In its December 2016 issue, Climate Control Middle East carried the first part of its post-event coverage of the 4th World IEQ Forum, an event that CPI Industry organised in October 2016 in Dubai, UAE. The focus of the coverage had been the first session of the Forum, which centred on IEQ-related regulations and standards in the region, as presented by speakers from different government agencies, led by the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, under whose patronage the Forum was held.
With the public sector having acknowledged the critical importance of giving more attention to the quality of indoor environments, in general – via more comprehensive legislation and more relevant initiatives – the Forum drew the attention of the attendees to the topic of IEQ in specific sectors. Hospitality, healthcare and education were given the spotlight through presentations* from Engr Katerina Karpova, Environment, Health & Safety Assistant Manager, Emirates Palace Hotel; Engr Imran Ahmed, Senior Mechanical Engineer, Engineering & Maintenance Department, Al Qassimi Hospital; and Engr Mazen Chouihna, Facilities Design Officer, Facilities & Infrastructure, Abu Dhabi Education Council.
In her presentation, Karpova talked about the different measures that Emirates Palace has in place to maintain good IEQ in its facilities. Those measures, said Karpova, include changing the filters in its HVAC systems to prevent the multiplication of mould and bacteria; implementing a smog extraction system in all public areas and guest rooms through BMS; and monitoring the CO2 level in the hotel’s parking areas.
Ahmed, meanwhile, highlighted the unique IEQ requirements in hospital rooms, such as the pressure relationships and acceptable ACH (air changes per hour) rates that vary from one room type to another. As an example, he said that while an operation theatre needs to have positive pressure and a minimum ACH of 22-25, an airborne isolation room must have negative pressure and a minimum ACH of 12.
Stressing the vulnerability of children to air pollutants and other contaminants that undermine the IEQ of an indoor space, Chouihna discussed the different ways that ADEC is keeping the school environments that are under its supervision healthy and safe for the students. Among the measures he cited is the use of integrated Building Management Systems to control and monitor HVAC equipment, as well as the commissioning of comprehensive acoustic studies for indoor noise pollution reduction. The level of indoor noise, he said, must be “conducive to learning and not distracting”.
The “Buildingomics” approach
The presentations, which made up the second session of the event, were introduced by a special Skype address by Dr Joseph Allen, Assistant Professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Director of the Healthy Buildings programme at the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment. Allen, who delivered the address all the way from Boston, in the United States, shared with the delegates the details and results of two related studies – for which he was the principal investigator – that sought to determine the impact of Green Buildings on the cognitive functions of occupants.
The first study, which Allen first discussed with Climate Control Middle East in an exclusive interview published in December 2015, involved placing the participants in the study in simulated Green building environments with ventilation rates that were higher than those prescribed by ASHRAE. As per Allen, the results showed that participants scored double on cognitive function tests when they were placed in the said environments than when they were in “conventional building environments”.
Having established that simulated Green Building environments do affect cognitive performance, Allen said that he and the rest of the research team moved to real-world buildings, with the aim of verifying if “the green certification of high-performance buildings could result in higher cognitive function scores and health benefits for occupants”. It was in the second study that the team introduced the concept of ‘Buildingomics’.
Explaining the concept, Allen said that ‘Buildingomics’ is an approach they’re advocating, which “examines the totality of factors in the building-related environment that influence the human health, well-being and productivity of people who work in buildings”. He added, “Through Buildingomics’ multi-disciplinary approach, we aim to better understand the building-related factors that influence health in buildings and unlock the ability to optimise buildings for cognitive function and health.”
The results of the second study, which was carried out in the autumn and winter of 2015- 2016, reportedly show that occupants of “green-certified, high-performing buildings saw 26% higher cognitive function scores, slept better and reported fewer health symptoms compared to those in similarly high-performing buildings that were not green-certified”.
According to the details of the second study that Allen presented, “cognitive function in 109 office workers across 10 high-performing office buildings in five US cities differentiated by climatic regions” were tested. The study defined high-performing buildings as those “surpassing the ASHRAE standard for acceptable ventilation and indoor air quality and with low total volatile organic compound (TVOC) concentrations”.
With ASHRAE members present at the Forum, the stress the study placed on surpassing the association’s prescribed ventilation standards earned comments from the audience, with at least a couple of delegates explaining that ASHRAE standards sought to achieve a balance between IAQ and energy efficiency, since increasing a building’s ventilation rate could lead to an increase in energy consumption.
Allen, responding to the comments, stressed that he was not suggesting that ASHRAE’s standards lead to unhealthy buildings, only that they are but the “bare minimum”. He further noted that rather than focusing too much on energy efficiency, the industry should take into account the gap between the added costs of improving a building’s ventilation versus the benefits it offers. The gap is considerable, he said, before elaborating that optimum ventilation could cost around USD 30 per person per year, but the benefits in increased productivity could be as much as USD 6,000 per person per year.
A startling set of metrics and one worth keeping in mind, as are the rest of the study’s findings, for as Allen and his team pointed out, “Better buildings that result in better thinking and health can help enhance employees’ performance and well-being; serve as recruiting tools for business HR managers; and provide a differentiator, perhaps even a competitive advantage, for building owners.”
* Speaker presentations can be accessed at http://www.cpi-industry.com/events/ieq/postevent/
Read part one here: Going public with IEQ
[The writer is the Assistant Editor of Climate Control Middle East.]