19.2.2018 - Elina Koskipahta - Indoor air
According to the report published by Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) in 2016, over 70 % of office workers are discontent with the indoor air quality in their workplace.
The number is huge, stressing the importance of quick action when it comes to air quality issues. Even though indoor air problems seem to be constantly increasing, the methods used to deal with them haven’t changed much for 20 years. Most of the industry practises are still mainly reactive.
– Most people believe that current energy standards and modern construction methods have added to the problem, but as I see it, the situation has gotten worse simply because it hasn’t been properly monitored, claims Rick Aller, the COO of 720 Degrees.
According to Aller, indoor air quality has worsened throughout the years because there has been no way to distinguish the severity of indoor air problems quickly enough. The process from first findings to appropriate measurements usually takes time which allows some of the most serious chemicals to evaporate before anything can be measured.
– Unfortunately this often leads to a situation where people are being blamed for imagining their symptoms. Belittling their experience only makes it all worse and can affect the whole working atmosphere if the problem occurs in an office space.
“People are not yet fully accustomed to multifunctional offices. We still tend to behave as if we had our own rooms.”
Aller reminds that healthy working environment is not just about fresh air. It is also about thermal comfort and noise levels, as well as the safety of workers. As an example, he mentions multifunctional offices that have rapidly become the office standard.
– People are not yet fully accustomed to them. We still tend to behave as if we had our own rooms, and this is turning out to be a distraction for our co-workers. Knowing when to talk, how loud to talk, and when you are actually disturbing your colleagues is a good start, but it doesn’t cover all the drawbacks these open office spaces might have.
Aller refers to recent studies, such as the Harvard University Green Building studies, that show a clear need for improvement in the industry. The research indicates that a normal office environment can actually have rather high levels of CO2, decreasing our cognitive skills by up to 70 %.
– This has huge implications on productivity in general. Companies can dramatically increase their productivity if they take it seriously and invest in higher quality offices – as well as instruct employees to be more knowledgeable about the indoor environment. I am talking about small steps here – even telling your workers to avoid spending too much time in enclosed spaces can make the difference in some cases, Aller explains.
– If you have poor air quality in the office, almost any investment that improves on it significantly, will have an incredibly short ROI timeframe, he adds.
Knowing the challenges of indoor air measurement, 720° Degrees has put a lot of effort in creating a solution that both collects indoor environmental quality data, such as air quality, thermal comfort and noise pollution, and knows how to evaluate it.
– Using high quality sensors used to be a privilege – and also useless as the data needed the kind of manual interpretation that only a few people were able to do. Big data changed that.
– Now, by utilizing high quality sensors and machine learning, we can in only 5 seconds analyze the same amount of data that would take five PhD’s from different areas of expertise 128 years to analyze and provide insights on. This allows us to leverage high levels of expertise on billions of data points simultaneously, which has not been possible previously.
“The measurements are present in the office, so that people can see and feel that the problems are being taken seriously.”
The 720° is a Software-as-a-Service solution that is provided at a annual fee. According to Aller, the system can also be linked to existing IoT devices or other sensory equipment with several different protocols. Their aim is to make it as easy as possible for companies to tackle the problems of indoor environment.
– One important aspect in our product is the open communication between the customer, customers employees and the facility management. The measurements are also present in the office, so that people can see and feel that the problems are being taken seriously. It is acknowledged that knowing what causes the problems in the indoor environment, increases job satisfaction, he states.
With the help of machine learning and real-time data it is easy for both the real estate management and the users of the space to see how the actions taken are affecting the indoor air quality.
Aller reminds that the industry is evolving fast and companies should continuously develop new skills. Getting all the parties involved to team up, however, is something that is rarely done in this field.
– Just think about thermal comfort, an issue that most people feel dissatisfaction with. The most significant factor in thermal comfort is air velocity or draft which is usually extremely localised and therefore difficult to measure. These issues do not continuously show through anything other than feedback from occupants.
– Issues like temperature fluctuations can be measured and continuously improved on, and this helps a lot already, but tackling the more demanding issues need constant help from occupants through dedicated channels of communication, he states.
Seems that learning how to leverage big data solutions is one of the key factors in maintaining competitiveness in the next few years.
– The timing and location of measurements have been an entire discipline since sampling the air has been extremely limited. Now with IoT and Big Data, timing can be “Always” and location can be “Everywhere”, disrupting an entire field of knowledge within indoor air quality measuring.
– Whereas building owners are continuously looking for ways to increase the value of their premises and increase retention rates that improve automation, service providers are negatively affected by the rate at which they are investigating indoor environmental quality issues such as “thermal comfort” or “stale air” without any sort of facts to aid them in troubleshooting.
– With our system, building owners can effectively decrease the amount of indoor environmental complaints, while service providers can increase the value of their services with the same amount of effort, Aller concludes.