Indoor Environmental Quality: Motivation, Challenges & Requirements
An interview with Matt Schaubroeck, Cofounder & CEO, ioAirflow
Over the last decade, architects and engineers have been working to educate owners and developers on the wellness impacts of sustainable building design approaches in creating healthier and more productive lives for their occupants. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that these wellness considerations are no longer a mere value-add to a building, but rather a necessary element in allowing larger groups to safely reoccupy a space. In this blog, we interview Matt Schaubroeck, Cofounder and CEO of ioAirFlow, to discuss the role of indoor environmental quality monitoring in the era of “healthy buildings” and the key considerations for implementing a successful solution.
Tell us about ioAirflow. What are your products and vision, who are your customers?
ioAirFlow wants to make commercial buildings healthier, for both people and the environment. To achieve this, we are creating a digital audit platform that provides faster, cheaper, and more accurate energy reports for commercial buildings.
Our solution will be used by companies that are already offering energy audits, or by building managers interested in running quick diagnostics on their building’s health and efficiency performance.
We are not a permanent automation installation - we are a digital audit platform. Other companies using this type of technology focus on permanent installations and/or active building control regimes, which are often cost-prohibitive and difficult to maintain for the majority of building owners.
Traditional energy audits are manual, time-consuming and expensive. By using the MYTHINGS platform, we can reliably and securely collect data by placing sensors anywhere in a building. In combination with our machine learning model, we will be able to provide more accurate diagnostics than any manual audit.
How do you see the role of IoT today in the smart building industry? What are the key drivers behind it?
IoT is revolutionizing the way we interact with built environments. This will be a key tool in improving building performance and helping us meet global climate change targets.
This technology application is a game-changer for understanding how buildings really operate. There is a general frustration with the archaic manual building audit process, which is too labour-intensive and cost-prohibitive to serve a large portion of the building market. By creating a digital audit solution, ioAirFlow is able to reduce the cost of testing enough that a building audit becomes financially viable for what we call ‘Class C’ buildings - older stock with no onsite energy management technology.
Finally, IoT changes the way we collect data. Conventional building monitoring software needs to be plugged or wired into mechanical systems, which limits their placement and how much building data can be collected. Think of it as the difference between an X-ray and a MRI - an MRI might find a problem an X-ray can’t find, because it’s looking at the problem with different tools and a different lens.
What is the relationship between indoor environmental quality and sustainability? How will property owners and managers benefit from implementing an IEQ monitoring solution?
Buildings (including materials and construction) account for 39% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. According to the United Nations, the built environment’s energy intensity will have to improve by 30% by 2030 to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Improving the IEQ of buildings is a critical component to fighting climate change.
Most commercial buildings can increase their energy efficiency by up to 50% and save thousands of dollars monthly by investing in green building retrofits. But, most buildings owners are unaware of the problems that exist in their building. They can’t fix what they don’t know exists.
IEQ monitoring can identify many of these issues using big data analysis. Using MyThings sensors, ioAirFlow is able to test the effectiveness of a building’s HVAC system, envelope, controls systems, or a building’s overall comfort levels and efficiency. With this information, we’re more equipped to make actionable recommendations on how to solve those problems. That informed decision-making process helps building managers understand how they can increase their building’s health.
What constitutes “building health” and how does it impact the health and wellness of building occupants? How do you see this changing in the wake of Covid-19?
Building health can mean two separate things - how environmentally sustainable the building’s infrastructure is, and how healthy the environment is for the people living and working inside it. A healthier building is better for your bottom line, for the people in that building, and for the environment.
The IEQ of a building is directly related to the health, productivity and satisfaction of its occupants. Buildings with poor indoor environmental quality cost the global economy billions of dollars every year, due to illness and productivity loss. In addition, those buildings are consuming more energy, releasing more GHG emissions into the atmosphere.
COVID-19 has put an unprecedented spotlight on building health. As people adjust to the reality of the pandemic, IEQ and building health are becoming priorities for building owners and managers. That includes finding ways to make our indoor environments healthier including ensuring adequate ventilation, airflow, and mechanical systems.
What are the challenges or hesitations CRE companies have when implementing an IEQ solution?
The main barriers to implementing IEQ solutions are knowledge and cost.
Unless you have on-site expertise or management software, you likely don’t know all the ways your building is losing efficiency. Buildings are complex and deteriorate over time, experiencing a large number of efficiency problems - no building is immune from this efficiency degradation. If you don’t know what to look for, you won’t know how to start implementing solutions. Even permanent building management software won’t be able to pinpoint every problem that exists in a building.
The financial barrier mostly has to do with sticker shock on the up-front costs of some IEQ solutions. Many buildings operate in a way to maximize revenue above all else - so if it’s not broken, it doesn't need to be fixed or improved. In those circumstances, paying for an efficiency retrofit can be a tough sell. That’s a mindset we have to change.
Healthy building is good for your bottom line. If you consume less energy, you’re paying reduced utility bills. There is a strong business case that your return on investment will improve with every IEQ solution you implement - what we need to create are solutions that are less capital-intensive.
That financial barrier is why ioAirFlow hasn’t developed a solution to be permanently installed onsite. You don’t necessarily need data being collected 24/7 to identify your IEQ gaps - our platform can figure it out in a matter of weeks. Because you don’t need to buy our sensors to have a test done, the cost of that test suddenly becomes much more affordable.
What does an IEQ monitoring architecture look like? What are the wireless connectivity requirements in this context?
The most common indoor environmental quality monitoring architecture in today’s market is building management or automation software. Those include smart thermostats, automated zone monitoring and control, and some other fascinating technologies. The problem with this architecture is its installation cost - nearly all building management architecture requires a constant power source. That might mean rewiring your entire building. That can be a non-starter from a financial perspective.
Wireless solutions do exist, but face serious problems in a commercial setting. Systems that use Wi-Fi or BLE solutions will either require a mesh network, or integration with the building’s existing IT infrastructure. These can both pose a security risk - as evidenced by the hacked HVAC system at Target in 2014.
These solutions are sometimes just not realistic for many buildings - particularly for Class C buildings who are often more limited on available cashflow. That’s where a scalable and affordable IoT platform like MYTHINGS can provide a solution. With reliable long-range signal strength, we’re able to easily place sensors in any built environment to collect the data we need to run our analysis.
What predictions do you have for the smart building market in the next 3-5 years?
Demand for smart and green building solutions is growing quickly. Cleantech is one of the fastest-growing tech industries today, with an expected market cap of $2.5 trillion USD by 2022. Alongside this, the global market for energy retrofit expenditures in commercial buildings is expected to reach $384.5 billion in 2020.
Smart buildings play a key role in helping buildings go greener. A smart building collects more data, allowing for more informed decision-making on how to reduce its energy consumption and carbon footprint in that space. COVID-19 will likely spur development in this space as we try to make our buildings safer and healthier.
The 2020 trend of working from home has had a crippling impact on global commercial real estate, and the industry has to look for novel solutions to attract back tenants. The best thing a building operator could do is to prove that their building is safe and healthy. A smart building is the best tool for identifying what steps need to be taken to achieve a building’s IEQ potential.
Co-founder and CEO, ioAirFlow
Matt Schaubroeck is co-founder and CEO of ioAirFlow, a Winnipeg-based environmental proptech startup. He has been working in the smart building sector since 2016, as part of a MBA research project that grew into the company he now leads. Matt has also served as the Director of Programming for the North Forge technology incubator in Winnipeg, with a focus on commercialization strategies for early-stage tech companies.