When offices and other public spaces began to reopen, we were flooded with messages about safety and cleanliness measures, particularly high-power air filtration systems that made gatherings safer. But almost two years into a slow return to the workplace, you may be wondering if those filters and systems ever got cleaned or replaced.
Air purification systems were installed left and right, but how do we, as consumers and occupiers, know these systems are working and actually improving air quality? “Installing an air purifier system and never changing the filter can be worse than having no filtration at all. It’s the same as having an HVAC system but not monitoring its impact. A dirty air filter generates pollutants into a space, creates a false sense of security, and does the exact opposite of what the system is designed to do,” cautioned Roei Friedberg, CEO of Aura Air.
Air quality continues to be a concern for tenants, even beyond concerns about COVID, as workplace managers emphasize how the building helps or hinders the well-being of employees. “COVID-19 has held up a mirror to air quality,” continued Friedberg. “It is now a key element of broader strategies about well-being, sustainability, and the environment. People want to be able to see and understand that they are going back to work in offices that are healthy and safe.” However, air quality, or lack thereof, is often a mystery to the building’s staff and tenants.
Understanding what you can’t see
Buildings unanimously invested and installed air quality systems without educating or showing the occupants what the status of the air in the building is at any given time. It’s one thing to improve and purify the air, but monitoring air quality and using it as a performance indicator requires more than filtration systems.
Long before the pandemic started, Carr Properties installed Aura Air purifiers that not only improved air quality but gave occupants real-time visibility into the state of air in the building, down to specific offices and conference rooms. iPad-like panels in these spaces give people a better understanding of the air they’re breathing and whether or not conditions in the room have deteriorated to the point where they should relocate until air quality improves.
In particular, Aura Air can alert occupants if the conditions within a space reach the ideal temperature, humidity, and CO2 saturation for COVID-19 and other airborne respiratory viruses like the flu to circulate and potentially infect those in the space. The technology can go one step further, automatically locking an unoccupied room until these conditions improve. One study proved that Aura Air’s technology reduced COVID-19 infections by 30 percent.
Thresholds can also be programmed to detect ideal conditions for other aspects of air quality, like ideal conditions for mold to form or high CO2 saturation. On a more positive note, these thresholds can also help buildings hit energy efficiency targets by regulating building comfort and HVAC usage.
The impact on productivity
As employees head back to the office for collaboration, more people will circulate conference tables in confined rooms, making good air quality imperative. Beyond the ability to reduce the likelihood of the presence of COVID-19, Aura Air can also alert people when the CO2 level is high enough that it may impact cognitive function and productivity.
For reference, normal outdoor CO2 levels range between 350-450 ppm (parts per million). Breathing suffers when levels rise to 600-1000ppm. When levels reach 1000-2500 ppm, people struggle with drowsiness and an inability to concentrate. A typical CO2 level in an office is consistently in that 600-1000 ppm range, often exceeding 2000 ppm in closed rooms with less ventilation, according to one study.
Friedberg explains, “When a high CO2 level is indicated, Aura’s devices can alert people in the room. While CO2 can not be removed from the air, opening a door or window will reduce CO2 levels to safer levels. Aura Air will track the decrease, letting people know when it is safe to return to the space.”
Giving occupants this insight empowers them to make informed decisions about how they experience the building. This insight extends beyond concerns about airborne illness and productivity to personal preferences and health for everything from asthma and allergies to humidity and pollution. Aura Air also has an end-user mobile app that gives users real-time updates about their indoor and outdoor environments. The app integrates with a person’s calendar to help them navigate the space based on their preferences for temperature and air quality while also alerting them when the best times to take a break outdoors are based on external conditions.
These improvements help buildings achieve higher LEED and WELL scores by using air quality as a performance indicator and showcase progress made year over year as a part of a broader building sustainability and wellness plan. But perhaps more importantly, better air quality improves the well-being of building occupants. Pulling back the curtain and granting people this level of insight into air quality will ultimately give them the autonomy to decide how they interact with a building and which spaces they occupy.