Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) entered national discourse during the COVID-19 pandemic, but those of us in the Pacific Northwest were well aware of IAQ issues during our increasingly active wildfire seasons every summer. MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values) and HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters can provide some protection. How many of us have attached MERV 13 or HEPA HVAC filters to a box fan to capture particles from wildfire smoke in our homes? Now, COVID-19 has become endemic, and last summer’s Canadian wildfires blanketed the U.S. from Chicago to New York City with smoke, impacting IAQ in every respective commercial building. These events make monitoring and finding energy-efficient solutions to maintain IAQ the center of attention and research.
Last November, Joseph G. Allen, associate professor and director of the Healthy Buildings program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wrote an article* on IAQ. The piece discusses the financial benefits of workplace IAQ, specifically worker productivity and optimizing building ventilation. It also outlines additional sensors to add to commercial HVAC, or building management systems (BMS), to actively monitor IAQ and adjust HVAC operations in real-time to maintain a healthy environment for building occupants:
- Carbon dioxide sensors are great at determining how many people are in a particular space. They determine how much fresh (and filtered) outside air is needed to keep them healthy and productive.
- PM2.5 sensors identify “particulate matter 2.5 microns and smaller.” These dust particles are so small that they can get lodged deep within our lungs and negatively impact human health, including heart and asthma attacks and an increased likelihood of anxiety and depression. PM2.5 particles are especially prevalent in wildfire smoke and can be mitigated with MERV 13 (or better) filters in building HVAC systems.
- TVOCs stands for “total volatile organic compounds” and indicates the chemical load within the air in a given space. Carpets, paints, cleaning supplies and even the deodorants we use emit TVOCs. According to Allen, a consistent reading above 1,000 ppb (parts per billion) is a threshold that should be addressed. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the widely adopted green building system, recommends keeping TVOCs under 500 ppb.
- Temperature and relative humidity (T/RH): Finally, a standard HVAC measurement! This is an area where HVAC trade allies excel. We all understand that hitting that sweet spot of about 70-76F and 30-60RH is where we are most comfortable, but it also keeps us healthy. If RH is too high, conditions become ideal for indoor mold growth; if it is too low, defense systems in our lungs aren’t as effective at capturing and cleaning airborne pollution.
How can the Network and BPA help you improve the IAQ for your commercial business customers? Although we are not experts in integrating the above mentioned sensors into HVAC and/or BMS systems, we support incentives for connected thermostats, advanced rooftop controls, and heat recovery systems that can optimize T/RH while reducing overall building energy consumption.
Looking for additional information on IAQ sensors? Try this U.S. Environmental Protection Agency site.
Have a potential HVAC upgrade to improve IAQ and energy efficiency that’s more complex than a simple equipment swap? Contact your local utility or field specialist to be paired with a BPA Customer Service Engineer who can determine a potential custom incentive for your project.
*The Harvard Business Review offers viewers access to several free articles each month. If the article link leads to a paywall, it’s likely you have exceeded the number of free articles allowed for the month.