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Finding the (Air) Flow
Improving Condo Air Quality for Increased Occupancy
By BRAD PILGRIM | Other articles by BRAD PILGRIM
We spend a lot of time indoors (up to an estimated 90 per cent of our time ). And the fact is, with the ongoing pandemic restrictions, we might have to get used to cocooning in our condo suites.
No matter what the new normal will look like, one thing's for certain: we need to start thinking about how to improve the indoor air quality in our condo buildings if we intend to stay healthy.
Why does air quality matter so much and why should it matter to your condo board and property manager? Well, a few things have dramatically changed which affect how tenants and residents occupy a condo building.
First, people are working at home more often (44 per cent of Canadian households now work from home fulltime and intend to continue). And as Canadians settle into new home routines, residential electricity demand patterns have also changed to reflect these new habits. Data shows energy consumption in residential homes has increased on weekdays by about 5 per cent, and that's just the beginning.
So, why does this matter? With more people confined to smaller spaces for longer hours in the day, there is increased occupancy per suite resulting in a need to keep occupants safe from higher CO2, humidity and indoor pollutant levels. In order to maintain healthy buildings and healthy condo communities, condo boards and building managers must evaluate how to accommodate tenant needs and adjust building operations moving forward with air quality improvements in mind.
Fresh air quality is measured mainly by factors like temperature, CO2 concentration and humidity. Elevated indoor levels of CO2 and humidity have unfavourable effects on health. When the air quality is rated as poor or mediocre in shared spaces due to high CO2, people feel drowsiness, attention loss, headaches, nausea, and may also lower resistance to infection.
Furthermore, indoor pollutants can directly affect our health. Those pollutants are generated from any number of sources, like second-hand smoke, building materials, furniture, cleaning and hygiene products, air fresheners, computers, printers, cooking, carrying dust in on our shoes and from the carbon dioxide we breathe out.
In fact, a recent study from Harvard University's School of Public Health found that people in areas with slightly higher levels of particulate matter had higher death rates from COVID-19. There was an eight per cent increase in corona virus deaths for a single-unit rise in fine particle pollution.
As we learn more about the direct impacts air quality has on our health, it's important to better control our condo airflow to reduce the risk of health concerns of occupants.
Thankfully, a condominium doesn't have to be a new development or green-certified in order to supply fresher, cleaner air. There's low-hanging fruit that a property can adopt for improved air ventilation, like installing more sophisticated air filters, drawing more fresh air into buildings and cranking up the humidity to can kill airborne pathogens and viruses.
But when we look at the bigger picture of sustainably managing a condominium property which also satisfies the long-term health of residents, it's important to understand that the condominium's heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system is an essential conductor of air flow.
HVAC is responsible for a few very important things. It's responsible for temperature management in changing seasons like winter and summer. It also works to filter and clean indoor air to keep you healthy and maintain humidity levels at optimal comfort levels.
Addressing the efficiency of how a condo's HVAC system runs might be the first step in ensuring occupants receive proper doses of properly filtered air in their suites.
Understandably, regular HVAC retrofits and upgrades can be costly, especially for condo boards under tight budgets during tough economic times. But rest assured, there are innovative and cost-effective ways the board and property management can deliver fresher air to residents. An advanced, yet practical, solution is to install building automation software technologies. Smart technologies that are currently used in other Canadian condominium properties across the GTA are specifically designed to operate in condominium boiler rooms, by using AI and machine learning software to improve overall operational efficiency of boiler room equipment, including HVAC.
These lean hardware automation systems are all that is required to carry out dynamic changes to existing ventilation systems and help program them to be more reliable and efficient when it comes to improving air filtration by balancing CO2 levels, regulating building temperatures and providing cleaner air throughout condo hallways, lobbies and common areas.
The benefits of this solution include little to no upfront capital investment and it could generate 30 – 50 per cent in energy cost savings back in the property's pocketbook in up to 1-2 years. The system also offers digital insight into how the condo is running in general: get service alerts for when air filters might need replacing; detection of higher than normal CO2 levels that need remedying before occupants even recognize the effects. All of these advanced insights help property management address building needs sooner, so they can free up more time to work on other tasks at hand.
Not knowing where to start with air quality improvements can feel intimidating – especially if you are trying to introduce more modern technology to dated equipment. But start with a walk, run approach; talk to the board; do research about different available solutions; foster more sustainable living practices among residents like encouraging open-window ventilation for fresh air-flow; and promote the use of outdoor facilities to get some much- needed fresh air after a long day working from home.
With the pandemic top of mind for residents confined to smaller condo suites, paired the Canadian workforce increasingly tempted to work from home fulltime, it's important to realize there's been a dramatic shift in how people will live and occupy their condo suites. That means taking special care to improve air filtration and indoor air quality should be a top priority for 2020.
With better access to cleaner, fresher air in our homes it means we can all breathe easier -- literally and figuratively—and that's all we're really asking for during these uncertain times.