The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, SUNY Upstate Medical, Syracuse University, and Carrier have now acknowledged the findings after three decades of research into the benefits of improved ventilation and indoor air quality (IAQ) on workplace productivity.
“This research suggests that the health and productivity benefits far outweigh energy costs and environmental impacts can be mitigated through a variety of readily available strategies. It is time we move away from ventilation designed for merely acceptable indoor quality and move towards design for optimal indoor air quality. We have been presented with the false choice of energy efficiency or healthy indoor environments for too long. We can- and must- have both,” stated Dr. Joseph Allan, who is director of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, as well as assistant professor of exposure assessment science.
The research study was titled “Economic, Environmental, and Health Implications of Enhanced Ventilation in Office Buildings” and demonstrated that cognitive function test scores came back 101 percent higher in green or LEED certified environments in comparison to traditional buildings.
The study was conducted in three indoor environments with four distinct heating, ventilation and air conditioning strategies, using a 53 000 square foot, three story building with over 260 occupants as a reference along with average utility prices for each city. Seven American cities were chosen for hosts from varying climate types, which included: San Francisco, Boston, Albuquerque, Austin, Charlotte, Boise, and Baltimore.
The four HVAC strategies that were implemented in the sites involved variable air volume (VAV) and fan coil (FCU) systems, which are now the leading strategies in critical airflow projects such as isolation rooms for hospitals or wet chemistry laboratories found in universities or government research facilities. By adding an energy recovery wheel, they found that it “essentially neutralizes the environmental impact of enhanced ventilation” using the highest ventilation rate. Approximately, this equalled to 0.03 cars on the road per building.
The research was also supported by United Technologies Corp (UTC)’s climate and controls division. It should also be noted that these studies were only conducted on the basis of cognitive function, and that additional co-benefits would surely result, such as reduced illness, from improved ventilation and indoor air quality. This research determined that new building construction should account for higher ventilation rates and energy recovery wheels (ERV), which directly improves system energy efficiency.
In my opinion, these studies confirm common sense. Appropriate ventilation allows for proper temperature, humidity, and pressure control as well as reducing dust and particulate build-ups. This all increases the IAQ and in turn produces a much more breathable atmosphere to work in, which is important especially when the work day comprises a third or more of the day.
By introducing the findings of these studies now, effort can be made to adapt existing codes, statutes, and regulations to adopt less conservative approaches to HVAC design in the implementation of VAV and FCU systems, even in areas that do not necessarily require critical airflow control, such as surgery rooms or vivariums.
The adoption of these strategies compliments the clean energy revolution that we are currently living in quite well. If there can be efforts at the government level to establish higher ventilation rates as standards, then these strategies will implement the use of clean energy to reduce carbon emissions drastically and translate directly into dollar energy savings.
As discussed by Jim Pegues, who is an engineer and researcher at UTC Climate, Controls and Security, “the modelling is straightforward and we believe [the strategies] could be used by owners for all building types.” This is an inspiring statement as he mentioned there are no restrictions based on the type of building for these strategies to be implemented on a daily basis.
Energy-efficient retrofits have simply become an issue of risk versus cost, which some financial decision-makers still struggle with. However, in my opinion, the key is to demonstrate energy savings using software or reporting tools that can appeal to the owner in a way that would make it seem very unwise to do so otherwise. Numbers always do the talking so it is important to use them wisely.