By forcing a rush to reduce viral transmission and other respiratory threats in our indoor environments, COVID-19 has increased public pressure for air quality improvements in our buildings.
Governments around the world are setting their sights on new air quality infrastructure for public spaces: In 2020, the German government already invested €500m to improve ventilation systems in public buildings to reduce virus spread. In April 2022, the Federal Government in Belgium announced new “ventilation plans” for bars, restaurants, cinemas, theaters, and gyms.
In March of 2022, White House officials announced the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, calling on all building owners, operators, schools, colleges, universities, and different organizations to adopt key strategies for improving indoor air quality in their buildings.
New Opportunities: Healthy Building Certification is On the Rise
While legislative change can be relatively slow to act, building managers are also seeking out building health and wellness certifiers to ensure healthy indoor environments in their facilities. Businesses now look to adopt climate resilience, ensure worker health, reduce sick days, and not only maintain but increase productivity as they return to normal with a newfound understanding of ‘healthy work and living spaces.
As a result, wellness building certifications from leading organizations more than doubled between 2019 and August of 2021, with the majority of properties belonging to office/commercial, hospitality, and retail spaces. Certifiers such as WELL, USGBC LEED, AirRated, UL, and the BREEAM system all look at a building’s indoor air quality and ventilation capabilities when determining the building’s rating, as well as a variety of additional factors such as humidity, temperature, soundproofing, and more.
For existing buildings, performing monthly or annual indoor air quality “investigations/surveys“ has also become a popular trend, helping to identify and correct IAQ deficiencies such as poor ventilation, inadequate filtration, and higher-than-usual indoor pollutant presence.
Case Study: After performing a building health assessment of a refurbished workspace in London’s West End, AirRated certifiers recommended adding ongoing outdoor air quality monitoring to help occupants understand the state of the surrounding environment, notorious for seeing high PM2.5 and NO2 levels during rush hour traffic and high ozone in the summer.
Many certifiers today are also recommending activated carbon filters be fitted to the outdoor air intakes to ensure ventilation doesn’t draw in high amounts of external pollution.
The Science Behind The Drive for Healthier Buildings
Many research initiatives and studies demonstrate that going beyond the current minimum requirements for ventilation and air treatment equipment (such as more efficient filters) and other technologies, can serve to ensure healthier indoor spaces:
- Better air purifiers minimize the impact on respiratory illnesses - Indoor air cleaners utilizing effective technologies such as HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filtration, UVGI(ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation), activated carbon filters, and electrostatic generators can reduce the presence of indoor pollutants, making them especially valuable for people with chronic respiratory diseases.
- Higher-Efficiency filters reduce allergy & asthma symptoms - Researchers have found HEPA filters can reduce indoor PM2.5 pollution, a known asthma agitator, by 55% when outside conditions are unhealthy. In a controlled indoor environment test, researchers found correct usage of an indoor air cleaner greatly reduced allergic grass pollen symptoms.
- IAQ optimization improves cognitive performance - In conjunction with parameters such as thermal comfort, lighting, and noise, indoor air quality management can improve productivity: a Harvard study found people in green environments with enhanced ventilation scored 101% higher in cognitive tests.