Building automation is preventive healthcare

By JAN ERIK PROCHNOW

Today, there is growing awareness that the quality of air we breathe has a significant impact on our health and productivity. Commercial buildings are becoming clean in order to maintain the health of the people who live, work and play in them.

Let’s have a closer look at why healthy air is so important and what can be done about it. It is a familiar phenomenon: The room is packed with people, and the longer the meeting, the less dynamic its participants. What is happening is that the CO2 exhaled by everyone reaches a concentration level that compromises people’s productivity.

There is science behind this. In a large project the productivity of students was tested for tasks that required different levels of involvement, under various exposures to CO2. The result of the research, published in 2012, found that even for simple tasks – such as listening and absorbing information – the performance of the students increased by a significant factor of 1.5, when the air quality was improved.

For tasks requir¬ing higher levels of involvements, such as taking initiative, the measured performance increased by a sheer factor of 10. Keep in mind that these high-value tasks are what make you stand out and advance your career, and are generally speaking what make a work¬force more productive.

Imagine a system that brings in exactly the amount of fresh air that is needed to make sure you stay productive! This is what we call demand-controlled ventilation.

Natural light from dusk to dawn decreases depression and improves mood, energy, alertness and productivity. Therefore, lighting systems that mimic the change of light temperature (colour) during the day are not just “nice to have” but a driver for productivity and occupants’ health.

Total automation

Suppliers like Siemens support the productivity of occupants with their offerings for Total Room Automation (TRA), which takes room control to the next level by integrating advanced parameters such as CO2 and light colour, in an overall concept of HVAC (heat, ventilation and air-conditioning) and lighting control.

TRA relies on highly accurate self-calibrating sensors to keep people productive and healthy.  Companies who know how to drive produc¬tivity get the most out of their people’s talent, produce fewer failures and bring better products and services to the market, which in turn drives revenue and profits.

Did you ever have the feeling that the air inside a building makes you ill? Heating systems often dry the air. It has been shown that dry air enhances the lifetime of viruses, resulting in a higher risk of catching an influenza virus.

In the US, influenza creates approximately $10.4 billion in direct costs for hospitalisations and outpatient visits each year – this does not include productivity losses due to sick leave!

Good temperature and humidity control greatly reduces the risk of falling ill while improving comfort significantly. Advanced hygro-thermostats, which are also capable of measuring and controlling the humidity in rooms, could have the effect of an influenza vaccination that really works!

Products such as Siemens RDG200 range room thermostats can be used for measurement, monitoring and control thanks to built-in temperature and humidity sensors, and also can be integrated with building management systems for further applications.

‘Sick’ buildings

Do you know buildings that give people a head¬ache and/or irritation of eyes and throat? Potentially they are experiencing sick building syndrome (SBS), caused by gassing from building materials such as carpets, paints or furniture. These gases are summarised as volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Recent laws on energy saving require well insulated and draught-proofed buildings to minimise the need for heating and cooling. The resulting air tightness of buildings, how¬ever, also keeps the VOC gases inside, creat¬ing SBS among occupants.

Humid air can also indirectly contribute to SBS by promoting the growth of fungi and mould. Besides devaluing the real estate, exposure to mould spores represents a hazard¬ous health risk.

Symptoms range from allergic reactions to poisoning by myco-toxins. Today already, every second school child is experiencing sensitisation to one or more allergens.

The number one measure to prevent SBS is proper ventilation. In cases where HVAC is not fully automated, it is all about knowing when to open the window.

Siemens offers web-based solutions for monitoring and quantifying remotely not only the SBS indica¬tors of VOC and humidity, but also tempera¬ture and CO2 levels, by using one single flush-mounted multi-sensor device called AQR.

Air pollution

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor environments are two to five times more toxic than outdoor environments. This is a problem because people on average spend 90% of their time in buildings.

Even low concentrations of fine dust increase the risk of developing cancer. Developing countries experience high levels of fine dust concentration.

The main sources of this dust are fossil power plants and cars. Fine dust concentrations are also high in large cities of the developed world, and awareness is growing.

The trend towards deploying air purification in commercial buildings is driven by consum¬er markets. In Japan, 60% of all urban households are equipped with mostly stand-alone air purifiers.

This generates the expectation that also in commercial facilities, such as office buildings and hotels, the air is clean. However, today’s commercial venti¬lation systems typically do not clean the air from pollutants – in fact they are often the main inlet for hazardous air!

Most purifiers still operate independently from the HVAC system and are controlled based on a local fine dust sensor measure¬ment in the room. Integrating purifiers into the HVAC system offers significant advantages.

A purifier cleans the air by blowing it through a filter with a fan. A ventilation system creates an air flow anyway. Integrating the filter into this airflow allows significant overall efficiency gains.

Since fine dust also enters through many small holes in a building and is not a gas that can be removed in one place by suction, there is also a need for local air purification and cleaning.

Controlling the relative humidity in buildings reduces the risk of influenza virus transmission significantly, which is a major productivity and comfort gain. Companies such as Siemens Building Technology provide products and expertise to create perfect places for people’s health and productivity. (www.siemens.com/room-automation).

– The writer is Head of Product Line Sensors, Siemens Building Technology.

Comments

 


Comment here