July 14, 2022

Building Automation Systems (BAS) and Indoor Air Quality Monitoring

Building Management System

Indoor air quality has recently been placed under a larger microscope due to the development of COVID-19 and the ongoing efforts to contain and combat it and other potential airborne threats.

Facility managers have to deal with a lot of challenges.

How long has it been since your air handlers have had proper maintenance? Are your filters really doing their job? How frequently are they really being changed?

Improper or deferred maintenance of air handling units can lead to poor air quality and can even introduce mold or allergens into your spaces.

In places like Southern California, where we frequently experience fires and drought, wouldn’t you like to know that you aren’t being exposed to additional smoke particles or dust?

Continuous IAQ monitoring helps to deal with these questions. An advanced indoor air quality monitor station such as Atmocube provides real-time air quality data on various indoor parameters such as particles PM2.5, CO2, TVOCs, formaldehyde, and other air pollutants.

However, the full benefits of such devices become apparent when integrated with building control systems with IAQ monitoring.

Atmocube's Dashboard

Regulations and IAQ monitoring

A real-time IAQ monitor and building automation are increasingly required in commercial buildings. Employee exposure to indoor pollutants is undergoing more government scrutiny with each passing day. Recently the EPA announced the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, a set of guidelines for IAQ in public spaces.

Currently, the regulations on indoor air quality are mostly relegated to carbon monoxide levels, but there may come a time where it will be a code requirement to provide detailed data and proof that your air is not creating other health concerns.

For instance, New Jersey has an IAQ standard that regulates buildings occupied by public workers during regular working hours.

This is one of the IAQ state regulations in the U.S., but it won’t be the last. Public employers must check carbon dioxide levels and ensure building HVAC automation systems are operating efficiently.

What is a Building Automation System?

Before we talk about integration, let’s define what a BAS is.

Building Automation Systems (BAS), sometimes referred to as Building Management Systems (BMS), is a network of integrated devices that keep your building operating smoothly and efficiently. 

Whether it’s commercial air conditioner units, lighting, security, scheduling, or energy management, you probably already have some form of automation. It is becoming more and more of a necessity to use BAS, especially in commercial applications.

A BAS works as a computer networking system, monitoring and controlling various building components.

The whole object of a BAS is to gather disparate building systems and help them communicate across platforms, software, and languages.

Do you know what type of BAS you have?

Depending on the age of your system, you may have Modbus, LON, N2, or if it’s a newer system, BACnet or Niagara (AX or N4).

Atmocube is currently compatible with Modbus and supports Modbus to BACnet Gateway. In Q4 2022, it will also have native BACnet capability.

The Many Benefits of a BAS

Building automation controls with IAQ monitoring offers many benefits. For example, IoT automation is critical for energy efficiency and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC).

A properly tuned building management control system can reduce commercial building energy consumption by approximately 29 percent, according to a recent study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

A BAS can also help control your building’s thermostat and gather data about indoor air quality, temperature, and humidity.

Controlling IAQ On-Demand

You can use IAQ sensors in conjunction with demand-controlled ventilation (DCV) and integrate them with BAS. This will provide on-the-fly data and visibility of DCV in action. DCV will optimize your building based on your occupancy needs.

Indoor air contamination can be broken down into two general types. Some pollution comes from humans, and some come from off-gassing unrelated to human activity.

Days with heavy foot traffic will have vastly different needs than low occupancy evenings and nighttime.

When building occupancy rates are low, there are fewer sources of indoor air pollution. Therefore, ventilation rates don’t need to be as high to improve indoor air quality.

Occupancy can also be measured through metrics such as ticket sales or security card swipes. CO2 build up will also vary based on the occupancy level.

DCV can also be applied by a schedule with a bit of educated forecasting. Occupancy can be estimated based on known scheduled use or expected occupancy based on repeat historical data. So, ventilation rates for a conference room can be maximized when the room is booked and reduced when unused.

Carbon dioxide sensors are an essential factor in demand-controlled ventilation. Facility managers can use additional inputs from TVOC sensors (TVOC – Total Volatile Organic Compounds).

They help measure occupancy and ensure sufficient air quality because volatile organic compounds are a significant indoor air contaminant.

Getting Particular About IAQ Status

Particulate matter is another concern for indoor environmental quality. High levels of outdoor particulate matter can significantly impact IAQ.

Buildings may be located in areas with high levels of outdoor air pollution. Pollution events like wildfires can also increase outdoor particulate matter.

Facility managers can combat this pollution with outdoor and indoor particulate matter sensors. They help automate air filtration and ventilation, optimizing indoor air quality for building management systems.

For instance, sometimes outdoor particulate matter levels are higher than indoor levels. If this is the case, a higher percentage of air should be recirculated into a building to mitigate the intrusion of outdoor air pollution.

Conversely, if indoor particulate matter levels are higher, facility managers can do the opposite. Particulate matter sensors are critical because they help you manage air filtration systems. Indoor readings of particulate matter help facility managers know if current air filtration is adequate.

Combining particulate matter sensors with CO2 sensors ensures indoor environmental quality is at the healthiest levels. Doing this is easier when the IAQ monitoring and sensors are integrated with the building automation system architecture.

Benefits of IAQ Monitors for Facility Managers

IAQ monitoring data is precious. But the value significantly diminishes if you don’t see the data in real-time.

A report on a building’s air quality at the end of the month doesn’t help nearly as much as real-time tracking. Knowing about potential IAQ issues in real-time will allow you to respond before they escalate or worsen.

With real-time visualizations of air quality on computer dashboards, facility managers can then view IAQ conditions in any room, floor, or building at any time.

Atmocube's Dashboard

The data from IAQ monitors can be a baseline for mechanical engineers. They can provide this data over a particular period before HVAC improvements and provide evidence that issues have been resolved. 

Usually, buildings adopt CO2 sensors or thermostats, but monitoring IAQ is more comprehensive. Modern indoor air quality monitors like Atmocube also detect PM2.5 and VOCs. Atmocube can provide real-time IAQ data analysis and also offer access to historical air quality trends and instant alerts and notifications.

Tenants and employees have more peace of mind when they have these updates. REST API helps broadcast the data from IAQ sensors on a larger display for public view.

Instant Air Quality Analysis

Here’s an example of how monitoring air quality in real-time helps:

A facility manager gets complaints of stuffy indoor air in a part of their building. They check the IAQ monitoring dashboard and confirm high CO2 levels in the area.

The FM increases ventilation rates in the area to improve fresh air levels. When occupancy rates in the area decrease, the FM reduces ventilation rates.

Without real-time IAQ monitoring, the facility manager may not be able to fix the problem so quickly. The instant air quality analysis pays off significantly.

Some DCV systems adjust ventilation rates in response to changes in CO2 concentrations.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

The benefits of integrating building automation systems and IAQ sensors are endless. Building HVAC automation helps property managers work smarter, not harder.

And integration of smart building sensors enables real-time air quality monitoring that proves invaluable. Indoor air quality monitoring can also help property managers meet green building standards.

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Atmocube on the wall