time. Envizi is focused on collecting building performance data through an integrated software platform that pinpoints opportunities to optimize performance and provide visibility for data-driven decisions.