The COVID-19 outbreak continues to impact our day-to-day lives and with it has come a new normal, indoor living on a global scale. We stay inside to hinder the spread and keep our loved ones safe, but as we turn our focus on our indoor living spaces, interesting questions are being raised with regards to keeping our air clean to breathe while indoors. But what do the indoor air specialists think?
We sat down with IAQ specialist, Adam Taylor to understand the importance of protecting our indoor spaces in the face of virus spread.
What experience do you have working in the indoor air industry?
I have worked in the area of indoor air quality for the last 15 years, specialising in the HVAC industry and working with leading HVAC organisations like Breathing Buildings and Novareus. I have been part of the emerging field of indoor air cleaning technologies since 2018. I currently provide consultancy services to companies, such as Air Rated and SPIRE IAQ, who are looking to launch their IAQ offerings as well as a number of positions concerning new standards for indoor air quality.
Are our indoor air environments prepared to stop disease spread?
Sadly, there is very limited preparedness, just getting an average landlord to maintain the hygiene of their ventilation system is a challenge. Typically, we only see ventilation systems optimised to reduce the spread of airborne pathogens in acute healthcare facilities.
Can you explain about relative humidity and its impact on health. Could this impact virus spread?
Humidity below 30% dries out mucous membranes in the body making them more susceptible to infections, aggravates conditions like asthma, and causes eyes and skin to become irritated. High humidity makes people lethargic and can exacerbate allergies.
Guidance has been issued by REHVA saying that the virus remains viable at high humidity, so it will not be possible to reduce the viability of the virus on surfaces simply by increasing the humidity.
The hot debate is regarding whether low humidity increases transmission rates via the airborne route. At present, the WHO say that the virus can become airborne in healthcare settings where aerosolisation of the virus can occur. For a virus to spread extensively via the airborne route, the virus needs to be in the form of infectious droplet nuclei, these are dried out larger droplets commonly released by a cough or sneeze.
Large droplets fall out of the air quickly, droplet nucelei remain suspended in the air for longer due to their small size. Warm dry air will rapidly dry out the “small infections droplets”, to make them form “infectious droplet nuclei”, and then you have a virus that is suspended in the air for long periods of time.The optimum range for humidity is 40-60%. Humidification systems may be required to maintain humidity in this range, particularly in winter.
What about plasma purification devices? Do you believe them to be a good defence?
Plasma, is the 4th state of matter, it is the most prevalent state in the universe. There are a variety of ways to employ it when looking to improve IAQ. For example, Novaerus pass contaminated air directly through a plasma field giving incredibly high destruction rates for pathogens, virtually nothing survives the process. As you can imagine, this is ideal for high risk areas like hospitals.
It is impractical to cover large spaces with any kind of standalone pass-through air cleaners as THE Clean air delivery rate (CADR) from these types of system are too low to ensure a good air exchange. Integrating IAQ improvement systems into the HVAC system, is more appropriate for most types of building. The Bi-Polar Plasma generating systems release a stream of positively and negatively charged ions into the building. Those ions then collide with room pollutants, including the ones being generated in the room. As the ions collide with particles in the air, they pass over their electrical charge so you end up with all the particles being attracted to each other causing them to form larger clusters, those clusters then fall out of the breathing zone.
The result is a reduction in particles normally missed by filters, (PM1 and PM2.5) as well as drops in TVOC concentration (due to oxidation), and a reduction in the aerial bioburden (mould spores, bacteria and viruses etc). If you have high levels of VOC, and ultrafine particulates, this is a cost effective way of dramatically improving the IAQ in whole buildings. Bi-Polar Ionisation is one of the solutions SPIRE IAQ specify.
My concept of a perfect ventilation system incorporates particle filtration appropriate for the location, Catalytic filters for removing gaseous pollutants from vehicle emissions (typically BTEX, Nox and Sox), UVC for the cooling coil, a humidification system AND a Bi-Polar plasma generator.
How do you keep your air clean during this time? Any recommendations for our readers?
Typically, the best time to naturally ventilate your home is to open windows to purge and ventilate first thing in the morning for 15 minutes. This will change over the air in your home without hugely changing the temperature of the building itself.
Since measuring my own IAQ, I always keep extractor fans in kitchens and bathrooms running after finishing cooking or showering for at least 15 minutes to remove the moisture and other pollutants from the room. I live in a temperate part of the world, so my home has no air conditioning. In summer, to keep cool, I control the ventilation of the house according to the inside and outside temperatures. I can get the outdoor temperature from the BreezoMeter App along with the outdoor air quality data.
This Easter weekend, we kept our windows closed and stayed inside despite it being warm and sunny outside as there was a major pollution event in Southern England. As I work from home, I get to choose when to take my daily exercise, when I check the app, I can decide on when and where to go depending on the weather and air pollution levels.
People like to bat around the statement “indoor air can be XX times more polluted than outdoor air”, but we should use this statement with caution – it is not always the case. It is important to know whether increasing the ventilation to your building will actually improve conditions or not.
How did you get into the indoor air quality industry?
Tell us a bit more about your experience.
I’ve always worked in the HVAC industry, initially as a heating system design engineer before moving into air distribution and thermal comfort systems. The link between indoor environment quality and people’s performance interested me, so I moved to Breathing Buildings in 2016 to promote the incoming BB101 regulation which covered “Ventilation, thermal comfort and indoor air quality”.
My mission is to optimise ventilation systems for TOTAL air quality.
Striking a balance between energy use and good air quality is a massive challenge, as the two are at odds with each other. This is an essential area for HVAC engineers to focus on to ensure the UK reaches Net Zero by 2050.
Can you explain CO2 & thermal comfort in the context of indoor air a bit further?
The BB101 regulation (see above) used CO2 as the overriding measure of air quality, I use the phrase “Total Air Quality” a lot. People often assume that if the air in a room has a low CO2 level, that it is “fresh”, but this often not the case.
Breathing Buildings also utilised “adaptive thermal comfort” principles, these allow the temperature of a building to rise above what would normally be considered comfortable if the external temperature has been warm for some time. It is deemed to be acceptable, because people get used to the elevated temperature and they also dress appropriately.
I’d really like adaptive thermal comfort to be applied to wintertime scenarios. It is utter madness to be burning fossil fuels to heat a building up to 24 degrees at 9AM in the morning, when the users have just been walking in -5 air outdoors. People should dress appropriately for the conditions, and buildings should be temperature-conditioned appropriately for the season. As my mother used to say, “put a jumper on!”
What projects are you currently involved in? Tell us more about the AirRated standard.
Working with the team at Novaerus taught me that there is no single solution to providing good indoor air quality (although some marketing teams may disagree). Firstly, you must make people aware that good air quality is important. This is best achieved through legislation and standards. I currently promote the adoption of the AirRated standard, it gives the opportunity for landlords to assess the quality of their indoor environment and to achieve an “AirScore”
The AirScore demonstrates to tenants and employees that they have taken steps to provide a healthy indoor environment.
In addition to promotion of the standard, I review HVAC designs for customers looking for their building to achieve a certain AirScore via AirScore D&O which is completed pre-Construction. The team I work with at SPIRE IAQ provide turnkey solutions for improving indoor environmental quality, I handle the Indoor Air quality side of the business. We work with a number of commercial partners in the UK and abroad to provide the most appropriate remediation works to clients.
What do you think of current indoor air quality regulations in terms of keeping people safe ?
We are at a real turning point when it comes to regulations on indoor air quality. The WELL standard led the way back in 2014, drawing attention to the link between indoor air quality and people’s health. However, the high cost of achieving a WELL certification means it has had limited uptake (less than 300 certified projects at time of of writing). At the other end of the scale, in the UK, the proposed Part F regulations are looking to limit the ingress of particulate matter, Benzene, CO, SO2 and NO2 into ALL buildings.
As the general public becomes more aware of the importance of air quality for health, I see a demand for standards that are quicker to implement in both new and existing buildings, the rapid rise of the fitwel standard since 2017 has demonstrated that clients have a need for a healthy building standard that can be applied to any building.
Do you think employers have an obligation to protect their employees?
Absolutely, I firmly believe that workers exposed to poor IAQ will be taking action against employers in the same way they have done with asbestos exposure. The way the legal system is going, it will not be acceptable to claim obliviousness. Employers looking to escape litigation will need to demonstrate that they took steps to protect their workers. That will mean taking regular measurements of indoor air quality and keeping a permanent record of them. If the conditions are found to be outside of recommended safe limits, remedial action should be taken.
Where do you see smart home and residential policy in all of this?
I have to admit, I’m a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to adoption of smart devices and IoT. I think we need to move beyond IoT connectivity being a “nice to have” for consumers, with its adoption mainly driven by marketing teams.
The extra complexity needs to be offset by benefits to health, material and energy use. When we genuinely make that link, building designers can alter their assumptions of building performance and user behaviors. Once we get there, we can optimise buildings to derive real value from IoT.
Which countries do you think are leading the world in the industry in terms of indoor air quality preparedness?
In South East Asia, there is a strong awareness of the effects of air quality on people’s health. Poor external air quality and people all living in close proximity keeps the issue in people’s minds and day to day use of face masks is high.
In South Korea, healthcare tourism is big business, so they have a desire to minimize the number of Healthcare acquired infections (HAI). This incentivises them to spend money on air purification systems, the increased awareness also boosts sales of domestic air purifiers.
Scandinavia stands out in Europe as a hotbed of IAQ innovation, Sweden is so confident in their preparedness that they have not declared a Covid-19 lockdown, I hope that works out for them.
Where do you see innovations in the indoor air industry going in the future?
An enhanced IAQ system is only as good as its maintenance. Scheduled ventilation maintenance is often overlooked, and IAQ suffers as a result. Low cost air quality sensors will allow intelligent IAQ systems to automatically order consumables and maintenance according to patterns in the IAQ.
As hyper-local external air quality data becomes available, it will be possible for intelligent systems to predict when they will need a filter change, and whether they will need a pre-filter changed (in pollen season), a HEPA (during periods of high PM2.5) or catalyst filter (because of traffic fume exposure).
“Ask the Air Quality Expert” Series
As more and more people around the globe become aware of the short-term and long-term health impact of air pollution exposure, the number of people around the world doing their bit to promote clean air initiatives also increases.
The purpose behind our Air Quality Expert series of interviews is to understand what drives the top air quality expert experts around the world: What is their mission? How did they come to focus on the importance of clean air and what are they doing to raise awareness? Do you have something to say? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org