How customer expectations around air quality are changing
- Air Sensors
Two things have substantially transformed consumer awareness and expectations of air quality and made it essential that air quality sensors are deployed, monitored, and acted on in all interior spaces.
One is the pandemic. Awareness that COVID-19 is an airborne virus and that high-quality ventilation systems are a powerful tool in preventing the spread of it has meant that people are increasingly paying direct attention to the quality of the air in spaces they move through. Many people even carry personal air quality sensors and will leave restaurants, bars, event venues and other businesses if the air quality degrades to the point that the virus can move more freely around the space.
The other is climate change. Research shows that as climate change continues to impact society, the overall air quality will degrade. This will also affect indoor air quality, as air passes from out to in, and buildings need better air filtration systems to maintain a quality air environment.
What is a sensor, and how does it work?
A sensor is simple in application, but it is an effective, efficient piece of technology. Essentially, it’s a device designed to detect environmental changes and then send that information to other electronic devices to act on.
To give you a simple example relevant to HVAC systems and air quality: A sensor might be set up to monitor the air temperature or the concentration of CO2 in the environment. When there’s no one in the office or apartment building, temperatures and CO2 levels remain lower. As more people congregate in the environment, both naturally lift, and at some point the environment will become uncomfortable and/or unsafe.
Rather than have the HVAC system working too hard 24/7 when the environment doesn’t need it, sensors can be used so that cooling and air filtration systems only kick into action above a certain threshold. It ensures everyone in the space is comfortable and safe while minimising the energy use and workloads of the HVAC system.
Different types of sensors
You can install sensors for just about any piece of data that you want to monitor. However, with HVAC systems, the most common types of sensors are as follows:
- Temperature sensor. This one goes without saying, but a temperature sensor is essential for automating the comfort levels of the space. Not all temperature sensors are as precise as one another, however. ControlStore only stocks the most accurate equipment, which means that your system will run at maximum efficiency, with the air conditioning or heading only cutting in at exactly the correct comfort thresholds.
- Humidity sensor. Monitoring and responding to humidity is essential for two reasons: Firstly, humans feel less comfortable in humid environments – it affects their perception of temperature. Secondly, airborne viruses (including COVID-19) travel better in humidity, so having the HVAC work to keep humidity below a certain level is a valuable health measure.
- CO2 sensor. The interest in the amount of CO2 in the environment has increased dramatically due to COVID-19, because we produce CO2 as we breathe, and therefore the buildup of CO2 can come with a buildup of disease risk. Building operators are under increased pressure to properly monitor CO2 and use the HVAC and air filtration systems to keep it under control.
- Water detection sensor. If you’ve got sensitive equipment that is at risk of damage from moisture (such as a server room), a water detection sensor is an important piece of equipment. It will flag if, for example, the air conditioning system has started leaking and potentially being a hazard to the equipment.
- Pressure sensor. Measuring air and water pressure is essential to the proper maintenance of building systems, so pressure sensors are often installed as way to proactively minimise the risk of damage and repairs to the system.
- Light level sensor. In an environment that enjoys natural light, light sensors can be used to reduce the amount of light generated from the internal systems, reducing the energy consumption of the building without risking tenants and office workers being affected by arbitrary lighting levels.
- Motion sensor. Motion sensors can be tuned to turn lighting off when the last person has left the building, or raise an alarm when someone enters a building at an unauthorised time. It can also be used to switch ventilation on, and turn a heater or air conditioner on.
- Gas sensor. One final type of sensor is often essential for safety, and that’s the gas sensor. It will detect when an environment has become dangerously loaded with gasses, and the HVAC system can then be automated to respond to disperse the gasses.
What does this mean?
Where the air quality needed to significantly degrade before it would become an issue for customers, the increased awareness of air quality, and the risks that come with it, will make customers more sensitive to more minor shifts. For businesses and building managers, this means a number of things:
- The company’s reputation is at stake. Customers will choose to take their business to places that have high quality ventilation systems, and it’s only a matter of time that “air quality” starts to appear in online reviews and social media posts about companies. In a way similar to how organisations are expected to take responsibility for smoking in and around their premises, the social pressure that will be placed on them to “do the right thing” with air quality will be extensive, and so building managers will need to monitor for air quality constantly.
- Regulation may well force upgrades. Also, much like with smoking, the social pressure being placed on air quality may guide regulatory changes and the requirement of a “minimum standard” of air quality. This might require upgrades to HVAC systems, and better collection and reporting of data to remain compliant.
- It could affect recruitment. Australia’s unemployment rate is at historic lows, and organisations need to compete harder than ever to attract and retain the best staff. Employees, for their part, want to know that their health and wellbeing is taken seriously, and for this reason, being able to point to a good HVAC system and clear air is going to be an opportunity for employers to highlight why they’re the best place to work.
Delivering clean air doesn’t need to add to the workload of building managers or staff. Ensuring that the HVAC system is of a standard to deliver good ventilation to all corners of the space and backing that up with air quality sensors to monitor for fluctuations in air quality will allow the building manager to keep ahead of this important new concern with interior spaces.