With so many property owners continuing to search for ways to decrease operational costs and workplaces attempting to maximise space utilisation across the Middle East it is no wonder that there has been a lack of focus on Indoor Air Quality. IAQ has a major impact to occupants of the built environment with many of us spending upwards of 90% indoors, especially during the Summer months. The quality of air is especially important for children who not only breathe more than adults each day but are also developing their immune systems in sometimes volatile air environments. In fact the EPA in the United States found studies linking poor IAQ to higher dropout rates in schools, while those schools with IAQ programs demonstrated higher standardised scoring results.
Traditionally IAQ in Facilities Management has included the need for adequate ventilation, reducing environmental factors contributing to mould while decreasing the harm of outdoor pollutants. This focus has seen most FM’s focused on the configuration of their HVAC system either manually or through their Building Management System (BMS). Much of the focus on balancing of air has been in reaction to Sick Building Syndrome where occupants present with respiratory illness which dissipates upon leaving the indoor environment where it originated. While in some cases the closing of air dampers or rebalancing of air flow in that area can change the conditions, the source of the problem can sometimes be far more complex for Facilities Managers to solve.
Building owners and occupants need to step away from being reactive once presented with illness to instead focus to having a holistic IAQ program in their built environment. Some areas that require more focus are:
• Linking ventilation programming to outdoor air parameters and environmental conditions. There are currently limited buildings in the region that are designed to integrate their BMS with outdoor air quality monitoring or even third party government monitoring. When outdoor air pollutants are above suitable parameters it’s important that Facilities Managers have a system that changes the configuration of the HVAC system and also increases service levels for cleaning and planned maintenance.
• Limiting indoor pollutants. Indoor pollutants can come from volatile organic compounds through to the selection of chemicals in the cleaning process. It is important to measure VOC’s inside the facility and work with your service providers to select products that will enhance your IAQ program.
• Enhancing your IAQ program to include purchasing decisions and also monitoring samples. The cost of IAQ monitors have decreased and should form part of the shared key performance indicators of a building. Using predictive maintenance such as thermographic scans to identify air loss and water detection will also improve the air quality for occupants.
• Utilise indoor plants to drop indoor air pollutants. New furniture and products while having that ‘new car smell’ often discharges harmful chemical like formaldehyde. Experiments have seen the levels drop from toxic to acceptable levels through the use of selective indoor plants.
• It is important that Facilities Managers and building occupants take a shared approach to air quality. Investing in a program that increases automation, incorporates more measurement and focuses on an holistic approach can not only reduce the costs of absenteeism but also boost the performance and living standards of occupants.
(Ryan Darnell is the Executive Director - Facilities Management at Khidmah)