Can a new approach to building design improve indoor air quality?

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Indoor air quality has always been a niche topic, even in environmental circles, but in recent years more and more people have realized how vital it is to our well-being.

Devices to monitor and purify the air in your home and workplace are now readily available in department stores, and while these devices are incredibly important on their own, what about how the buildings are designed?

Should indoor air quality be taken into account from the outset or can it be taken into account after the fact and dealt with later?

Indoor air quality at home

Kevin Smith, general manager of living and appliance solutions and vision solutions at Panasonic Canada, said the focus in homebuilding over the past 20 years has been on energy efficiency and on “sealing buildings as tightly as possible”.

But Smith said the “biggest design issue right now” is improving indoor air quality through improved ventilation systems, using products that produce fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs). and tackling the problem of gas stoves in kitchens, which can also pollute the air. we breathe.

He added there needs to be a ‘balanced approach’ to ventilation systems to ensure they don’t just exhaust stale air, but also bring fresh air back into a home at the same time. .

But there is no doubt that people are now more aware of indoor air quality issues. A recent Panasonic study found that after learning more about the subject, the number of homeowners who rated their own home as somewhat or very unhealthy more than tripled, from 12% to 39%.

“Before the pandemic, we really had to force the conversation about indoor air quality, but since then it’s been a natural conversation to have with the building community,” Smith added.

“Our survey really showed just how ignorant homeowners and builders are about indoor air quality,” he added. “But once you start the conversation, it’s easy to get them to connect with the issue, because they understand that their home is their nest. This is where their children grow up.

Work place

Brian Turner, managing director of Buildings IOT, said how workplaces are designed “obviously has a big impact” on ventilation and air quality.

Mr Turner said if you don’t have enough fresh air coming into an office ‘you deprive that space of effective ventilation’ and he added ‘you can unknowingly reduce’ the air quality interior in certain parts of an office simply by putting the wrong kind of furniture or even temporary walls in place.

In a commercial office, Turner said the air needs to be replaced between six and eight times per hour at a minimum.

“There has certainly been a lot of discussion about how office space is going to be redesigned in the future,” he added. “You’re going to see a lot less population density, and it’s not out of fear of Covid coming back, but really out of fear of the next pandemic or epidemic.”

Turner said the hardware and sensors already exist to ensure a building has good, healthy airflow.

“You think of the smartest buildings in the world, and they have the best ventilation,” Mr Turner said. “They have the sensors where they need them. They have the data. You can tell when you enter these buildings. We often joke that the most modern casinos in Las Vegas are always the places where you feel most awake when you enter them, because they have the best ventilation systems.

Earlier this week, the White House announced a new ‘buy clean’ task force to promote the use of low lifecycle emission building materials, which could also impact future building designs in the United States. United States.

“We can take this effort a step further by ensuring that day-to-day technology and services within buildings also work to optimize energy throughout the life of the building,” Turner added.

Commercial spaces

It’s not just workplaces and homes that will need to change their design to ensure fresh airflow. Tim Burke, vice president of energy and operations at IMS Evolve, said we could see “a complete shift” in the way supermarkets and other retailers plan their stores.

Burke said the focus will be on creating a “safer space for people who still want to shop.”

“The change around fresh air is creating the understanding that we’re going to need more sensory data to be able to plan a store and control a store from scratch,” he added. “It’s always been important, but it seems more important now to get air changes at the customer level, not just to spin hot air from the top of the building.”


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