The way we interact with buildings has changed dramatically in the past twelve months.
I don’t just mean the months of working from home, and the shift towards virtual teams - although that has upended the global commercial real estate market over the past year. But for the first time, the general public has been thinking critically about the buildings in which they spend time, and asking themselves “is this a safe and healthy space for me to be in?”.
The commercial real estate and property management industries are facing many hurdles in how to proceed in this new reality; these are uncharted waters with very little precedence. Here, we break down some of these new realities, their impacts, and what solutions will continue to drive industry growth.
Office buildings will see a reduction in tenant populations, while flexible use-of-space solutions will increase in relevance
As global vaccination distribution unfolds across 2021, we’ll start to see a staggered return to office environments. That likely can’t come soon enough for building owners and landlords. Many office buildings have been nearly empty for months, and lease renewals remain top-of-mind for many owners.
Working from home has changed our collective perception around the utility of having an office space. A 2020 Global Workplace Analytics report found that 68% of respondents are very successful working from home, with both employees and managers expressing satisfaction in work output during that time. However, the desire to work from home indefinitely is quite low, with the same survey seeing only 16% of respondents wanting to abandon offices entirely. The new consensus seems to be a shared-location setting - working partly at home, and partly in an office environment.
What does this mean for offices? Firstly, it points to the need for workspace use flexibility. If employees are at home half the time, then employers don’t need as much floorspace per employee. Co-working spaces will continue to see a rise in relevance (even WeWork’s crash and burn can’t dampen the rise in demand for flexible work environments). For companies that continue to lease their own space, desk-sharing and common-use workstations are likely to increase in relevance, while the need for individual private offices will reduce.
The good news is that commercial office properties are going to remain relevant, even if landlords need to shift their lease agreements. But the value proposition for tenant attraction and retention has changed, and landlords will need to adapt their sales strategies to promote flexible use-of-space solutions. Offering space with a smaller square footage may be in higher demand, as workplaces shift to a hybrid in-person / work-from-home schedule.
Building health and sick building syndrome are now a permanent concern
Before 2020, very few people thought about the quality of the indoor air around them, how it impacted their health, and whether there was a heightened risk of airborne transmission. That perspective has been permanently changed, in large part to COVID-19.
Sick building syndrome has been a longstanding consequence of spending time in buildings that aren’t healthy for its occupants. Symptoms can include anything from headaches and nausea to respiratory ailments, and have a negative impact on productivity. Some potential causes include poor ventilation, a high count of volatile organic compounds or formaldehyde, or biological contaminants like mould, bacteria, and viruses.
This last point was particularly sobering in 2020. While it is still not conclusive on COVID-19’s transmission efficacy in indoor spaces, building science is well-established that viruses spread more easily in buildings. Buildings with conditions that generate sick building syndrome are also at a higher risk of viral transmission, including COVID-19.
Increasing air exchange rates, better air filtration, and more frequent cleaning schedules have become a priority in 2020. Combined with social distancing and travel bans, these solutions have had the unintended but positive effect of reducing other illnesses, such as influenza. There is a direct correlation between a clean and healthy building and reduced illnesses - including sick building syndrome. Now that we’ve spent the last year enacting these healthy practices, property managers should keep them in mind as a way of ensuring their tenants’ safety.
Implementing energy efficiency solutions is good for a building’s short-term and long-term value proposition
The real-estate economics of COVID-19 have been nearly catastrophic. Commercial building asset values have decreased, while some economists are predicting that 2021 could be an even worse year for the industry. As a dizzying number of small businesses close their doors, the number of vacant properties is increasing. In the meantime, those properties continue to consume energy and cost building owners money.
There is good news on the horizon as vaccination rollout increases and the economy moves into recovery mode. At some point in 2021, new businesses will be establishing themselves, and new lease agreements will follow shortly thereafter - with a large supply of available spaces for those businesses to consider.
What will give one commercial space an advantage over another in attracting and retaining new tenants? In addition to cleanliness and health improvements, energy efficiency retrofits is a key marketing and financial tool that real estate owners can use. These retrofits significantly reduce a building’s operating costs. These savings can then be passed onto tenants as more affordable rent - undercutting the competition on rental rates. More commercial tenants are looking to demonstrate their corporate values by leasing space in a sustainable building, while increased building regulations and net-zero building plans are becoming more common in both Canada and the United States.
Investing in energy efficiency solutions has the positive short-term effects of reducing operating costs and increasing tenant attraction and retention rates. In the long-term, it will likely help future legislative and building code compliance and increase asset value, as well as the building’s operational lifecycle.
ioAirFlow can identify solutions to help buildings become more energy efficient. If you’re conducting energy audits and want to be able to identify more problems and propose more solutions, get in touch with us and learn how we can help you.
By: Matt Schaubroeck, CEO, ioAirFlow
Tiered Building Codes – What they are, why they matter, and what it means for existing buildings in Canada
In December 2016, all provinces and territories, except Saskatchewan, agreed to the adoption of the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth Climate Change (PCF) which included a commitment to a net-zero energy ready (NZER) model building code by 2030.
In turn, the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes (CCBFC) developed its Long-Term Strategy for Developing and Implementing More Ambitious Energy Codes. The new codes set to be released in late 2021 – following a delay to the original launch date of September 2020 due to the pandemic – introduce a series of increased performance “tiers”.
Traditionally, building codes set minimum acceptable standards for construction. However, technology and construction best practices often advance at a faster rate than the “base” codes. Unlike these minimum requirements, which already follow acceptable industry practices, predetermined tiers “change the regulatory dynamic from codes that follow the industry to codes that set the direction for the industry” . This enables industry stakeholders to familiarize themselves with new standards while providing a flexible framework for provinces and territories to establish the laws in which buildings must be constructed.
As it stands, the proposed tiers for the 2020 National Energy Codes for Buildings (NECB) will be made up of four progressive tiers which will be voluntary until adopted by their Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) – the provinces or cities that have jurisdiction over construction.
The proposed tiers take a referenced approach to energy targets and are performance based. What this means is that rather than defining a building by the standards to which they must be constructed and an absolute energy performance target, targets are based on how a building’s performance is measured relative to the energy performance of a reference building. According to Efficiency Canada, a reference building is a hypothetical building that shares all the same features and attributes of the considered building but are built to a reference standard or code (i.e. ASHRAE or NECB 2020).
The proposed model is outlined in the table below:
This is exciting news, but what does it mean for existing buildings?
National building codes have been around since the 1940s. They address several objectives related to fire and structural safety, health, accessibility, and include codes related to water use and energy efficiency.
Building codes are updated as we learn more about building construction and maintenance and new buildings are built to these standards. Consequently, many existing buildings have outdated mechanical systems and have larger ecological footprints than their newer counterparts.
The NECB sections on energy efficiency were primarily developed with new construction in mind. Requiring retroactive updates to existing building stock would need additional support from provinces and territories. The CCBFC recognizes that the improvement of energy performance is still a critical component to achieving meaningful energy reductions. Their policy position indicates that they will continue to work with the federal government to develop technical guidance on energy efficiency improvements, notably during renovations.
With this being said, the Joint CCBFC/PTPACC Task Group on Alterations to Existing Buildings (JTG AEB) recognizes that “the development of National Model Codes for existing buildings could be a key component of improving the performance of existing buildings at the time of alterations, and achieving the provinces' and territories', along with Canada's, long-term policy goals”, indicating that more stringent legislation for existing buildings could be on the way.
It is also important to highlight that the latest iteration of the code will drive energy efficient new construction, which in turn will create market demand for a range of high-performance building products. As health and efficiency continue to be at the forefront of what renders a commercial building desirable for investors and occupants, owners and managers of existing buildings will be driven to improve current standards to maintain a competitive advantage.
Finally, incentive programs play a big role in improving the performance of buildings. Non-regulatory tools are generally developed in conjunction with regulatory ones to ensure successful transition. Education, product development, incentive programs, mandatory labelling, and benchmarking programs are all examples of programming being developed in tandem that will support the transformation of existing buildings.
Over the last several months, our blog posts have covered topics highlighting the need for concise, accurate, affordable, and digitized solutions for testing building health and efficiency. We’ve also highlighted some of the studies and new technologies coming out of that need and how ioAirFlow uses them to inform the development of our own platform.
But, what does ioAirFlow do? And, how is the MyBuilding Health Score going to help alleviate some of the hurdles needed for buildings to become healthier and more energy efficient?
A bit of background
ioAirFlow was founded in 2016 with a focus on wireless building automation. Since then, our core focus has pivoted to building health and predictive analytics using wireless Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and our proprietary analysis software.
We’ve learned through years of industry research and experience that understanding how a building functions and consumes energy is the first step to improving its energy efficiency and health and that building audits are a critical component to that process. We also know that as building energy disclosure programs, climate change targets and legislation increase, so too will the need for these audits.
The issue is that while understanding a building’s health and efficiency is commonly known to be the most critical first step in improving it, gathering the information needed to make informed decisions can also be the most cumbersome.
Numerous studies dating back to the 90’s have highlighted that the primary barriers to improving building health and efficiency are associated in some capacity with lacking information, or capital constraints. This is especially true for Class C buildings, which tend to be older, less efficient, have poorer indoor air quality, and lower profit margins than other classes of commercial buildings.
Audits are meant as a first step towards alleviating the informational barriers. However, as highlighted in previous posts, current industry practices are restrictive for both the companies offering these audits, and the customers requiring them. This is because traditional energy audits are manual and time-consuming, rendering it difficult for the companies offering these services to do so cost-effectively and efficiently. The consequences are that an entire group of building owners, those with older buildings, and lower profit margins are not marketed to.
In addition, based on our market studies, there is clearly a general frustration with the archaic manual building audit process. The combination of all of the aforementioned means there is a significant market opportunity for the building retrofit market, but that additional support needs to be put in place for both the companies offering audits and building owners needing them.
Digitization to support energy auditors and promote building health.
ioAirFlow wants to make commercial buildings healthier, for both people and the environment. To achieve this, we are preparing to launch our first iteration of the MyBuilding Health Score in January 2021 – a digital audit platform designed to be used by companies that are already offering energy audits, or by building managers interested in running efficient diagnostics on their building’s health and efficiency performance.
Unlike building automation systems, we are not a permanent automation. Using wireless IoT sensors and our proprietary analysis software, we support energy auditors, property owners, and property managers by identifying where problems exist in their commercial buildings and how to resolve them. Here’s how we do it:
Our team of experts have developed a process by which building performance is captured and connected to our software platform. This process has allowed us to develop the first of our novel building problem analysis tools. We’ve begun identifying unique building efficiency symptoms from data collected by our sensors. Each of these symptoms map out specific problems that commonly occur in commercial buildings and identify where these problems exist within the tested building. This information is translated into a concise and actionable report for our customers.
As we continue to collect this data and additional industry-specific research on the built environment, our machine learning model, aimed at further optimizing analysis, our software portal, and APIs will continuously be refined. In addition to generating actionable reports, we are also working with vendors and suppliers that can act on our recommendations.
By creating a digital audit solution, ioAirFlow is able to reduce the cost of testing sufficiently that building auditors are better equipped to expand their customer base and provide more options for improving the energy efficiency and health of their buildings - eventually offering predictive analytics by identifying problems before they reach a fail point.
There are over 6.1 million commercial buildings in the United States and Canada. Class C buildings make up approximately 70% of all building stock, with roughly 66% of those buildings constructed before 1990. We envision a world where every one of them can optimize their health and efficiency potential affordably and accurately.
If you provide energy or IEQ audits, or are a commercial property owner interested in learning more about our software and how we can support you, please contact us!
By: Amanda San Filippo, VP Business Development & COO, ioAirFlow
Many people experience circulatory issues. It’s a common phenomenon that often leaves the sufferer with the undesirable symptom of losing feeling in a limb because blood flow isn’t getting to where it needs to be. Sometimes, the cause is straightforward, e.g. being in the same position for too long. And, the solution is equally simple - standing up and stretching. Other times, however, it is symptomatic of something more serious.
In these more serious situations, understanding the symptoms becomes a critical step in diagnosing the problem. However, pinpointing the symptoms can become problematic if you’re limited to certain diagnostic tools. Generally, a doctor wouldn’t skip the bloodwork and send you for x-rays. Only basing the diagnosis on partial data may lead the doctor to prescribe the wrong treatment.
So why do we use that logic when it comes to assessing a building’s health?
Much like the human body, a building has several systems that need to be functioning efficiently to maintain overall health. One malfunctioning part can cause an array of issues.
Currently, when conducting a commercial building audit, auditors will take a look at the building’s energy consumption data, mechanical systems and the building’s envelope. Once the data has been collected, the auditor identifies and provides savings and cost analysis of measures and potential capital improvements. The details provided in the analysis will vary depending on the level of audit. Finally, based on these findings, a report is drafted.
There is no doubt that these are all important components in identifying improvements. But, they are not showing the whole story.
A recent example:
ioAirFlow recently assessed an older Class C building.
Each floor had four thermostats that could be manually controlled by the facility manager. The occupied setpoint temperature was steady at 22°C with setback temperature was 23°C, but a number of occupants were complaining of hot and cold spots across one floor. We placed wireless sensors throughout the floor in strategic locations to measure thermal comfort variables.
What was highlighted was a mean temperature difference of over 3°C across the floor. Not only does this point to an issue, but it also exceeds acceptable ASHRAE standards and is over three times greater than the setback temperature difference.
Building automation systems can help track some anomalies in buildings. However, most systems are still only measuring the ‘bones’ of a building (its mechanical system, and its thermostats and control points). They’re missing a fundamental part of the equation – how is air flow reaching zones with no sensors? Is air flowing as it should be? Are there ‘dead zones’ where air flow is not reaching, creating areas that run too hot or cold?
Even with advancements in technology, these systems are still out of reach for many building owners. They are expensive, implementation can be invasive, and interpreting the data often requires someone with some engineering expertise on staff.
Traditional building audits remain the most feasible option for the majority of building owners interested in understanding the best ways to improve their building’s health. By using temporary, wireless sensors to track additional variables, ioAirFlow can compliment and digitize part of the auditing process.
The benefits to a building with this method can be overwhelmingly positive. Poorly insulated areas or how occupancy and your office space is interacting with the building can be identified, and whether changes can be made to increase occupant comfort. You can even understand if your HVAC system really is working as it's supposed to be, or whether an aging system needs repairs.
As we continue to refine our algorithm, these symptoms will be flagged automatically, and will pinpoint to precise problems found in the building. This is the first step to automating the auditing process.
If you’re an ESCO or a firm that provides energy audits or IEQ assessments to commercial buildings, and are interested in testing our process and providing feedback, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
These days, many of us arrange Zoom parties with family and friends, order food through contactless delivery and meet work deadlines in pyjama pants. While not an entirely bad set up, “Covid fatigue” is inching its way into our vocabulary and many of us are expressing how much we “can’t wait for things to return to normal”.
Here is the problem with a return to normal: While “normal” for many of us means bars, beaches, festivals and gatherings, for too many of us, it was and continues to be food and housing insecurity, extreme weather events and increased illness brought on by climate change and environmental degradation.
Establishing a new normal scientists have been ringing alarm bells on climate change and its consequences for years. But worldwide, GHG emissions continue to increase. This is because the habits and systems that have led us here are deeply-seated in our social and economic structures. They’re not easy to change. However, in the last 6 months, the Coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the status quo and has demonstrated that we can work together to shift away from some of the harmful habits we’ve developed as a society.
Being the change we want to see can start just about anywhere. But for the sake of this blog, let’s start with commercial building health!
In ioAirFlow’s home base of Winnipeg, buildings account for 35% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Though Winnipeg does have an older building stock compared to many other cities across the country, buildings still account for a significant percentage of GHG emissions at around 13%. Class C buildings, which buildings make up over 70% of the country’s existing building stock, have ample room for improving their energy consumption, their comfort levels and their indoor air quality. A few other things to note about these buildings:
Despite this, and the well-recognized existence of technologies to improve energy efficiency and IEQ in commercial buildings, many still aren’t utilizing these low-risk and well-proven tools for responsible fiscal, social and environmental management. While there is no doubt that changing regulations, increasing costs and climate change recognition have energy efficiency top of mind for many commercial building owners and operators, limited resources, including constraints on capital, expertise and time render alleviating barriers difficult.
This can be especially true in Class C buildings, which generally don’t have the expertise on hand to undertake the improvements to reduce the ecological impact of their buildings, ensure tenant retainment and increase the life of their buildings.
But, right now, numerous new policies are going to be put into place in many of our workplaces to ensure occupants remain healthy amid the pandemic – everything from limiting touch points, to enforcing physical distancing criteria. These expected workplace changes render this the perfect time for incorporating shifts in behaviours and processes that improve energy use and building comfort for occupants.
With buildings being relatively empty for many commercial building owners, this is an ideal time to invite the experts in and support improvements.
For building owners, our occupants and our environment are what sustains us. And, as construction resumes, manufacturing chains begin to flow and we start to trickle back to work, let’s push their needs to the forefront. Now more than ever, people want to stay healthy. Give them a head start.
By Amanda San Filippo - VP Business Development & COO, ioAirFlow
A starting point to improving the health and efficiency of your building is to measure your building’s energy consumption and thermal comfort. As the infamous business adage goes: You can’t manage what you don’t measure.
There are many ways this can be accomplished. Building energy audits, benchmarking software, and automation systems are some examples. However, these options aren’t ideal for Class C buildings for many reasons: the information requires an expert on staff to interpret, the costs associated with them can be very restrictive, or the age of the building renders installation too invasive.
The good news is new technologies are being developed that are making energy efficiency achievable to a wider range of buildings. For example, we are beginning to see an increase in wireless systems in building automation. Wireless systems can measure building health and efficiency without the high cost and building disturbance that is traditionally required for wired systems. ioAirFlow also uses a wireless sensor array that is easy to place and securely stores information, as a Wi-Fi connection is not required.
Whether using audits, benchmarking tools or wireless sensors, once a building's energy consumption and thermal comfort levels have been measured, the next step is to determine strategies to improve them. One of the most beneficial strategies to focus on is the building envelope’s thermal performance. The thermal performance of a building relies on the tightness of its envelope. In other words, its ability to prevent heat exchange through its structure and resist air penetration.
Improved thermal efficiency can be achieved by adding insulation. Using thermal insulation will not only reduce the energy required to heat and cool the building, but increase the period of indoor thermal comfort especially in climates with extreme seasonal variation. There are different types of insulation to choose from: blanket, loose-fill, blow-in, rigid fibrous, spray-foam, or structural insulated panels. Thermal resistance is the most important property when considering thermal performance and energy saving. The selection of the material should be based on high resistance, continuity of thermal insulation to prevent thermal bridging, cost, ease of construction, building code requirements and durability, as the R value of the insulation changes over time as well as the strength and stability. Assembly of the building's exterior wall and where insulation is applied should be taken into consideration as well.
Another strategy to reduce air leakage can be achieved by using sealants, gaskets, additional window panels, or by replacing windows and doors all together. This can save 5-40% of the energy required for heating and cooling a building.
Windows play a crucial role in the efficiency of the building by providing natural daylighting. However, if the windows are single glazed and the frames are poorly insulated, undesired heat can be transferred in and out of the building. Replacing windows with triple-glazed, two layers of e-coating, and low conductive frames gives the best result by reflecting the heat without compromising the amount of transmitted visible light.
To increase sustainability and even generate revenue, green roofs and solar panels are becoming increasingly popular. Green roofs are considered a great insulation tool and can reduce waste by capturing the storm water runoff, which can be filtered and used to flush toilets and irrigate the outdoor landscape. Solar panels can be installed on a building's roof to generate electricity for the building. In addition, depending on the jurisdiction, if the energy generated by the solar panels exceeds the building’s demand, it can be sold back to the grid and credited to the user, or even transferred to another building. These options may not be feasible for Class C buildings, but if they are, return rates on investments can be impressive.
Don’t forget to measure the energy consumption of the building before and after implementing changes to see how they worked. Going green will save cost and reduce your building’s ecological footprint.
By Sarah Al-Saadi - ioAirFlow Summer Co-op Student
The average American will spend 90 percent of their life indoors. Work, school, and the comfort of your home contribute to this large amount of time spent indoors. Why does it matter if people spend most of their time inside? Inadequate ventilation, as well as chemical and biological contaminants from carpeting, cleaning products, and mold, all lead to indoor environments having much higher concentrations of pollutants than the outdoors.
These high pollutant levels have led to people developing Sick Building Syndrome. Sick Building Syndrome is a condition which occurs when occupants experience health related effects due to poor indoor air quality and where the exact cause of the symptoms is unknown. Occupants with Sick Building Syndrome will often complain about symptoms of acute discomfort such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, difficulty concentrating as well as eye, nose, or throat irritation. Symptoms will often disappear soon after the occupant leaves the building and is exposed to lower concentrations of pollutants.
When assessing different types of buildings, schools often have higher percentages of occupants suffering Sick Building Syndrome. This is in part because schools are under financial pressures to reduce the costs of construction, operation, and maintenance of the building. These pressures lead to schools having poorer indoor air quality which increases the chances of building occupants developing Sick Building Syndrome.
With a strained budget, schools are often unable to pay for a building health assessment or install expensive air quality monitoring systems to understand and fix issues relating to indoor air quality and overall building health. However, as new wireless technologies enter the market, such as the sensors used at ioAirFlow, tracking the indoor environmental quality of a building is becoming more affordable. This is due in part to decreased installation costs from not having to disturb building structures that are often associated with the implementation of permanent wired monitoring systems. This helps make building health assessments and monitoring more accessible to buildings like schools, which can lead to improved indoor air quality and reductions in the number of people experiencing Sick Building Syndrome.
It is especially important to assess the air quality in schools as there is high occupancy density and young children are more susceptible to the effects of high indoor pollutant concentrations. With symptoms including difficulty concentrating, indoor air quality requires careful consideration as it is directly correlated to childrens’ ability to learn and retain information while at school. Children are the next generation of leaders. It is important that we keep their learning environments as healthy and safe as we can.
By Carly Dyck - ioAirFlow Summer Co-op Student