Smart Comfort Monitoring: Turning Data into Action (IWMS+ Series)

Estimated reading time:

One consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a surge in interest in air quality and comfort monitoring. With employees worried about possible viral exposure in the office, better understanding and communication about environmental conditions is becoming a key part of reassurance strategies. Likewise, many companies are investing in improvements in HVAC and filtering systems to reduce the risk of circulating the virus. As in the previous cases discussed in this series, IWMS+ brings together the monitoring capabilities of smart building systems with the practical side of the IWMS, ensuring that data is transformed into action.

Why Air Quality Matters

The benefits of good air quality seem apparent in light of a public health crisis. But even before the COVID-19 outbreak, there was a growing recognition that healthy buildings lead to positive outcomes for users and owners alike.

A 2016 Harvard-Syracuse study, for example, found that white-collar workers exhibited 61 to 101 percent better cognitive performance in an office with better ventilation, lower CO2, and fewer volatile organic compounds (TVOC) than in a conventional/control office1. In a survey of the literature, Muldavin, Miers, and McMackin indicate that WELL interventions can also boost productivity by 1-10% or more per intervention. They further summarize research suggesting that a favorable physical environment may reduce employee turnover and absenteeism, among other workplace benefits.

Surveys of workers also support the idea that comfort and air quality are important workplace benefits. The Future Workplace Wellness Study found that nearly half of the surveyed employees felt that poor air quality was making them sleepy during the workday. And one-third of employees felt that their office temperature was consistently too hot or too cold.2

Finally, recent research by the MIT Real Estate Innovation Lab suggests that these benefits to users extend to building owners. On average, health-certified buildings in New York City are estimated to rent for $9.87 more per square foot than non-certified buildings. And they also appear to be able to win longer leases.3

This research suggests that there is significant value in investing in smart monitoring and maintaining comfort and air quality in office buildings. IWMS+, while not a stand-alone solution for this use case, can play an important part in delivering a healthier, better office environment.

Smart Monitoring of Comfort and Air Quality in Buildings

Better air quality and comfort in buildings begin with smart monitoring. Especially because perceptions of “too hot” or “too cold” vary from person to person, capturing accurate and objective readings of office conditions is important. Modern comfort monitors can measure a wide range of environmental conditions, from temperature and humidity to CO2, TVOC, and radon. They can even produce a compositive index of overall comfort. These conditions are captured over time and can also be communicated to building users on floorplans displayed on mobile apps or kiosks.

For the most part, a well-functioning ventilation system should be able to maintain fairly constant levels of key comfort indicators. However, careful monitoring over time can help identify fluctuations that might indicate system malfunctions, design features that might be blocking airflow, or some human intervention (such as a personal space heater) that may be affecting the building environment.

Using Data to Drive Action

It is precisely when monitoring data identifies outliers or aberrations in comfort levels that the IWMS becomes valuable. If recorded values of comfort or air quality fall outside of acceptable levels, smart building systems can trigger a variety of automated responses. If integrated with a Building Management System, they can trigger responses in the HVAC system, such as turning up the air conditioning when rooms become too hot. Yet this trigger is only going to achieve results if there isn’t a fault in the air conditioning system itself.

In that case, linking the monitoring system to the IWMS can be particularly valuable. When sensors identify an outlier, monitoring systems can send notifications to technicians or floor managers for human follow-up. Robust work order systems can track the status of the ticket, keeping a record of the responsible parties and their actions. Armed with key information and a clear chain of responsibility, maintenance staff can respond quickly to a localized problem, resolving the issue and preempting user complaints. The IWMS maintenance systems will keep a record of the issue so that recurring problems can be flagged for more extensive follow-up.

Long-term Benefits of Leveraging Smart Building Monitoring Data

In addition to prompting interventions in real time, comfort and air quality data might also be used to support predictive maintenance. In predictive maintenance, machine learning algorithms process a wide range of data from equipment or environmental sensors, along with other inputs to try to predict when equipment might break down in order to fix the equipment before it ever breaks down. Environmental conditions can be both a contributor to equipment failure as well as a warning sign, so collecting this information offers valuable contextual data for predictive maintenance algorithms and other machine learning applications.

While the IWMS plays a less visible role in the IWMS+ equation around comfort and air quality than in some of the other use cases that we’ve discussed, we can only unlock the value of monitoring when data lead to action. Particularly when it comes to user health and comfort, we don’t want to stop at merely diagnosing a problem, we want to ensure that the right person will be informed and will take steps to resolve it.

This post is Part 6 of an ongoing series on IWMS+. Earlier posts introduced the concept of IWMS+ and a range of smart building topics. If you’d like to receive notifications about future additions to this series and other Spacewell knowledge content, please sign up here.

  1. Muldavin, Miers, and McMackin (2017). “Buildings emerge as drivers of health and profits” Corporate Real Estate Journal Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 177-193.
  2. View (2019). Future Workplace Wellness Study.
  3. Sadikin and DeWeess (2020). “The Impact of Healthy Buildings: Rental Prices and Market Dynamics in Commercial Office Markets”
Home » Smart Comfort Monitoring: Turning Data into Action (IWMS+ Series)