With health and well-being taking center stage in the green movement in Commercial Real Estate (CRE), air quality has become a huge priority. Smart air quality monitoring can help CRE owners stand out by accommodating this new priority. On top of making tenants happier, the EU also imposes regulations regarding indoor air quality.

What is smart air quality monitoring?

Smart air quality monitoring is an advanced method of continually assessing the levels of various pollutants within indoor environments through the use of interconnected sensors and intelligent systems. This innovative approach offers a dynamic, comprehensive view of indoor air quality (IAQ). It can provide real-time data on any pollutant you want to monitor.

Understanding air quality monitoring

Traditionally, IAQ monitoring required lab tests that took weeks to get results. This process made it challenging to make day-to-day adjustments like opening or closing the windows based on the outdoor air quality. Minor adjustments like this can make a huge impact. One New York City physician said that opening a window for just 5 minutes lowers the concentration of pollutants in indoor air.

Bringing smart monitoring to IAQ lets property managers make informed decisions that improve the air quality. For example, they can compare the IAQ to the outdoor air quality and decide whether to open the windows. Or, they can identify areas with stagnant air and add circulation by bringing in some fans.

EU clean indoor air policy overview

Navigating the maze of EU policies on indoor air quality can be daunting, but it’s a must-do for property managers. The EU has laid down a set of guidelines and regulations that are all about keeping the air inside buildings as clean as possible. This isn’t just about ticking boxes for compliance; it’s about creating spaces where people can breathe easily.

Unfortunately, every country in the EU has its own indoor air quality regulations. But that hasn’t stopped Spain’s Members of Parliament from requesting provisions for indoor air quality in the upcoming EU air quality rules.

Essential aspects of EU regulations on indoor air quality

Despite disparate regulations between countries, the EU has been pretty clear on what it considers clear indoor air. The specific regulations cover a range of pollutants and set different upper limits based on the country. They typically put limits on carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter.

For those managing CRE, keeping updated with these changing laws won’t be easy. So, it’s best to try to continuously improve the IAQ of your buildings. This keeps you ahead of upcoming regulations, letting your competitors scramble for compliance.

Importance of compliance for health and property valuation

Making sure your property meets EU air quality standards isn’t just good for the health of those inside—it’s also smart for your wallet. One study found that every percentage increase in fine particulates reduced property values by 0.541%. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) also finds that property values increase significantly following a local increase in air quality. Improving IAQ can also help buildings earn a LEED certificate or ESG green buildings status.

Maintaining compliance with core pollutants

When it comes to indoor air quality, there are a few usual suspects that property managers need to keep an eye on. These core pollutants can range from the gases we breathe out, like carbon dioxide, to tiny particles that come from all sorts of places, even the photocopier.

Air quality compliance checklist

With so many pollutants to keep track of, it’s easy to miss something without a compliance checklist. So, here’s a checklist you can use to guide your compliance efforts:

  • Establish Baseline IAQ Levels: Conduct an initial assessment to understand current air quality standings.
  • Install IAQ Monitors: Equip the property with smart sensors that measure core pollutants regularly.
  • Regular Data Review: Schedule weekly or monthly check-ins to analyze IAQ data.
  • Maintenance Checks: Regularly inspect HVAC systems, air filters, and other related equipment.
  • Response Plan: Develop a protocol for addressing IAQ issues when they arise.
  • Tenant Communication: Keep tenants informed about IAQ status and improvements.
  • Staff Training: Ensure that your team understands IAQ standards and compliance requirements.
  • Documentation: Keep records of IAQ levels, maintenance, and any actions taken to mitigate issues.
  • Policy Updates: Stay informed on the latest EU regulations and update your practices accordingly.
  • Health and Safety Meetings: Regularly discuss IAQ as part of health and safety briefings.

Steps for practical indoor air quality assessment

First things first: conducting an IAQ assessment. Here’s a no-nonsense approach to assessing the IAQ in your building:

  1. Identify the Pollutants: Get to know the pollutants specific to your property. Are you in a high-traffic area? Got a lot of printers or manufacturing equipment around? Pinpointing the sources is step one.
  2. Set Up Your Monitoring: Deploy smart sensors that can keep an eye on levels of CO2, VOCs, PM, humidity, and other relevant pollutants. Spread them out to cover different areas and conditions.
  3. Collect the Data: Let the sensors gather data on the air quality and send it to a central system where you can see what’s happening in real-time.
  4. Analyze the Trends: Look at the data over time to spot patterns. Is there a rush-hour spike in CO2? Does the photocopy room always have high VOC levels? This is where you start to see the story of your building’s air.
  5. Take Action: Use what you’ve learned to make changes. Maybe you need better ventilation in some areas or to switch up some of your cleaning products to lower VOCs.
  6. Repeat: IAQ assessment isn’t a one-off job. Keep monitoring and adjusting because both your building and the environment are always changing.

Leveraging data for improved tenant experience

With real-time IAQ data, you can make on-the-fly adjustments to the building’s demand-controlled ventilation or air purification systems to tackle any issues head-on before they become problems. It’s like having a weather report for your indoor air, and you can use it to make sure it’s always a sunny day inside, air-wise.

But it’s not just about fixing problems. This data can also be a powerful tool for engaging with tenants. Share the data with them through an app or a dashboard. Let them see how you’re actively managing the air they breathe. It’s transparent, it’s engaging, and it shows you care about their well-being.

Smart monitoring solutions and sensors

The backbone of any cutting-edge indoor air quality (IAQ) monitoring system is the array of smart sensors and solutions. They provide the data and control necessary for maintaining optimal conditions in connected buildings. These technologies have evolved from rudimentary devices to sophisticated instruments. Nowadays, they can detect minute changes in air composition and quality, and then provide that data in real-time.

Role of smart sensors in real-time air quality monitoring

Here’s how smart sensors make real-time air quality monitoring possible and useful:

  • Continuous Monitoring: Unlike traditional methods, smart sensors work around the clock, providing a continuous stream of data.
  • Precision: They offer precise readings of pollutant levels, often down to parts per billion, allowing for detecting even slight degradations in air quality.
  • Immediate Alerts: With real-time monitoring, any exceedance of threshold levels can trigger instant notifications, enabling swift action.
  • Data Analysis: Smart sensors can feed into an ESG data platform that analyzes trends and patterns, supporting proactive IAQ management.

Identifying and safeguarding at-risk populations within indoor environments

Smart monitoring systems play a crucial role in protecting those who are most vulnerable to poor air quality, such as individuals with respiratory conditions, older adults, and children. More specifically, they provide:

  • Targeted Monitoring: Place sensors in areas frequented by at-risk populations to ensure the air quality is always within safe levels.
  • Custom Alerts: Customize alert thresholds based on the specific health requirements of these groups.
  • Environmental Control: Integrate sensors with HVAC systems to adjust conditions when adverse air quality is detected automatically.

Strategies for leveraging technology to meet EU standards

Staying compliant with EU regulations requires an approach that integrates technology effectively. As new rules come out, they will most likely include reporting mandates that require building owners to submit their findings. Smart sensors paired with reporting software can automatically aggregate the data needed for these reports. This makes it easier to comply with current and future mandates.

Get started with ProptechOS and monitoring of IAQ

ProptechOS lets you take full advantage of your IAQ monitoring. Connecting your Proptech solutions and real estate data enables your building to react automatically to the current air quality. For example, it could turn on the HVAC system to filter out particulates or open smart windows in an unused room with stagnant air. You can try ProptechOS for free today to see how connecting your software solutions and real estate data can enhance your operations.

Dr. Erik Wallin

Chief Ecosystem Officer, and founder of ProptechOS and RealEstateCore is recognized as a leader in Building Operating Systems (BOS) and making the buildings of the world smarter. He holds an MSc and a Ph.D. in Media and Computer Science from KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

Read his full bio and information here.