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Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in the era of COVID-19: How high should it be?

What does healthy IAQ look like these days? Well, first we need to start with a baseline definition of indoor air quality. At DMA, IAQ is a measure of contaminants, and how these contaminants adhere to health standards. Contaminants run the spectrum — from a mere annoyance to something that could result in death. The higher the IAQ measure, the fewer contaminants that are present indoors. 

IAQ is not a new measure, but in the era of COVID-19, has become a central focus. There is a working hypothesis and research which suggests the virus can be spread indoors. Codes and standards have always regulated the minimums for indoor air but in the era of COVID-19, DMA is recommending a higher level of indoor quality than before. This is to provide the best protection against viral spread. 

Pre-COVID-19, standard practice was to use a prescriptive method to ensure minimums were being met.  Using a prescriptive, out-of-the-box approach is not adequate to ensure that proper IAQ is being maintained. IAQ monitoring is (and should be) a must, going forward.  

A basic IAQ monitoring system will measure temperature, humidity, CO2, VOC, and PM2.5.  Using these parameters, we have a solid understanding of how clean indoor air is and what changes need to be made to ensure our shared spaces have superior IAQ.    

In terms of solutions to take action on, here are some options: 

  • Level 1- Basic, off-the-shelf units: These can monitor spaces and bring data to the cloud, enabling you to monitor performance on your smart device of choice 
  • Level 2 – Sophisticated units tied into automation: These easily communicate with building automation systems and in real-time, adjust operating parameters to increase the indoor air quality.   
  • Level 3 – A building readiness plan, powerful IAQ unit, and automation:  Work with an engineering firm, such as DMA, to implement IAQ monitoring, evaluate all current building designs and ensure you have a tight grasp on your IAQ and what needs to be addressed. 

We’ve phrased these as options, but the reality is that we need to take IAQ seriously and have a plan. A building must be responsive, measured, and utilize technology to ensure its occupants are safe. We don’t see us going back to pre-COVID-19 days where the bare minimum suffices. It’s part of our collective reality. Our recommendation is to begin implementing solutions now which will help us support our goal of net-zero buildings. Controlling IAQ will be integral to a net-zero world and a cornerstone of reducing energy consumption.