Digitising IAQ as preventative maintenance

by FM Media
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IAQ falling behind? Michael Driedger says data will help you play in the big leagues.

The 2011 movie Moneyball is based on the true story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), a Major League Baseball team manager who is frustrated that his organisation can’t compete with the salaries of big market cities like New York and Los Angeles. Beane turns to baseball analytics (a term called sabermetrics) to give the team the edge it needs. The storyline shows the power of using data to overcome massive odds as it allows Beane’s team, with one-fifth of the budget of the ‘big guys’, to compete and win. Now, the word ‘moneyball’ is synonymous with using data to create an advantage when you are at a disadvantage.

The same can be said for indoor air quality (IAQ) data in buildings. Right now, facility teams are trying to figure out how to budget for preventative maintenance or for upgrades to make their building more attractive for occupants, guests or tenants. If there is only $250,000 to spend on upgrades to a facility, how would you prioritise spending?

If you take a lesson from Moneyball, you’d first start backwards by looking at what the data is telling you. Modern IoT monitors (such as Tongdy and AirGradient) can collect IAQ data that tells us the CO2, TVOC (total volatile organic compounds), temperature, humidity and dust levels in a space over an extended period of time. They monitor these larger and longer data sets and will easily show if an upgrade is needed (like when Beane needed to trade for a better player). Data can also pinpoint when you just need to make a simpler control change (like when you realise you have a good player but just in the wrong position).

Whose job is it to make sense of data?

One of the biggest challenges with using data to make decisions is that it’s often challenging to determine whose job it is to take ownership and therefore take advantage of all that data. When it comes to outdoor air data you can look on a weather app to see the air quality index (AQI), as the government monitors and regulates car and factory emissions levels. However, with IAQ, there is no single body that has overall responsibility. The data and many experts agree that IAQ is two-to-five times more dangerous than outdoor air quality. Given we spend more than 90 percent of our time inside, that’s not great news for any of us.

For instance, in a classroom, if you handed the data to the teachers, would they be responsible for the IAQ of their classroom? It seems that this isn’t the right answer as they should be focused on the challenge of maintaining order with 27 young people and getting them educated. Giving responsibility to the school facilities team isn’t fair either, given how stretched their resources already are with regards to maintenance, cleaning and upgrades (especially during a pandemic).

If you were to do a job search online for IAQ experts, you’d likely discover jobs for folks in the world of consulting, you would also find that those jobs are primarily focused on managing outdoor air levels in compliance with government regulations.

That’s where leaders like Vancity, a leading credit union in British Columbia, Canada, come in. Vancity has taken a very progressive approach to managing the IAQ of its 56 branches in conjunction with consultants, facilities teams, landlords and branch managers. The credit union now engages in full time IAQ monitoring across all 56 of its branches with the support of Airsset. The data is visible to both the facilities team, and a local IAQ expert that has been doing spot checks inside of the branches for many years. This collective effort puts enough eyes on the solutions to allow for the lowest cost spent in maintaining amazing spaces.

The return on investment in good air quality is well documented. Given that even a mild increase in CO2 levels can result in a 15 percent drop in workplace productivity means that there are major incentives to using Beane’s approach of using data to drive better decision making. How can simple operational changes and access to data allow people to improve their space? I recently did a case study at my daughter’s school to figure that out as well.

In the true spirit of the film Moneyball, data should be used to spend as little as possible while achieving the best outcomes. Guessing at what needs fixing, or where it needs to be fixed to optimise a space is no way to succeed with limited resources. Digitising your buildings and using data to make them better, will allow any company to play competitively when it comes to creating healthy spaces.

Michael Driedger is Airsset CEO.

Photo by Rick Rodriguez on Unsplash

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