Healthy Spaces Podcast: Season 2, Episode 1 - The Accelerating Evolution of Healthy Spaces
October 05, 2021
33 min read
As the world re-opens public spaces amid a stubborn global pandemic, the topic of what we breathe, and the safety of the spaces we occupy is increasingly significant. It’s also undeniably complex since the types of spaces we occupy vary considerably from how they are used, their construction and design, and the outside environment they operate in.
In the inaugural season of Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies, I was joined by some of the best minds in the study, design and development of buildings. People who work every day to inform decisions we make about how to build better indoor environments, stronger communities and a healthier planet. It was an insightful series of conversations that challenged us to be more transparent with occupants so they can make smarter choices about their indoor spaces - and to be more collaborative across the real estate and building sector to accelerate performance improvements at a larger scale.
This season we are taking our conversations directly into the unique spaces we are trying to improve – our workplaces and homes, our schools and public transit systems, and even the places we want to frequent more often like entertainment venues and restaurants.
If you are a parent, a teacher, a suburban homeowner or high-rise dweller, an employer or employee, these are conversations that will be meaningful to you because they are about your spaces.
To begin Season 2, I asked a few members of the Trane Technologies team focused specifically on innovation and product development to share their perspectives on the acceleration of trends across the industry and the customer-driven demands they see coming. They even share how increased knowledge about their own indoor environmental quality drove them to make some changes in their habits.
Scott Wenger, director of Innovation, Trane Technologies
Jeff Wiseman, Indoor Air Quality portfolio manager, Trane Commercial
Rasha Hasaneen (00:04):
Whether we're talking about commercial spaces, public transportation, or even our own homes, indoor environmental quality has never been a hotter topic.
Scott Wenger (00:14):
I've really geeked out about environmental quality and sensors, and that kind of thing. Much to the chagrin of my family, "It's dad. What, really? Do I need another sensor?" I'm like, "Yes. Yes, you do. Because we don't know what the air is like in your room."
Rasha Hasaneen (00:29):
The attention of the world has been drawn to the spaces we spend our lives in. And now, businesses, schools, homeowners, and many more want to know how they can make their spaces healthier, happier, and more productive.
Jeff Wiseman (00:43):
You have to know where you're starting from. So I think an indoor air quality assessment of some sort, is critical to success. You just don't want to start throwing different technologies or projects in your space, without really understanding what challenges you have.
Rasha Hasaneen (00:56):
That's Jeff Wiseman, indoor air quality portfolio leader for Trane, our commercial HVAC business. And Scott Wenger, director of innovation at Trane Technologies. Jeff's work focuses on providing a portfolio of indoor air quality products, as well as developing strategies on when and where to implement them. And Scott's area of expertise is in solving problems related to IEQ in tandem with issues of energy consumption. And today, we're kicking off season two by taking a look at some of our favorite takeaways from season one, along with our own thoughts on the importance of transparency around IEQ, the changing demands of people working and living in indoor environments, our advice for listeners on improving IEQ, and much more. 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.
Rasha Hasaneen (02:06):
In our last season, we heard from a range of experts, including an atmospheric scientist, nuclear physicist, a professor of architectural engineering, leaders in sustainability and sustainable developments, and even a congressman. As we explore the ins and outs of IEQ, we saw just how huge this field is and how many crossovers it has with engineering, physics, government policy, and even the environment. So I wanted to find out from my colleagues, what insights stood out for them in season one. So, Scott, I know you were a regular listener of our podcast in season one. Were there any, "Aha's," or insights that stood out to you in the first season?
Scott Wenger (02:47):
Yeah, I think it was a really interesting season of podcasts. We've been working on this stuff for quite some time, but still, there's always a lot to learn. In my head, the two moments that pop out from season one, the first was when Russ Carnahan was talking about the lack of industry representation. In the HVAC business, we don't always necessarily think of that, but he's right on. The importance of the conversation, with respect to regulatory and other types of guidelines around this massive use of energy in buildings.
Scott Wenger (03:21):
And then my favorite episode, was when Lidia Morawska was talking... She has so much information on this topic. And when she was talking about the lack of transparency and ventilation outcomes, like, "Hey, CO2. Even in places where you think they're properly ventilated, can be really high and you don't know until you know." And what we know about how that impacts cognitive ability. I saw that in my own house. I don't have a real ventilation system, other than windows. And when all five of us, the dog, and the rabbits and everything was here for months on end, our CO2 was high. And I felt it. I think those were two moments that really stood out to me. How about you?
Rasha Hasaneen (04:03):
Absolutely. And Lidia was definitely an interesting interview, especially how many times she's lived through what we're living through for the first time. So for her, it was sort of deja vu all over again. And her words of caution around if we don't do something different this time, how we could find ourselves here again. And we're already seeing some of that with this latest wave. And so just the depth and breadth of her experience. One of the things I really loved, was when Memo talked about and was really able to bring some of these very abstract concepts down to really simple daily interactions. And some of the research he's done with real humans.
Rasha Hasaneen (04:52):
And then some of the really amazing work that Bill Sisson has been doing with the business community, some of the work that Jim Freihaut has been doing. And just his perspective on thinking about the things that we put up with that we don't have to put up with every day, whether it's allergies, or the flu, or the common cold. If we just were to take the time to think about the air we breathe every day. So I learned a lot during that season. I was really happy to have our guests and I hope our listeners learned as much as I did.
Jeff Wiseman (05:27):
Yeah. So tell us more about it, Rasha, what do we have planned for season two?
Rasha Hasaneen (05:31):
I'm really excited about our next season. I'm hoping to spend some time with some experts from our own company, focusing in on some of the exciting things that we're doing. But I'm also hoping to bring in some experts from across the industry and some people that maybe, we don't expect to have some really interesting point of views. So I'm really excited to be talking about the pandemic. We're not done yet, but really focusing in on indoor environmental quality and the spaces around us. We are going to continue to think about different kinds of spaces. We want to focus in on things that are salient to our listeners, whether that's education or whether it's transit systems. And we do want to hear from people who are practicing out there every day and thinking about how these spaces are impacting both the environment that we live in, but also the occupants that are in those spaces. So Jeff, you interact with building owners a lot in your role, how are they adjusting to this new normal?
Jeff Wiseman (06:46):
It's an adjustment for sure. So we know early on in the pandemic, obviously there was a lot of focus on safety and reducing risks in the space. And so that was the highest priority for building owners, is what can they do to protect their occupants? And as you guys have seen, I think it was covered some on season one, some of the initial recommendations for keeping your air clean. It really drove energy costs up and we've heard 30, 40% increase in energy bill, some as high as doubling their energy bills. And so I think that the new normal and the adjustments that we're seeing, is how do you balance reducing the risk of your space with energy efficiency? And that's what's going to be really, the longer-term play, is balancing safety, energy efficiency, productivity. What can I do to create the best environment for my occupants, while balancing all the different factors?
Rasha Hasaneen (07:38):
Yeah. Well, and a lot of the buildings haven't been occupied. And can you just imagine what that means as they become more occupied, what that means to the overall built environment? There's still been relatively low occupancy as people start to get more comfortable, that energy drain could be huge.
Jeff Wiseman (07:58):
Absolutely. And we're seeing schools start back up again. And so we're seeing certain buildings and certain markets, obviously the occupancy rate is going back to where it was prior to the pandemic. And energy is going to be a big concern and area of focus I think, for our different customers,
Rasha Hasaneen (08:15):
Have there been some additional learnings in the building industry? And what do you think some of those big learnings have been in the last year?
Jeff Wiseman (08:25):
We've seen some HVAC equipment not really where we thought it was as a baseline, right? And so with the pandemic, a lot of the first step is taking an assessment of your space, so that you can better understand what mitigation technologies that you want to incorporate. And we're seeing cases where dampers aren't opening when they thought they would open, or there's different components that were operational, that were assumed were operational. And so it really has stressed the importance of maintaining your equipment so it does what it's supposed to do. And then, what can you do to enhance your equipment? And some cases, we know ASHRAE and the CDC, they've recommended MERV 13, maybe MERV 14 filters. Now, some equipment just can't handle the higher efficiency filters. And so really learnings I'd say, around what are my capabilities and where can I go with my equipment and still be able to operate as intended?
Jeff Wiseman (09:19):
And then, we've seen emerging technologies. We are finding technologies that can be used to help reduce the risk of transmission within the space can also potentially help reduce the energy demand of some of the more traditional solutions that are out there. Like, increasing your ventilation or increasing your filter efficiency.
Rasha Hasaneen (09:39):
Do you feel that there are areas in the industry where there's more clarity than others? And do you feel that there's other areas where there's more confusion?
Jeff Wiseman (09:49):
Yeah, I think we all know and agree some of the more conservative approaches, like outdoor air does help improve the indoor air quality of a space, right? Not only it helps get rid of any contaminants in the space like viruses or bacteria, but also the CO2 Scott had mentioned. I think where there's confusion, is when we start to look at some of the more leading-edge technologies that are coming out. What can they believe and what is not believable as far as what they can do? And we've seen a variety of claims being made out there. A role we're trying to take, is to help remove some of that confusion with our customers. Then in turn, their customers are building occupants in the space. But as the IEQ market continues to advance and new technologies are coming out, I think we will always see this little bit of confusion at the beginning until we can help clear up some of that confusion.
Rasha Hasaneen (10:44):
Having systems in place, such as mechanical ventilation and air quality sensors certainly help occupants to feel and be safer in their indoor environments. But the truth is, that their use and installation aren't as commonplace as they are an industry such as automotive, nor are they as sophisticated. And this sentiment was echoed in season one, by an expert in building science in indoor air quality, Jim Freihaut.
Jim Freihaut (11:12):
I did a little study before, in terms of how is digital technology and information technology, sensors, and controls, and electronics used in the building industry compared to other industries? And the building industry does use these technologies, but at a very, very low density compared to other systems. Compared to an automobile system, a manufacturing system, an airplane system. Cars, it's amazing. You'll have 100, 200 sensors, you'll have maybe 1,000 readings per second. All that information is immediately transferred into the operating system and the performance of the car and the safety situation of the car, is optimized. We don't even do that in a very slow frame of reference, we don't even take enough measurements in buildings to really operate. We have similar type of measurements and sensors, but very few of them compared to those industries. And the information technology coordination within the building's not that good.
Jim Freihaut (12:14):
For example, you can have very sophisticated LED, light-emitting diode lighting systems in buildings. And that's a good example, in terms of improvement in energy efficiency of electricity to light. Going from the incandescent bulb to the fluorescent bulbs, to LED bulbs. And measuring the light, and putting sensors in the building and say, "Well, I don't need light in this part of the building, because I have daylight." Those sorts of things are done with separate systems in the building, the air conditioning system, the lighting system, the ventilation system. They're only really crudely coordinated in terms of the amount of readings that are taken, how that information is analyzed in real time, and then how the system as a whole. And the parts of the system are coordinated to give you the best overall building system performance. It's very difficult to get the sub-systems to talk to each other in a coordinated fashion, and much less to optimize their performance as a whole. It's a very difficult problem that the building industry really needs to address much more aggressively.
Rasha Hasaneen (13:22):
Also in our first season, we talked a lot about the role of transparency. Are you finding more businesses are asking for more ways to create that transparency with their customers?
Jeff Wiseman (13:35):
Absolutely. Sometimes, it's the business asking for it, sometimes it's their customers that are asking for it and it's becoming an expectation for that space. And so with indoor air quality, you can't see your air, right? And we all recognize that. And so how do you know a space that you're going into, is safe and does not increase risk of contaminants or infection in the case of the pandemic? Customers are asking for, "Are there solutions that we can use, that show my air is good? And then also can alert us when maybe, the air quality is not as good as we want it to be so we can take action."
Rasha Hasaneen (14:15):
So, Scott, can you tell us about some of the pilots that you're involved in and what you're hearing from customers today?
Scott Wenger (14:22):
As Jeff mentioned, we're doing a bunch of work in an area we call indoor environmental quality management. It's really just repetitive assessment and mitigation, and see how it worked and change what you need to change. We're doing that in a variety of spaces, commercial office spaces, like lobbies and things like that. We've done educational institutions, K through 12 and some higher education. But really, what we're hearing from customers is, "How do I know there's a problem?" And then, "How do I know what to do about it?" Because it's very confusing for a lot of people right now and knowing how to improve their environmental quality. And then, it's hard to know that what you've done is actually effective. And then finally, maybe the most difficult is how do we help occupants feel safer and feel more comfortable in a space?
Rasha Hasaneen (15:17):
The pandemic has forced a lot of us to reconsider what makes a space truly healthy. It's no longer enough to have big windows and spacious rooms in order to make your occupants feel safe. People need concrete data to see what they're being exposed to. As a nuclear physicist and atmospheric scientist, Lidia Morawska explained in season one that the difference between the perception of an indoor environment safety and the reality of it, can be drastically different.
Lidia Morawska (15:49):
For me, kind of a turning point in realization of the importance. Several years ago, I was with a colleague in Germany. We had a meeting, five of us in a room, which I would thought, looking around, was very well ventilated. High ceiling, open window, there was some kind of mechanical ventilation. Now, I wouldn't have about the ventilation whatsoever in this situation. If not the fact, that they had something which I haven't seen before. They had a display on the wall, which was a sensor measuring CO2, like traffic lights showing what it means. So the meeting was starting the concentration was whatever level was shown, great.
Lidia Morawska (16:36):
Since I've never seen it before, I kept watching this. And then to my surprise, it kept going up. And I would never thought that with only five of us in this room, with this ventilation, this would be such a problem. So this was to me, really a turning point of, well, we need to see what's happening. I must say that since then, I carry my own CO2 meters. And finding that in many places, which I would have thought that they're ventilated properly, they're not. So this is something what we really need to make sure that people see and understand.
Rasha Hasaneen (17:26):
So making an occupant safe and to making an occupant feel safer, are slightly different things. Maybe you can talk to us a little bit about what some of the trends you're seeing out there are.
Scott Wenger (17:38):
I'd say the biggest trend that we're seeing, is that in occupied spaces of all kinds, air quality can change very rapidly, usually based on human behaviors and activities in this space. And it can go from good to bad, or bad to good very quickly. We've also seen that there's a lot of variability in the types of contaminants that may peak at any given time and that's really important. Environmental quality isn't static. I'll give you a good example. So in one lobby that we looked at, they had fantastic air quality. They had great filtration, lots of air turns, fresh air ventilation, the whole nine yards. It was great, except for when it wasn't.
Scott Wenger (18:21):
And we found that there were volatile organic compounds, VOCs, that would just a couple times a day would just spike, to levels that are not necessarily the healthiest. And we determined that it was because of the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in the room, as a response to COVID-19. I'm not saying we shouldn't use hand sanitizer, not at all. It's just interesting that there's a balance between what you're doing for surface disinfection and cleaning and air quality, everything is related. So I'd say that's probably the biggest trend, is how consistent the inconsistency is in occupied spaces.
Rasha Hasaneen (19:01):
And even just having that transparency, at least gives you something that you can now act on or not.
Scott Wenger (19:08):
That's exactly right. And it helps you know exactly what to do. It kind of gets back to the confusion thing that we were talking about earlier. What do I do about a given problem? Well, you don't know until you know what problem you have and how often. I'll give another example. One of my kids has some asthma issues. And so we have a HEPA filter in his room, that works really well for certain contaminants that trigger a reaction in him. It's not useful. At least that particular one, is not useful for removing CO2 or gaseous compounds like, VOCs. So having the data and having the transparency of knowing what the problem is, really helps us identify what mitigations are going to be useful.
Rasha Hasaneen (19:53):
So over the last year, we've talked a lot about air quality as it relates to COVID-19. But, that's not the only thing kind of going on in the world. What are some of the other conversations that you're having beyond COVID-19 and the current pandemic?
Scott Wenger (20:13):
I think the biggest one is what Jeff touched on earlier, and that is energy. I think it's pretty well understood that while there's no silver bullet for environmental quality, the thing that comes closest for improving the air is more fresh air. But it's the energy intensity increase as a result of that particular mitigation, is really big. And what we're hearing mostly, is people want to understand how to balance what to do at the right time to make a more effective air quality, without killing the planet. We can't simply just cool a bunch of fresh air and call it a day. That's not going to work either. And so finding that balance, I think is a big one that people are talking about.
Jeff Wiseman (20:54):
I think another thing we're hearing, and this is really going to the broader indoor environmental quality. As we add equipment to clean the air, there's a sound impact with it. And it's really increasing sound levels within these spaces, right? And so now, you really start to look at the overall indoor environmental quality and what we can do to make sure we're not introducing other factors that impact the overall IEQ. And then you can go beyond to lighting, and it just really takes it a step back to the more broader play of how is my indoor environment as a whole? And am I doing the best to ensure that I'm making the most comfortable space for my occupants, the most productive space? And so we're starting to go in that direction as well.
Scott Wenger (21:40):
That's an awesome point. One of our pilot customers is a K through 12 educational institution. Right at top of mind was the learning environment is inclusive of lighting, acoustics, not just air, of course. And so the sensors we deployed for all of our pilots include ambient light and ambient noise sensors. Because we can't introduce something that improves one aspect of environmental quality and destroys others.
Jeff Wiseman (22:08):
And then taking it beyond that right, Scott? So now, you're looking at lighting and what if we start changing the color or the temperature of the light throughout the day? Aligning it with the circadian rhythm. And so now, we go beyond just, how do I keep the space as comfortable as possible? But now, what can I do to enhance the space, to make it even more efficient, more productive, more comfortable space for students or other occupants to be in?
Rasha Hasaneen (22:32):
Absolutely. And I think what we're talking about is a very sort of sophisticated and holistic system. That when you do this professionally, can be very well-optimized. But as we've seen when it's not done that way, could have very severe consequences. As you know, in the south, if you do uncontrolled controlled ventilation, you bring in outside air and it's very humid, and you're not managing humidity. You're not only increasing energy, you've got risk of mold and other major health risks tie to increased humidity levels in these spaces. When you try and do these things yourself, you could have some real issues that you introduce into a space. And so I think these conversations appear to becoming to light and it sounds like beyond COVID, we're starting to have these really salient conversations.
Scott Wenger (23:51):
Yeah, I think so. Just to add to that Rasha, I think the culture, at least in a lot of countries, is really around the expectation of data-based decisions. I wear a Fitbit and it tells me all kinds of stuff that I have to learn about. But I have all this data on how my body is reacting to things and how I'm sleeping, and all this stuff. And it's more and more of an expectation I think, that we optimize a situation based on data. And that's exactly what we're doing with this whole program, is really understanding what's going on right now and what do I have available to fix it? It might not be perfectly optimized, but you do what you can.
Rasha Hasaneen (24:36):
The first step in solving the problem, is understanding it. And as Scott says, the only way we can start to tackle the issues surrounding indoor environmental quality is by first, gathering that all important data. And while as a society, we like to quantify just about everything from calories burned to hours in REM sleep. The same isn't necessarily true for measurements in air quality. But according to season one guests and Healthy Spaces experts Memo Cedeno, due to the pandemic, this might be about to change.
Memo Cedeno (25:13):
One of the reasons I think there's going to be a transformation in the use of data collection inside buildings, is I think obeys to the old adage that you cannot understand what you don't measure. And there's the need to understand what's happening in our buildings. So having a way adaptive to these new modes of work, it's going to be very challenging for the real estate community to make sure that people feel safe back in their office environments. So, we need objective metrics that could inform the general public on why things are safe, how things are safe, what is being done to keep things safe. We see a next wave of these green building movement, is on transparency and transparency being the new green. So, the availability of data that is high quality, that assures that it's meaningful. I think it's going to be critical to regain that confidence in our build environment.
Rasha Hasaneen (26:25):
Based on what you're saying, I think you're absolutely right. And in gendering through that consumer confidence. So in addition to saying, "Hey, we're open." We need to be able to say, "We're open and it's safe for you to sort of crawl out of your house and do some of what you used to do before."
Memo Cedeno (26:44):
I think consumers in these times, are extremely well-informed. The availability of information is actually in sometimes, overwhelming. But they are very well-trusted voices and they have been very vocal in these times. So I think the existence of enhanced ventilation, enhanced filtration has been I would say, mainstream right now. If you think about it, no one knew what a PCR test was. Now, it's kind of mainstream. And likewise, very few people knew about air changes per hour, or MERV filter ratings, or HEPA. Right? And now, I think that the public is very well-acquainted with those terms and know what they mean and know what they mean for their health. I think it's really not rocket science. The combination of transparency, of goodwill, of incorporating these various practices, and letting people know what is being done for them. It's not just about taking away that fear, also letting them know of all the incredible co-benefits that are associated to a better managed environment.
Rasha Hasaneen (28:09):
Scott, Jeff, what advice do you have for our listeners and what are you doing to improve your own indoor air quality?
Jeff Wiseman (28:16):
I think I've definitely incorporated some air cleaning technologies into our house. And then, some of the sensors that Scott has mentioned, they also make personal residential versions of these sensors. And I have those as well. So definitely, you're wanting to get more insights into the quality of our air. My wife thought it was a bit hokey, right? She said, "What do you do with these sensors?" And it's funny the change you see. As soon as we got them, then it became a challenge, "I need to get that number as high as possible." And it's definitely changed some of the habits we have here at the house. I guess, advice for our listeners.
Jeff Wiseman (28:50):
I think the most important piece, and this is something that we've probably talked about over and over again, is you have to know where you're starting from. I think an indoor air quality assessment of some sort is critical to success. And ultimately at the end of the day, it's typically a layered approach. You're going to have two or three different technologies that you're using, to really provide the best space that you can have for your building. I think the advice I would say is that don't skip the assessment. I think it's a critical piece and it definitely helps inform you to make a better decision for the longer term.
Scott Wenger (29:20):
Yeah, totally agree, Jeff. I've really geeked out about environmental quality and sensors and that kind of thing. Much to the initial chagrin of my family. And just echoing what Jeff said about gathering data, and just seeing how things that we do impact the air that we're breathing. We've got one of those sensors in the kitchen and we do a lot of cooking in our house, and it's kind of a family time for us. And I'm not suggesting we're changing what we cook, but we do use the ventilation hood more, I can tell you that. We're also using really advanced technology more than we did before. And the biggest one that's really advanced, is we open the windows. I never thought about that until I started measuring CO2 levels in our home. And we live in the south and it's humid in the summer here. So it's not like we do this all the time. But when the weather allows, there's nothing like getting some fresh air and it improves the data like I wouldn't have believed. And so it's honestly a really simple step that we're taking.
Rasha Hasaneen (30:00):
I do the same guys. We have upgraded all the filters and I did not think filters were a thing. I also have targeted air mitigation things all over the house where we need them. I will shamelessly plug... I have a Synexis in the house and I also have Circadian... I have different temperatures of lighting for different rooms in the house. As I learned more about indoor environmental quality, these were all things that I did as well. But it is amazing the changes that we saw, people were getting better quality sleep around the house. To your point, Scott, we were also opening more windows. We use the vent hood more. It is amazing the changes you did see, and the sensors absolutely helped with that.
One last question. What do you think will change in the next five plus years as a result of research and technology in this space?
Scott Wenger (30:50):
I think we're going to see more demand from occupants about transparency, what we talked about before. Air quality, we're going to see more of that, I think. But I think the big one, is we're going to see the technology get to the point where we are balancing energy use with environmental quality improvements, and not always doing something to make the air better when we don't need to. It goes back to those peaks and valleys that we see, and we don't need to bring in a ton of fresh air all the time. And we don't need to constantly be running air through filters, if it doesn't need it. And so that's where the energy balance I think will come in.
Jeff Wiseman (31:23):
As we look at new buildings and new systems, there's going to be an expectation for technologies or capabilities that improve your indoor air quality. And so as we look at new product designs here on our end, previously products that maybe didn't have the capability of going to a MERV 13 or 14, I think it's an expectation now.
Jeff Wiseman (31:50):
It needs to be a part of that product design and the customers are going to demand it going forward. In addition to filtration, are there other technologies that can be standard options available that improve indoor air quality, without bringing the energy penalty that may come with some technologies?
Rasha Hasaneen (32:02):
So many great insights there from Jeff, Scott, and our guests from season one. We can't wait to continue the discussion with all the amazing experts and leaders we have lined up for season two.
You've been listening to Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies. I'm Rasha Hasaneen. For more information on our conversation with Scott Wenger and Jeff Wiseman, see the show notes in your podcast app.
And join us next week when we'll be speaking with chief medical officer at Trane Technologies, Dr. Alberto Acosta and the CEO for the Center for Active Design, Joanna Frank, about the workplace of the future. Don't forget to follow us to hear new episodes. Thanks for joining us. We'll see you next time.
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