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Healthy Spaces Podcast: Season 2, Episode 7 - Innovations for Healthy and Efficient Spaces

Improving indoor air quality can have a taxing effect on building efficiency – but the future is without compromise. 

Throughout Season 2 of Healthy Spaces, I had the opportunity to talk to scientists, engineers and industry experts about what it means to return to healthier indoor spaces and thrive in these indoor environments. We talked through all kinds of different strategies and indoor air technologies that help improve how people experience life in homes, workspaces, schools, entertainment venues and buses.

For the final episode, we decided to take a step back to reflect on where all these different strategies come from, and what kind of data they are based on. Joined by Manish K Sharma, vice president, chief technology and product officer at Honeywell Building Technologies, we discussed a broad range of topics from the downfalls of using carbon dioxide as a sole indicator of indoor air quality, to the latest innovations happening in this space – including leveraging well-known technologies in a more integrated way.

Listen as we dip into the world of indoor air pollutants beyond carbon dioxide and learn how indoor air quality solutions like active data monitoring, smarter outcome-based algorithms, and systems that connect everything together are the future to optimizing performance for both occupant well-being and environmental health.

The fact that bringing fresh air comes with an energy penalty is true. It's the reality. (...) But while increased ventilation is one simple solution, it is not the only solution.

Manish K Sharma, vice president, chief technology and chief product officer, Honeywell Building Technologies


[00:00:00] Rasha Hasaneen: Throughout this season, the key challenge our experts and technology leaders have talked about is the inextricable link between improved air quality and higher energy costs.

[00:00:13] Manish Sharma: The fact that bringing fresh air comes with an energy penalty is true. It's the reality. I mean, we all know that. But while increased ventilation is one solution, it is not the only solution.

[00:00:25] Rasha: So how can we ensure that the actions we take and improving our air quality are the right ones?

[00:00:30] Manish: If you measure effectively, you can manage effectively. If you manage effectively, you can monitor it closely. If you can do all of that, you can optimize all the time.

[00:00:39] Rasha: That's Manish Sharma, vice-president and chief technology and product officer at Honeywell Building Technologies. Manish's role places him at the forefront of indoor environmental quality innovation. So, I can't think of anyone better suited to tell us about the air quality solutions that are on the horizon.

I'm Rasha Hasaneen and you're listening to Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies, a series of conversations that explores the world of indoor environmental quality from the inside out.

It's hard to believe that we've already reached the end of season two of our podcast. Over the course of six episodes, we've talked to scientists, engineers, and experts about what it means to return to healthier indoor spaces. From the indoor environmental quality challenges we've had to overcome, to the lasting learnings gained from the COVID 19 pandemic. Improving indoor air quality has been one of the main topics throughout our conversations. Whether it's improving ventilation in schools, installing air quality monitors in your home, or using active air purification devices in transit buses, we've touched on multiple types of strategies and technologies. To wrap up this Healthy Spaces season, let's take a step back and talk about what these different strategies are based on. Is having carbon dioxide indoors always a bad thing? Is increasing ventilation always the best way to improve indoor air quality in a space? Let's find out. So, Manish, can you start off by telling us about Honeywell Building Technologies and your role there?

[00:02:24] Manish: Thanks, Rasha. We are the company who does the complete control system, right from designing installation, commissioning for the whole building. We look at buildings as a system, and where we have a system of systems is what we would like to manage, control, and optimize. It starts right from your HVAC equipment controls, complete HVAC system level control, end to end security, which include video management systems. Plus, we have a pretty strong software and hardware platform which allows you to integrate with a third-party system, allows you to get their information and data to really do the controls at the broader building level.

[00:03:10] Rasha: We've talked about this before on the podcast, we all know how important system level optimization is to both indoor environmental quality and energy efficiency. And we, as you know, Manish, we have a very similar philosophy here at Trane Technologies.

But let's specifically talk about indoor environmental quality. How has the conversation around IEQ shifted over the past two years for you guys? What kind of challenges has Honeywell run into?

[00:03:39] Manish: I think the conversation has a significantly changed. The pandemic created a lot of awareness among building occupants and owners. In the past, the term we used to associate with indoor environment quality was focused on occupant comfort. But now IAQ is associated with how a building can play a crucial role in the return on investment of business, by increasing worker productivity, well-being and comfort while managing the complete energy usage. The pandemic also taught us to be resilient and even more agile. The workplace is evolving fast, even as more guidelines around IEQ, IAQ are put in place. We have learned that uncertainties are imminent. As a manufacturer, we have always worked to solve our customer's problem, but we have to do this in a different way. The pandemic challenged us all in unexpected ways. How do you create a kind of a testing environment when you can't even access the customer location? How do you create lines that compliments your offering and allow faster go to market approach? So, I think there is a significant shift happened in the last two years.

[00:05:02] Rasha: We're seeing very similar things. What are some of the challenges that you have run into around indoor environmental quality over the last couple of years in particular?

[00:05:16] Manish: One is to understand what is indoor air quality? How do you define the indoor air quality? There are a lot of points around the indoor air quality. Is CO2 measurement enough? Is it the right parameter to measure? So there are a lot of things which is running around that. The second one is, as you start following the ASHRAE guideline, you've got to open the fresh air intake and everything. How does this impact to the energy? And that has a lot of different conversation going around in the market. The third challenge, which we have heard, typically from the customers, they are completely confused because in the last two years the number of changes took place in the different standards and they need to follow and update and update and update. It has gone through multiple cycles, and they don't know when to start, when to stop. I was having a conversation with one of the school superintendents, and that's exactly what they mentioned, that we are completely confused how, and which standard to follow and which not to follow because CDC guidelines are more dynamic, which never happened in the past. ASHRAE guidelines are more dynamic, which is coming more frequently. So, there is a little bit of a confusion. There is a little bit of a challenge in the market space right now of all these problems that I describe.

[00:06:45] Rasha: Constantly evolving standards and scientific discoveries are a challenge for any building owner or occupant to keep up with. The basic question facility managers ask is how do I know my air quality is bad? And what should I do to fix it? A lot of the decisioning involved with addressing this question focuses on the concentration of one specific gas - carbon dioxide. But with occupancy levels still relatively low and concerns for air quality is still high, this has led many to ask the question is CO2 even the best indicator for indoor air quality?

[00:07:19] Manish: My experience from all the study information we did; First thing I would like to say that CO2 is not a bad parameter to measure. I think it's an important parameter. However, we need to be cognizant that we are using a proxy for a proxy to solve the problem. CO2 is considered a proxy for occupancy density in the space, which is a proxy for other contaminant of concern, such as PM, VOC and others. At Honeywell, we support measuring these contaminants of concern directly to the multi-sensor parameter, which we have defined. Secondly, I would say CO2 is a lagging indicator of indoor air quality. As it takes time to build up and then stay the air, while we are allowing CO2 to build up in the area, other contaminant of concerns like, particulate matter, are also rising. Some might point out that PM is a known contaminant of concern, but can be curtailed by an air filtration solution. A very important point to note here that the airborne contaminants are particulate matter that travel through a space. From a ventilation standpoint, there are opportunities to improve current practices. Bringing fresh air in comes from energy penalty, but that helps. Current ventilation practices do not account for economical and uneconomical times for bringing the fresh air. So, what all the issue parcels that ventilation rates, uh, determined by the value of single IAQ metrics. This regards the complexity of the factors that determine IAQ.  We can measure CO2 as far as there is no other option, but in my opinion, multidimensional sensor, I strongly recommend that we should think about measuring much more to provide a holistic fix of the problem not just one parameter.

[00:09:21] Rasha: Even as a proxy for occupancy, right, that doesn't take into account other sources of contaminants that are not human. So, you can have contaminants that make their way into the air, whether it's volatile organic compounds or PM 2.5, that are not generated by occupancy. So, if you're only measuring for CO2 is a proxy for occupancy and occupancy as a proxy for air quality, you're not capturing these other contamination sources. It's a really good point. So, let's talk about that. Outside of pure CO2 monitoring, air quality monitoring, which is much broader, is a solution that many of our previous guests have touched on. And as with any technology, the more we learn, the more we can improve, not just on performance, but on affordability as well. What needs to happen in your opinion for air quality monitors to become more of a commodity, less of a luxury, in order for us to ensure fresh air equity or air quality equity. And what innovations do you see happening in this space?

[00:10:30] Manish: There are a lot of interesting innovation happening in the industry. One, the mode of installation used to be the norm to follow with the sensor. Wall-mounted duct mounted, used to decide the fate of the air quality sensor. Now, there are typically much better sensors in the market. They are more accurate, stable, uniform and can also be connected to existing building management system or to the cloud wirelessly to receive and display the real-time data and trends on the dashboard. So, we can now measure everything from CO2 to radon now through these sensors. I think this is also because of the advancement that we have seen with the WELL and different standards defined. Despite all of its significant challenge, the pandemic provided a launch pad for many types of technology to grow. Earlier, it would take an expert to select and buy an IAQ monitor. Now, with this increased awareness, consumers are well-read and are able to make that selection without much technical assistance. We need to also emphasize that what gets measured, gets managed. Our responsibility as the technology of the future, and an innovative organization is to ensure that we decode this for our customer. We need to convey the benefits that multidimensional sensors can deliver. In fact, this is quite a complimentary to the IAQ conversation that we were having earlier. I feel low-cost sensing is just a starting point for any future strategies geared towards improvement. And any control standard needs to be placed. As I was saying, Honeywell is the control. And after the control, you define the optimization and to do that, the data and the air quality data is the one of the most critical parameters we measure.

[00:12:23] Rasha: And when you think about where this data lands as well, there are so many places, the data that you collect off of these sensors can go. For example, you can display it to an occupant and they can help them feel safer in the space. So it's one thing to be safe, it's another thing for the occupant to feel safer in the space. The other place that it can go, and we heard this in previous conversations that we've had, with the WELL Building Institute and Joanna Frank from Fitwell, is a lot of this data can then go to a lot of these standards bodies automatically to help them get recertified and drive down the cost of recertification in these building performance systems. So, I think you're absolutely right. High-quality, low-cost sensing at the right sensor density, so in the right places all along buildings is going to be the way we do this, both from a control perspective, but also from a visualization and communication perspective. So maybe let's shift gears a little bit. You know, we've been talking about indoor environmental quality and then indoor air quality. In the first episode of season two, one of our guests, Jeff Wiseman from the Trane commercial team shared with us that many building owners are seeing a 30 to 40% increase in energy consumption because of the increase in outdoor ventilation rates. Do you hear similar stories from your customers?

[00:13:56] Manish: Yes, yes, and yes. So almost every customer, you know. This is the question that I get to hear from every customer. A couple of days back I was in Miami, and this was probably, we had an hour meeting and an hour, 20 minutes we talked about this point. So, it is about every single time we talk about healthy buildings with our customer we hear this point. The fact that bringing fresh air comes with an energy penalty is true. It's the reality. I mean, we all know that. But while increased ventilation is one simple solution, it is not the only solution. So, there are other indoor air quality improvement solution that focuses on filtration, cleaning, pressurization, et cetera. And when these solutions are used in conjunction with the optimized ventilation, they could not only improve IAQ, but also optimize energy uses. Also, I believe we need to shift our focus from cost of utilities to occupant comfort, wellbeing, productivity. I think those are kind of little bit, uh, neglected or gone to the lower priority. There is more research and data now how IEQ reduce and improve the worker productivity and potentially has great impact on any organization's bottom line. So, I think, you know what I said, CO2 conversation, it's only a proxy of a problem, but not the problem. Demand control ventilation when linked to the more IAQ parameters could be extremely effective. Another effective way to add is an economizer or ERV to the design. Both these technologies at ways to store energy from heating, cooling cycle to be used. I think this is not the new technology, but I think in the whole point is combination of all of this bringing together. You can definitely achieve the compete need, which is creating a really healthy environment in the building and also not having a higher energy bill.

[00:16:05] Rasha: As the population becomes increasingly aware of air quality and the importance it plays in both health and productivity, more and more building owners and occupants are asking which solutions are fit for their needs. But more importantly, thanks to the cost associated with prolonged ventilation, many are asking what innovations are being developed to help address this need for balance between energy, sustainability, and indoor air quality. So, Manish, what kind of developments are you seeing on the horizon in this space?

[00:16:39] Manish: Let me talk about the one big innovative idea which we are working on. We call it more of a multimodal. I think we need to understand what are the needs of the hour, but there is an immediate need for the continued innovation in this field. What we need is holistic air quality strategy that reduce energy expense, improve operator efficiency, reduce carbon footprint. So, first of all, as we talked about, we need to have the measurement system in place. So measurement system at room level, at zone level, at air handling unit level. It can give you by having like CO2 or different sensors, what we talked about, it can give you that kind of a pathogen concentration. It can give you the pathogen production. It can give you the pathogen transferability. So that's the kind of a measurement system. Second one, you talk about that overall energy consumption. How do you do that with respect to entail calculation the capacity of your chiller air handling unit and, uh, how that correlates to the pathogen reduction per kilowatt hour. And then finally the energy costs and the correlation of that to the carbon cost. Now what we are doing to achieve that - we are coming out with a system of systems, which works on the multiple domains and uses the data of occupancy in the building, uses the sensors and the energy consumption and carbon footprint, the people movement, filtration technology, different blinds and the lighting. So, all of this put together, we are bringing a system of systems, software level algorithm which can provide to a much higher energy saving. And also, it is not increasing the load on the system. And that kind of multimodal output is big innovation which we are working on.

[00:18:33] Rasha: That sounds really exciting. So Manish, just to wrap it up. I think we're kind of coming to the end of our episode here. What's one piece of advice that you would offer our listeners when it comes to managing their indoor air quality?

[00:18:47] Manish: I think we spend hour 90% of the time inside the building. So indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air. We have heard that EPA is considered indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to the public health. As per WHO, 30% of new remodelled building globally are subject to indoor air quality complaints. So cognitive function is the direct result of indoor air quality. Student performance in school, employees in the office, patient recovery in the hospital, are just some of the high-level examples where we can improve, if you monitor, control, optimize the indoor air quality. Pandemic or not, we need to ensure that we are responsible for our own health and for the ones that we have direct influence. And my advice is if you measure effectively, you can manage effectively. If you manage effectively, you can monitor closely. If you can do all of that, you can optimize all the time.

[00:19:54] Rasha: Awesome. So one final question. Have you changed any of your own habits given what you've learned around indoor air quality in the last couple of years?

[00:20:04] Manish: You know, uh, that's an interesting question. I always relate this to 9/11, how the habits got changed before you were going to the airport the amount of security check we had and later, what kind of security check that you have. Now it become part of your culture. It is a daily practice. So correlating that with this, I believe I have changed personally - sanitization a lot, probably I do sanitize my hand and wash my face kind of at least, four or five, six times more than what I used to do earlier. Wearing mask has become a habit which is kind of getting formed now. I think, uh, probably the technology we are using right now for recording - five years back, four years back, we probably would have said okay, let's meet face to face for this conversation, but now the whole technology shift and technology changes are happening, and so good news - with restricted travel - you can achieve the similar thing, what you used to achieve. But one thing I tell you with all of that, I think the human touch is little bit of getting reduced, which is what causing a concern in the market space. And unless you have that human touch, I think we all believe that it's okay, it's fine, we can achieve many things, but not that a hundred percent you can achieve. So, there is something little that causes concern with the mind new habits which are getting formed, but it's still, a shift that is happening and it's going to be, in my view, a permanent shift. This is not going to be a temporary shift and we will not go back to the 2019 where we were. I think there will be a definite shift in everybody's habit and all the travel restrictions, social distancing, and, uh, the sanitization practices.

[00:21:57] Rasha: I don't think Manish is alone in adopting these new habits on a permanent basis. The pandemic really brought to light how our behaviors and indoor environments can impact not just our health, but our way of life. It opened everyone's eyes to the reality that in the midst of a pandemic, not wearing a mask or washing your hands might not just result in a few days off from illness, but potentially event cancellations store closures, and even large-scale lock downs. But with our new awareness of hygiene measures, and industries dedicated to keeping the air we breathe in our homes, schools and workplaces healthier, perhaps we're a few steps closer to putting the pandemic in our rear-view mirror and being better prepared for the future.

You've been listening to Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies. I'm Rasha Hasaneen. For more information on our conversation with Manish Sharma, see the show notes in your podcast app. That's it for season two, but be sure to check out your feed and listen to all of the conversations we've had with experts, academics, and innovators from seasons one and two. And don't forget to follow us to hear future episodes. Thanks for joining us and we'll see you next time.


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