The air quality of our indoor spaces has seen renewed interest in the past 18-months as a strong relationship emerges between the quality or flow of air and the spread of coronavirus. In the rush to get workers back into their physical workplaces, we have seen a surge of office buildings improving and reconfiguring their HVAC systems to better protect employees from COVID, even monitoring systems that provide building occupants a real-time view of air quality throughout the building.

Better air quality has not only become beneficial for workplaces during the pandemic, however, there are also many other reasons to improve HVAC systems. COVID has simply made better air quality necessary for companies, rather than a nice-to-have.

Honeywell Survey

60% said they are more likely to invest in indoor air quality optimization technology A June survey by Honeywell questioned 1,554 facility managers around the world on the impact of COVID-19, with 75% confirming that the pandemic has caused them to permanently rethink how their buildings operate. Within the results, nearly 60% said they are more likely to invest in indoor air quality optimization technology.

Another study compiled by 39 scientists from 14 countries and published in the journal ‘Science’ has demanded universal recognition that infections can be prevented by improving air ventilation systems in buildings. While a survey of 436 human resources managers in the US, conducted by Pollfish on behalf of Omni CleanAir, found that nearly every business surveyed took steps to improve air quality during the pandemic.

Pollfish Omni CleanAir Survey

The Pollfish – Omni CleanAir survey found that 73% of surveyed organizations had upgraded existing HVAC systems to support improved filtration, namely the introduction of MERV13 filtration, while 63% reported the installation of medical-grade filtration such as HEPA into their central HVAC systems.

A further half of respondents said their organizations had introduced portable HEPA filtration machines, while 42% had deployed ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) and 38% had deployed air ionization technologies. After years of relatively minimal improvements to air quality in workplaces, the pandemic has driven buildings to follow official guidance on best practices for clean air.

Combining Filters and Air Cleaners

According to ASHRAE, using combinations of filters and air cleaners that achieve MERV 13 or better levels of performance for air recirculated by HVAC systems is a core recommendation for reducing exposure to airborne infectious diseases.

Meanwhile, public health information during the pandemic has made a clear distinction between the rate of transmission between indoor and outdoor air-quality environments. This has prompted commercial building designers to bring more of the outdoor air into the building through ventilation systems and new architectural design approaches.

Authority Comment

Dozens of the world’s top experts in how diseases spread have called for big improvements to the air in buildings and there is now a recognition by the WHO and the CDC that coronavirus can spread through the air. However, cleaner air won’t just fight the COVID pandemic, it will also minimize the risk of catching flu and other respiratory infections that cost the US alone more than $50 billion a year,” said Phillip Dowds, the founder and director of OKTO.

Businesses are annually being hit with the costs associated with sick leave and loss of productivity due to poor air quality and ventilation systems, viruses, flu symptoms, asthma, chest infections, etc.

Varying Air Quality Conditions

Workplace air quality is not just about reducing sickness eitherVarious studies have long proven a link between air quality and absenteeism. A 2002 study by Milton DK. et al., compared employee absenteeism in offices with varying air quality conditions. They found that short-term sick leave was 35% lower in offices ventilated by an outdoor air supply rate of 24 l/s compared to buildings with rates of 12 l/s.

This staggering statistic may support Dowds “$50 billion a year” in losses claim and suggests that companies should have been investing much more significantly in air quality technology long before the pandemic. Employees not being able to work due to sickness is a huge drain on companies but workplace air quality is not just about reducing sickness either. 

Air Quality

Better air quality also improves the overall health, wellness, and comfort of employees, thereby increasing their ability to concentrate and making them more productive. Several studies have found that high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), or low levels of oxygen, in offices make us drowsy, affecting our concentration and decision-making abilities.

Traditional building regulations have brought about well-insulated office spaces, reducing temperature fluctuations but also reducing the fresh air circulation. Typical outdoor CO2 concentrations hover around 380 parts per million (ppm), while within offices CO2 concentrations were found to be as high as several thousand ppm. All organizations desire greater employee productivity and, therefore, all companies should seek better air quality.

Cost-Effective

All companies also want to reduce their costs, and while capital investments in better HVAC systems can be expensive, the operational cost reductions from smarter HVAC usually pay off in the long run. Combined with sensors and analytics, HVAC systems can better understand and react to the actual use of spaces in buildings to find new efficiencies, namely by not heating, cooling, and ventilating unused areas of the building.

A layer of artificial intelligence applied to HVAC control can go further by using prediction and advanced analytics to find even greater efficiencies as well as better integrating with other systems to meet overall building objectives.

AI Commercial Building Report

The quality of the air as a determinant of occupant health, wellbeing and satisfaction is steadily gaining greater recognition. Several of the more sophisticated offerings in this domain tie into building management and HVAC systems together, and are using AI to balance air quality, energy efficiency, and comfort priorities and determine optimal control systems,” explains the recent AI in commercial buildings report. COVID-19 has forced companies to invest in technology that can improve air quality

Others integrate with predictive analytics solutions, providing improved insight into systems maintenance requirements. A number of the solutions also use occupancy data to help drive optimized ventilation and airflow conditions depending on current levels of occupation in a building.

COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to invest in technology that can improve air quality in their workplaces, through regulation and public pressure to better protect employees. However, once the smoke clears on this global crisis, office buildings around the world will find their workers are more resilient to many kinds of sickness, reducing absenteeism, and more productive when they are at work, due to the cognitive benefits of cleaner air.

Many of the smart technologies required to improve air quality will also drive cost reductions and open the door to other smart systems such as occupancy and space analytics. While challenging almost every business in the world, the COVID-19 pandemic can also breathe new life into the smart workplace.

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Using Near Field Communication (NFC) To Control HVAC Systems
Using Near Field Communication (NFC) To Control HVAC Systems

Interfacing with HVAC products is increasingly complex. The tiny 1-inch LCD display included on systems does not lend itself to complicated functions. Keeping the HVAC user interface simple limits control options to on/off, mode change or choosing a temperature. Thermostat controls company COTHERM has developed a smartphone app that can be used to control complex functions such as product settings during installation, programming or providing technical information about an HVAC product. Near field communication (NFC) relays information from the smartphone app to the HVAC equipment. Conventional HVAC equipment “NFC technology can be leveraged by heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) manufacturers so that installers can adjust the settings for radiators, as well as water or space heaters, via a mobile phone,” says Alain Maillard, Marketing Director of COTHERM. NFC is a contactless technology that enables transfer of short messages between a smartphone and an object. The technology is widely used and is already popular for uses such as contactless payment The technology is widely used and is already popular for uses such as contactless payment, access control and transportation. The large color screen display of a smartphone and the familiarity of app usage provides a strong tool for user interface and is much more user-friendly than conventional LED or LCD displays with keypads that commonly equip conventional HVAC equipment. This is particularly evident for advanced settings that need a lot of menu navigation like programming. Using NFC technology NFC provides a remote user interface using a smartphone to facilitate the configuration or setting of the product. In effect, the smartphone becomes the user interface of the product, and there is no need to use a complex display with a keyboard. The approach also does not require complex IT installation or pairing as would be required with other technologies like Bluetooth or Wifi. Because communication is based on proximity, data exchange is safe, and you do not need a password or login to connect. The Electric Radiator is COTHERM’s first equipment to use NFC technology, and the first market introduction is in France. The first company to introduce the technology is ‘Univ’R Chauffage’ for the 2021 winter season. For an installer, simplicity is key. Permanent communication link The actual appliance is simplified to include only the most commonly used functions The NFC approach provides time savings for installation as it does not require a login/password of a local network. And it is error free: An app can have a pre-defined setting package that is impossible using a native LCD+ keyboard on traditional equipment. For the user, the actual appliance is simplified to include only the most commonly used functions. There is no pairing or setting, ensuring simplicity. And the system is hacker-free as it requires a proximity exchange and works without the cloud. Data exchange is only activated while the smartphone is close to the radiator; there is no need for a permanent communication link. As a consequence, there are no waves pollution and no energy consumption that may be due to maintaining permanent communication. For appliance manufacturers, the cost-effective solution is innovative and easy to use. Limited support is needed as there is no installation (except downloading an app from the store). Industrial HVAC products The approach also enables a contactless customization of the appliance at the end of the production line in the factory with no power supply on the appliance because NFC is energy harvesting. The approach can be used for industrial HVAC products as well as residential appliances. NFC provides cost advantages, eliminating the need for a high-end display on an appliance. Some sensitive technical data or setting may be reserved for a technician only Information is also addressable: A filter can be set with data from the appliance accessible by profile. Some sensitive technical data or setting may be reserved for a technician only or for use at the factory. In the HVAC application as implemented, the controller of the appliance is used as the NFC tag and the smartphone is used as a reader/writer terminal with color display. The controller of the appliance includes an NFC antenna and a small, dedicated NFC controller with memory. Providing additional benefits On the other hand, the smartphone can be iOS or Android and needs to have the COTHERM NFC App downloaded. NFC is available on iPhone from iPhone 7 and on Android; all smartphones with NFC are compatible. NFC technology provides additional benefits, too, including: Traceability and storage of historical data. Easy setting of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth configuration when combined with NFC. Preset of the appliances or any equipment at the factory, including enabling or disabling. Functions or changing settings to enable customization based on distribution channel for brand. Directly points to the correct app on the store for download when using the smartphone for the first time. Self-launch of the app when the smartphone is close to the NFC tag. Further expansion is planned in Europe. The combination of the technology has received an innovation reward as a European funding project Touch & Heat by DIGIFED Europe program (Horizon H2020). Partners in the DIGIFED program are IoTize, a French startup, and Lucht LHZ, a German manufacturer of Electric Radiator. Product introduction in other European countries is planned for 2022. HVAC equipment such as water heaters or heat pump water heater controllers are the next target for the technology.

The Role Of ‘Smart’ HVAC In The Buildings Of The Future
The Role Of ‘Smart’ HVAC In The Buildings Of The Future

The last 18 months have seen an acceleration in digitalization across many aspects of work and home life. Home spaces have become workspaces, and commercial buildings have had to adapt to changed use and lower occupancy rates. Coupled with this, there is a growing need to dramatically reduce carbon emissions from buildings - according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the buildings and construction sectors combined are responsible for over 30 percent of global energy consumption, and nearly 40 percent of carbon emissions. Installing separate systems This means that demand for a smarter approach to heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) management is crucial for building managers, who need to ensure that their properties can adapt to changed use, respond to the wellbeing of their occupants, and run efficiently to keep emissions as low as possible. Armed with this data, facility managers can take proactive steps to improve usage Of course, architects and developers have been installing separate systems to control HVAC for decades which have given building managers greater control and access to different areas of a site. However, with digitalization comes the addition of web-based platforms to allow these verticals to integrate seamlessly with each other, providing data on how efficiently and effectively a building operates through a single view application. Armed with this data, facility managers can take proactive steps to improve usage, which will see properties proactively react to the environmental and personal needs of their occupants. Centrally controlled lighting Many commercial buildings will already have a certain element of smart technology installed – from centrally controlled lighting and HVAC systems to remote management of security and energy management systems. However, it is often the case that these multiple applications are managed in silo. This means facilities managers don’t have a consolidated view of their data. In addition, not all managers will be using the data these devices produce to take steps to reduce the carbon footprint of their properties. Embracing smart technology – and a central control platform - gives building managers access to instant data on how their HVAC assets are performing in one place. This insight can be used to gain a thorough understanding of how the different systems in the building interact, and the external factors that may impact them. Effective building controls By using this data, operators can implement effective building controls to manage efficiencies By using this data, operators can implement effective building controls to manage efficiencies, identify maintenance issues, ensure the wellbeing of occupants, and inform future investment priorities. So, for example, if a building is now being used in a different way due to changed occupancy, the data will show the manager what needs to be done to ensure it is operating as efficiently as possible. We know that there will be increased demand for more flexible spaces as companies move towards remote or hybrid working models. It is likely that we will visit our offices less for day-to-day work and use them more as hubs to meet and collaborate. The ability to turn a traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ building into an agile asset that can learn and adapt to its surroundings will become increasingly important. Smart HVAC management Smart offices will become independently intelligent, learning how occupants use the space and services, adjusting lighting, HVAC and other systems to maximize health and comfort. Smart HVAC management will create a trend for ‘healthier’ buildings that will have a positive impact in terms of improved quality of life and wellbeing of occupants, ultimately resulting in higher productivity levels. In short, there has never been a better time to adopt smart HVAC technologies. Intelligent buildings that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago are now a reality. As buildings become smarter, they can learn how occupants use the space and services and proactively adjust lighting, HVAC and other systems to improve use, cut emissions and reduce energy consumption.

Listen To Your Data And Use It To Achieve Your Business Goals In HVAC
Listen To Your Data And Use It To Achieve Your Business Goals In HVAC

Utilizing the latest in building connectivity, facility operators can uncover a wealth of data in their systems. The next step comes by leveraging that data with artificial intelligence (AI) and a suite of connected solutions. Data is analyzed to determine actionable items and achieve data-based outcomes that improve efficiencies, allow operators to meet budget goals, hit sustainability targets and deliver on occupants’ expectations. To make those high-level outcomes happen, collecting and using data correctly is proving to be critical. With the adoption of more smart building assets, operators are finding that they can finally understand the needs of their buildings and make informed decisions on their operation. Making better choices By helping facility operators make better choices, respond to immediate needs and plan strategically on multiple fronts, data creates value. But are operators of healthy buildings getting everything they can out of this data? 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Canned reports might not suit your situation, so developing custom reports is extremely valuable. Reaching successful outcomes For example, a large building portfolio owner in the U.S. might track the monetary impact of open faults to justify capital spending. Or a facility owner in Australia may generate a National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) report to deliver updates to tenants. It’s worth noting that reports also might be required by building codes or requested by an internal accounting or compliance team. Listening to your data is critical in a smart building, and just as critical is letting that data drive you toward your business goals. To reach successful outcomes, you need to make sure the data is being properly collected and analyzed, and then presented in a way that helps tracking and reporting your progress. Once those elements have been successfully balanced, you’re on your way to getting the most out of data.

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