How to Cure ‘Sick Buildings’

How to Cure ‘Sick Buildings’

When a person catches a nasty bug, everyone tends to give them their space, and understandably so. But did you know that buildings can get “sick” as well?  

“Sick Building Syndrome” can cause a myriad of health problems for customers and workers alike inside commercial buildings, including allergic reactions, asthma, headaches, breathing problems and more. 

It’s an issue that even smaller commercial establishments such as quick-service restaurants and shops need to understand, especially as a new generation of consumers carefully choose their favorite businesses based on their contribution to a healthy lifestyle. You don’t want your customers avoiding you.

So how does a building get “sick” to begin with? It all started in the ‘70s. At the time, architectural design was beginning to skew toward airtight buildings, the reasoning being that a more isolated environment would be easier to control and, ultimately, be more energy efficient.

Concerns Over Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

The reasoning was sound; these days nearly all buildings are completely sealed, resulting in less heat escape and less energy needed to drive HVAC systems. Unfortunately, sealing buildings introduced new problems. If air isn’t circulated properly, these closed-up spaces can all too easily grow stagnant and become breeding grounds for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – the culprits behind that “musty” smell you may notice sometimes in poorly-cared for buildings.

What are these VOCs and where do they come from? They are produced by everything you would find in a normal business: ozone from printers, cleaning products, insects, chemicals from halogen lights – even our own bodies are chemical factories, emitting CO2 wherever we roam. It’s no wonder that air circulation is so critical to a healthy building when all types of undesirable elements are being pumped into the air. 

With so much affecting a building’s air quality, it takes surprisingly little to tip the scales and create a sick building. Too much mold in the walls, neglecting to clean out the HVAC system, or even a significant change in humidity can set off a chain reaction of air quality problems if not addressed.

The Need to Increase Building Air Flow

Since buildings first started being sealed, there has been a burgeoning science supporting the need for air circulation to keep buildings healthy. The common measurement is cubic feet per minute (CFM) – commonly referred to as “airflow.” These measurements are typically taken on a per-person basis and indicate how much airflow is needed to keep a building’s air healthy given a certain occupancy. For example, a movie theater with a maximum occupancy of 100 people may need 500 cubic feet of air cycled per minute to keep a packed theater supplied with fresh air. 

But what if there’s only a handful of theater attendees watching a matinee?  Have you ever been in a mostly empty theater and noticed it’s freezing cold? The reason for this is directly tied to airflow adjustments.

The issue with airflow is that traditional HVAC systems have had no way to adjust on the fly, and thus the only option becomes running the system at full blast and recycling out the air as if the building were packed all day. This isn’t exactly the best move economically but there’s been no cost-effective or convenient solution to address it until recently.

Sensors to the Rescue

There are now technologies available that finally realize the goal of energy efficiency originally sought out by airtight buildings while retaining air quality: sensor technology. When connected to “smart” thermostats, these sensors can provide data to cloud-based platforms on how many people are in a building in real-time and artificial intelligence solutions can adjust the airflow accordingly, thus saving money while keeping the building safe for humans.  

These sensors come in two primary flavors: occupancy sensors and CO2 sensors. Both will get the job done, but CO2 sensors are more accurate. Occupancy sensors simply count the number of bodies in a building while CO2 sensors measures the volume of CO2 in the air. Since different people produce different amounts of CO2, you’ll get a more accurate reading.

Reducing the harmful impacts on human health from sick buildings has been a challenge for decades. Fortunately, keeping your building healthy today is now simply a matter of using the right tools for the job. 

Find out more how mCloud’s full suite of AssetCare™ solutions can reduce the risk of sick building syndrome for your restaurant and store while saving you money on your monthly energy bills by contacting us today

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