How long the effects of pandemic lasts, remains to be seen. In the receding scenario of pandemic times, the new parameters: importance of clean air for humanity and microbial contamination in environment, have emerged. This raises a pertinent argument: whether adopting measures and integrating suitable technology in building system will augment air quality for health and safety for us all.

Clean Air: a vital aspect for wellness

Health and well-being found focus and central positioning in Union Budget 2021-22 presented by Union Minister for Finance & Corporate Affairs, Nirmala Sitharaman. They form also- the basis of Aatmanirbhar Bharat. To tackle the burgeoning problem of air pollution, an allocation of an amount of Rs 2,217 crore for 42 urban centres with a million-plus population was proposed by her in this budget. Air quality may be achieved by
deploying innovative digital devices to asses HVAC systems performance, and integrating UV and filter technology to deal with emerged parameters: like deactivating and combating virus intrusion into spaces to tackle clean air issues.

The sustainable building design and integration of latest technology devices in ‘Building management system’ (BMS) to improve and optimize indoor environment, occupants’ comfort and well-being, will also increase energy and operational efficiencies. To respond that, building environments must incorporate novel and advanced connected technologies as part of the Internet of Things.

Current challenges

Currently, the challenges in addressing health of the built environment sustainability are – thermal performance adequacy of existing buildings and ventilation strategies in buildings, as lack of ventilation of indoor spaces cause poor air quality. Currently, to require comfort: temperature, speed, humidity, indoor air quality and air speed are provided by installing HVAC equipment. The intelligent control of the HVAC systems as well as filter technology has to ensure energy efficiency and air quality improvement.

Building automation systems meant for controls in buildings, with new technology-embed systems, are bound to play a major role in determining operational energy efficiency of a building, handling air exchange parameters as well as the well-being and environmental safety.

Healthier building denotes green building

To achieve good air quality, make buildings greener. With a view to designate healthier building – ‘Green buildings’ can bring fresh air to design, but they can also bring pests. Throughout the world, architects are designing green buildings, whether it’s sustainable construction, environmentally friendly operation or actually green by style. It is like connecting people with nature, and it can lead to some creative and innovative designs.

Demand for green building activity is poised to grow across globe. Between now and 2021, according to the World Green Building Trends 2018 Smart Market Report, published by Dodge Data & Analytics, growth in projects is expected across five continent in 20 countries including India, however, pandemic proved a barrier eating away 10 months time to the growth, albeit temporarily.

According to global respondents, majority of green projects in India are expected to nearly double by 2021 from 28% to 55%. New green buildings in India are being driven mostly by
environment regulation and healthier buildings. The green buildings provide reduced operating costs, improved indoor air quality and reduced energy consumption, implying environmental sustainability.

Building: Intelligent- Smart perspective

Building may be categorized as Intelligent or smart, which implies two types of communication. ‘Intelligent’ points towards technical solutions allowing centralized control of a building’s energy systems, improving IAQ etc., and thermal comfort of those within
the building. ‘Smart’ points to improving services, which are user -friendly to control systems remotely through smart phone.

Intelligent building (IB) paces with changing user requirements and technology. IB integrates IT platforms and BMS that deliver energy efficiency; are environmental friendly and adapt itself to maintain an optimized environment. And, to continuously improve over its lifetime, as the buildings have the ability of energy recycling.

Concept of intelligent building is continually evolving. Wigginton and Harris research mentions, “There are more than 30 separate definitions of the term ‘intelligence’ when it is relative to buildings.” Attention towards Intelligent Buildings (IB) began in early 80s in USA. The first ever intelligent building was built in Hartford in United States in 1984, according to China Intelligent Building Technology Information Network. That time, Intelligent Building Institution described IB as “One which integrates various systems to effectively manage resources in a coordinated mode to maximize: technical performance; investment and operating cost savings and fexibility.”

Moreover, European Intelligent Building Group described IB that creates an environment maximising effectiveness of the building’s occupants, while at the same time, enabling efficient management of resources. Based on the definition published by Public Works Department of Singapore’s government, an intelligent building must have advanced automatic control systems to monitor various facilities, including air-conditioning, temperature, lighting, security, fire, etc., to provide a comfortable working environment; have good networking infrastructure to enable data flow between floors and, provide adequate telecommunication facilities.

Intelligent/ smart building involves – the use of integrated technological systems, communications and controls to create an infrastructure which provides the owner, operator and occupant with an environment which is effectively comfortable and secure. Yet, there has not been a clearly defined concept of what is to be considered an intelligent building even till date. In the ensuing pandemic times, working definition maybe: An intelligent building uses the latest technology and systems to operate efficiently and optimizing air quality as possibly as could be.

Automation technology market

The building market is expected to explode now. The automation technologies monitor and control the building facility environment. Building automation system (BAS) aids in the flawless operation of HVAC, electricity, lighting and plumbing systems, as well as the security and life safety systems of a facility. The Market Research Reports, projects that Intelligent Building Automation Technologies will register 8.2% CAGR in terms of revenue, reach US$ 90 bn by 2023, from US$ 56 bn in 2018. One such advancement is the advent of automated equipment for monitoring dust, CO2, and radon.

Air Quality and IAQ in Building

Given that most of us spend 90% of our time indoors, building’s IAQ can affect employee and client health, comfort and productivity that needs advanced BAS to monitor and maintain indoor air quality. How well the indoor thermal environment is controlled by
HVAC system depends on the design, and on the heat gains and losses in the space such as sun light and outdoor air ventilation rate being controlled. However, IAQ is likely to be 2-5 times worse than outdoor air quality.

Experimental studies, focused on monitoring the concentrations of volatile compounds, and particulate matter from indoor air in residential spaces, highlight, that in spaces, concentrations of pollutants values, should be considered to improve the IAQ and air quality performance in buildings. The IAQ issues are PM2.5, CO, SO2, NOx, NH3, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and VOCs etc., pollutants.

Monitoring air quality

The role of automation technologies has become imminent nowadays to monitor IAQ. Monitoring air quality in real-time; using sensors, IoT and bipolar ionization deactivation technology integrated into a BAS will optimize ventilation and create an environment to live and work beyond pandemic.

Recirculation of air in HVAC system

In the present pandemic environment, recirculation of air assumes much importance. It implements mixing the circulated returned indoor air with the outdoor fresh air. Poor IAQ and thermal comfort condition in the workspace affect the occupants’ health. A study shows that the technique of mixing recirculation air with the fresh air through the combination filters met the recommended thermal comfort condition in the workspace. In addition, the level of CO2 concentration continued to decrease during the period of the measurement. The results showed that that average of CO2 concentration varied during the working hours; which were high, when the participants were doing some activities.

Being dominant among air purification technologies, the demand for High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, and active filtration technologies, will increase due to their application in residential and industrial developments. Using of air filtration technique involves minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) filter and activated carbon fiber (ACF) filter, located before the fan coil units.

In the light of recommendations, two industry powerhouses; REHA (Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) and CIBSE (Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers) recommend increasing flow rates of fresh outside air and avoiding re-circulation and transfer of air from one room to another. Ultra-Violet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) is also now forming part of CIBSE ventilation guidance for virus and independent testing has shown that UVC is effective at deactivating corona viruses once the correct dosage is applied.

IAQ markets to surge

As people stayed long in homes and started doing office work online, IAQ became an important objective, when the pandemic times in 2020 affected humanity at large. But, this negative loom enhanced the IAQ solutions market with IoT and Industry 4.0, making new breakthroughs in the standards and functioning of indoor air quality solutions equipment.

Monitoring the indoor air quality solutions market, Technavio mentions its growth by USD 9540 million during 2020-2024, progressing at a CAGR of over 6%, with the Asia Pacific region expected to showcase the highest CAGR. The report also recognised China, India, Saudi Arabia and the UAE as major markets for IAQ products and the Middle East region is expected to contribute significantly to the growing market. Whereas, IAQ Meter market during 2020-2025, will register a 7.7%% CAGR in terms of revenue and expected to reach $ 178.4 million by 2025, from $ 132.8 million in 2019.

Ventilation efficiency strategies

It is known that COVID, and its newer strain, is highly infectious and that there is an increased risk of transmission through the air especially in enclosed spaces. Taking cognizance of transmission of virus and operation of HVAC systems during pandemic, ASHRAE leadership approved two statements.

Firstly, transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures.

Secondly, ventilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2 and thus the risk of transmission through the air. Unconditioned spaces can cause thermal stress to people that may be directly life threatening and that may also lower resistance to infection. In general, disabling of HVAC systems is not a recommended measure to reduce the transmission of the virus.

To be Covid safe, ventilation measures are the most vital mechanism in infection control within buildings and reducing transmission from respiratory viruses. The smaller droplets from an infected person can travel further inside, thus increasing the risk of infecting others. To minimise that risk and that of transmission, correct ventilation becomes crucial.

Professor Paul Linden, Fluid Mechanics Specialist, Cambridge University says, “During the winter, we’re more likely to be spending time indoors with less natural ventilation, meaning the air we breathe could be more concentrated with particulates. If we fail to combat the risk of airborne infection, we risk being exposed by a large gap in our defences. Improving indoor air quality must be at the forefront if we truly want to create COVID-safe environments.”

Outdoor – Indoor air exchange

We all know breathing for air exchange removes stagnant air in our lungs. In highly urbanized and industrial areas, lack of air conditioning and high levels of humidity increase concentrations of pollutants inside. Other sources include gases from cooking and heating, chemicals from candles and household cleansers, mold and a host of toxins from building materials. During the night, the NO2 concentration in buildings remains higher than
the outside, hence, it is recommended to increase air exchange between the outdoors and indoors during night periods to reduce indoor air pollutants.

WHO recently highlighted the risk of virus transmission inside poorly ventilated spaces and a number of scientists pointed out that building ventilation system would be crucial in limiting the chances of “super spreader” events.

Nowadays, emphasis is on increasing awareness about air quality sustainability and IAQ, devising new standards, Dedicated Outdoor Air Systems (DOAS) and virus deactivating technologies that will drive the adoption of specialized mechanical ventilation systems for healthy and clean air exchange.

What the future will bring to technology!

“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us”, said, UK’s prime minister Winston Churchill, the British statesman, Army officer, and an author.

Genuinely, technology leads to future progress. The rate of change of technology is faster today because of pandemic opportunity. The factors such as technological advancements and rising adoption of green building and smart home technologies are bound to influence IAQ monitoring devices market also. The pandemic has created demanding awareness among people on the importance of air quality in both their personal and workspace environments. People are going to demand products that enhance the safety and health of occupants in the home and office.

Energy intelligent buildings are becoming the next hype in modern day building designs. Intelligent buildings surpass integration of technology in constantly optimizing environment, that is conducive to the occupants ‘comfort and safety. Function-wise cloud-based technology and building management services are evolutionary in nature. Hence, buildings of the future must connect the various tools in an integrated, dynamic, and functional way.

A paradigm change in the management of environmental health issues has become important necessitating ‘crunching need’ technology to be integrated into building systems. To put it, buildings that can survive in tune with new normal societal and technological change; buildings laced with novel automation and monitoring tools in BAS; and buildings,
adaptable to flexible human needs of comfort and environment, will shape into the desired meaning for optimizing air quality, in the ongoing pandemic era.

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