For several years, building owners have expressed interest in energy savings, water conservation, and reducing their overall carbon footprint. And for the past two years, the coronavirus outbreak has underscored the importance of designing buildings that are also healthy for occupants.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, people spend nearly 90% of their time indoors, yet indoor air is typically two to five times more polluted than the air outdoors. That’s a problem!
Spending so much time indoors puts us at an increased risk for exposure to viruses, like the coronavirus, and other biological hazards such as bacteria, mold, dust mites, and pollen. Even organic compounds, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides can harm our health. And obviously, carbon monoxide is extremely dangerous, as only a 1% concentration in the air can cause loss of consciousness or death.
Even though every job is unique and requires specific considerations, there are two main strategies we utilize in our designs to improve air quality for our client’s buildings.
Eliminating Sources of Air Pollution
To get to the heart of improved air quality, we start by selecting the right construction materials. So many of the materials that are used during construction off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOC), so we look for materials available in low VOC versions. And any building project seeking a LEED certification will score significant points for utilizing low-emitting materials in their build.
We also look at equipment and appliances that use combustion and require adequate venting, as well as humidity levels that can cause mold, dust mites, and other bacteria to thrive. However, humidity levels that are too low can encourage harmful particles to stay airborne longer, so the EPA and other organizations recommend 30% to 60% humidity levels. Many viruses are less infectious at these levels, too.
Typically, ventilation systems are designed with prescriptive airflow values from ASHRAE standards and based on the building type, the number of occupants, etc. But this approach doesn’t respond to levels of air pollution.
To make ventilation systems more intelligent and increasingly capable of controlling the quality of indoor air, we utilize the following design features:
- Air pollution sensors to continuously monitor air quality
- The use of intelligent control systems to analyze the measurements of air pollution.
- Increasing ventilation rates when higher pollution levels are detected
Building codes across the country vary, but many have established the prescriptive airflow values from ASHRAE as the minimum requirements. So when we use intelligent ventilation controls, we ensure that they are configured to never dip below these established values.
Finally, the combination of High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, which capture 99.97% of particles with a diameter of 0.3 microns, and ultraviolet radiation, which destroys the DNA and RNA of viruses and bacteria, make an effective addition to an intelligent ventilation system.
Make Your Next Building Project Healthier
The improved indoor air quality of commercial and large residential construction will continue to gain steam in the coming years. If you have questions about how we can help you achieve this in your next building project, reach out or call 605-366-9457 today.