Why indoor air quality matters and how to improve it

February 29, 2024

Property owners face no shortage of challenges within commercial real estate. Between stretched investment budgets and tenants reassessing their need for commercial office space, the pressure is on to ensure that properties not only meet current tenant demands but anticipate their future needs.

In this context, indoor air quality (IAQ) has emerged as a critical factor in attracting and retaining tenants. According to a recent AirRated report, businesses are willing to pay an 18% premium for commercial space with a healthy building certification.

The demand for healthy, sustainable spaces has emphasised the importance of ESG initiatives and indoor environment standards, which tenant briefs and lease renewals increasingly include.

In this post, we’ll discuss why indoor air quality is vital for commercial spaces, why global standards like ASHRAE matter, and how PEAK can serve as a comprehensive solution to enhance indoor environment quality across your portfolio.

Why is indoor air quality (IAQ) important for commercial buildings?

Indoor air quality refers to the quality of ventilation and air treatment within buildings, especially concerning the health and comfort of building occupants. Understanding and controlling common pollutants indoors can help reduce the risk of health concerns—an issue that has been on tenants’ minds in the wake of COVID-19.

A recent indoor air quality survey from R-Zero found that 52% of Americans still feel uneasy in crowded indoor spaces, and 74% would choose a workplace that prioritises a healthy indoor environment. In Australia, 80% of the top ASX-listed property owners use the NABERS Indoor Environment rating system to ensure their buildings have high IAQ, an indicator of its widespread importance.

For tenants who spend the bulk of their operating capital on salaries, the value of a healthy workforce is clear. But the advantage of good IAQ extends beyond health and safety. Research has shown that the quality of the indoor environment can profoundly impact cognitive function and productivity. Studies by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that a poor-quality indoor environment can negatively affect cognitive performance, while a COGfx study showed that high-performing, green-certified buildings can double cognitive function test scores.

In short, IAQ is essential for creating a healthy and productive work environment, and tenants are taking notice. Air quality has been near the top of the priority list for office tenants since the pandemic highlighted the importance of healthy air systems. This has led to a demand for commercial spaces that exceed minimum IAQ standards and incorporate the latest technology to keep tenants safe.

ASHRAE standards and why they matter

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is a global society advancing human well-being through sustainable technology for the built environment. ASHRAE sets the benchmark for best practices in HVAC systems, and their recently released Standard 241 highlights the critical role of indoor air quality.

ASHRAE Standard 241-2023, “Control of Infection Aerosols,” sets minimum requirements to reduce the risk of disease transmission through the air in buildings. This global standard covers new and existing buildings and provides guidelines for air system design, installation, operation, and maintenance.

These standards are widely recognised and adopted by municipalities worldwide as part of local building codes, so they are far more than a best practice recommendation. They provide a framework for mitigating the risk of infection, improving ventilation, and ultimately enhancing the health and safety of building occupants

PEAK: a comprehensive IAQ solution

In the quest to achieve high indoor air quality, the PEAK Platform’s Indoor Environment (IE) module has emerged as a comprehensive solution for commercial property owners and managers.

Indoor environment tracking tools are growing in popularity. In the context of Australia, the NABERS IE rating system is a voluntary annual assessment measuring the indoor environment quality of a building. It focuses on factors that impact occupants’ cognitive performance, satisfaction, and productivity, including air quality, lighting quality, temperature, and thermal comfort.

Achieving a high NABERS IE rating is essential for attracting premium tenants as organisations prioritise healthier working environments to entice workers back to the office. But obtaining a high NABERS IE rating requires continuous data collection and monitoring, a process often hindered by incomplete data from faulty sensors, lack of visibility into sensor performance, manual data extraction, and the absence of real-time monitoring.

PEAK is designed to monitor and enhance the key components of IE, such as thermal comfort, relative humidity, and air quality. PEAK’s Indoor Environment module revolutionises the process of maintaining and improving indoor environment conditions.

  • 24/7 monitoring: Continuous real-time monitoring of thermal comfort and relative humidity across all building zones, floors, and tenancies, ensuring compliance with ideal comfort conditions.
  • AI-powered analytics: Advanced FDD algorithms that detect issues with critical sensors, such as temperature readings outside the desired range or mechanical failures, allowing for immediate corrective action.
  • Automated workflow: Customisable alerts for sensors enable immediate notification to asset and operations teams when issues arise.

By leveraging PEAK’s Indoor Environment module, REITs and property managers can proactively manage tenant comfort, instantly address anomalies, and benchmark performance against industry standards. This not only enhances the tenant experience but contributes to a building’s market value by demonstrating a commitment to high IE standards.

Real-world success stories with PEAK

Intervening to prevent dangerously high CO2 levels

At an A-grade office asset in Brisbane with a 4.5-star NABERS IE rating, one of two critical Outside Air Fans failed. These fans are responsible for maintaining fresh air ventilation, and as a result of the failure, CO2 levels were detected at unsafe levels above 1,000ppm.

PEAK’s continuous intelligent monitoring system immediately alerted the Operations Manager of the CO2 spike and malfunctioning equipment. Thanks to the immediate feedback, the onsite mechanical technician was able to quickly rectify the issue, returning the building’s CO2 to safe levels before tenant wellbeing was impacted.

High CO sensor sensor readings overnight

At a shopping centre in Queensland, Australia, PEAK detected CO levels rising above 200ppm in the underground car park—well above the recommended maximum of 30ppm. None of the car park exhaust fans (CPEFs) were activated, even though levels exceeded the setpoints in the Building Management System (BMS). 

PEAK raised an alert and notified the Facility Manager, who discovered that a cleaning crew using gas-powered equipment had caused the excessive CO emissions. The BMS technician found that the CPEFs were set to operate only between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., which had restricted their operation during the incident. All schedules were removed from the fans, allowing them to run at any time and reducing the risk of future CO exposure.

Don’t wait for a complaint (or a catastrophe) to address indoor air quality. Harness the power of PEAK to manage and improve your indoor environment proactively. Contact our expert team today.

Scott Beauman
February 29, 2024