Can we ever reconcile building energy efficiency and indoor air quality?

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When people talk about sustainability and all of its many facets, outdoor air quality and the need to improve it are taken for granted.

But every time you mention indoor air quality, you get a slightly different reaction.

This may be because for many years it has become synonymous with heating and air conditioning systems, which can consume energy at an alarming rate and are therefore part of the problem, especially when it comes to decarbonization.

However, if there’s one thing we’ve all learned from the pandemic, it’s that indoor air quality isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity, especially if we all want to switch to a healthier and more sustainable future.

The question is how to reconcile the need for clean indoor air with the need to make buildings as energy efficient as possible?

Christian Weeks, CEO of enVerid Systems, admitted that there is often a tension between improving indoor air quality and making buildings as energy efficient as possible.

He said it’s because the green building ‘playbook’ dictates that buildings should be as airtight, with as little ventilation as possible in order to make them energy efficient. The problem is that less ventilation has a negative impact on indoor air quality, unless other measures are taken to control contaminants generated indoors.

While the indoor air quality ‘playbook’ says to open windows and ensure there is as much outdoor air ventilation in the building as possible, this means increased costs for heating and cooling outdoor air used to dilute contaminants generated indoors.

This approach is particularly energy-intensive in hot and cold climates. It can also be counterproductive when the outside air is not clean.

“We believe there is a way to improve indoor air quality and climate resilience while saving energy and costs, and we call it sustainable IAQ,” Weeks told Forbes.

According to Weeks, the way to achieve sustainable IAQ is to deploy proven air cleaning and filtration technologies to remove particles, pathogens and gases such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ozone. indoor air, so less outdoor air ventilation is needed to achieve good indoor air quality.

The key is to define what is meant by good indoor air quality in terms of particles, pathogens and gases, then deploy the right combination of cleaning, filtration and ventilation of the air. air to achieve indoor air quality goals in a cost-effective and energy-efficient manner.

“We have to control all three of them,” he added. “And I would say that the impact of the gas part is still not very well understood. For example, CO2 is widely talked about as an indicator of air quality, but CO2 is not a particularly good overall measure of indoor air quality because many sources of contaminants are not dependent on the number of people in a CO2-generating space.

Erik Malmstrom, CEO of SafeTraces, said the “interdisciplinary nature” of indoor air quality, affecting everything from mechanical systems to infectious diseases, combined with the lack of clear regulations, standards and building codes and consistent, creates a complex, confusing environment for building owners and operators.

“We don’t have a common definition of ‘good’ indoor air quality that incorporates the most significant health and safety risk in buildings, airborne pathogens. This is where the breakdown begins,” added Malmstrom.

“Then, official guidelines often start with a first and main step of bringing in more outdoor air to improve indoor air quality, although there are other ways that are more effective, as well as much more economical and energy efficient, to purify indoor air, such as filtration and disinfection, especially with regard to protection against pathogens.

Weeks said filtration and cleaning is the “only way to go” to improving indoor air quality when the air outside isn’t “fresh” due to pollution.

“To improve climate resilience and reduce emissions from buildings, we need to clean and recycle the air already in the building,” he said. “We already do this in other aspects of our lives. We recycle wherever we can, because it’s resource efficient. We should do the same with our air.

enVerid Systems, in conjunction with leading IAQ and energy efficiency companies 75F, Awair, GIGA, Oxygen8, Planled and SafeTraces, recently released a white paper, which sets out a roadmap to simultaneously improve air quality interior and achieve the objectives of decarbonization of buildings and climate resilience.

It recommends a “clean first” framework that begins with setting indoor air quality goals, layering air cleaning, filtration and ventilation technologies, continuous monitoring of the quality of indoor air and using smart building controls to dynamically adjust air cleaning and ventilation to optimize indoor air quality, comfort and climate resilience.

“The twin challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change have highlighted the need for healthy and green buildings, not just one or the other. Additionally, market, political and regulatory drivers are compelling real estate to act,” added Malmstrom.

“While our traditional playbook puts indoor air quality and sustainability at direct odds, the clean-first framework offers building owners and operators a valuable pathway to achieve both sets of goals, from cost-effective and energy-efficient manner.”

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