It is imperative that older commercial buildings get up-to-date temperature and humidity control. While smart home technology has elevated indoor air quality control for residential buildings, many commercial buildings – particularly older buildings – continue to lag behind.
However, healthy indoor air quality is more important today than ever. There are several factors in play making it critical that older commercial buildings get updated now.
Commercial vs. Residential Temperature and Humidity Control
Public awareness of the importance of indoor air quality has risen considerably over recent years. This is evidenced in the growing number of smart homes in the US. As of 2022, the U.S. smart home market has a CAGR of 17.9% and is projected to grow by $18 billion from 2021 through 2026.
Smart home devices make life easier in numerous ways, but one of the most popular smart home products is smart thermostats. These handy IoT devices are transforming the HVAC industry and helping improve temperature and humidity control in millions of residential buildings.
There is a noticeable trend here. As smart home technology becomes more popular, manufacturers and developers are focusing more and more of their efforts on the consumer market. Commercial building owners may feel these devices are not applicable to larger buildings. Of course, sometimes this is true.
Regardless, commercial buildings seem to be getting left behind somewhat in technological advancements in temperature and humidity control. For particularly old commercial buildings, the jump to modernized HVAC control technology can be daunting, but there is a serious need for temperature and humidity control in these buildings.
Why Older Commercial Buildings Need Updating Now
Modern temperature and humidity control systems are nice to have in any building. So, why is it more important today than it has been in the past for older buildings to get these modern systems?
Arguably the greatest factor is the COVID-19 pandemic and a rising awareness of the effect that air quality has on the spread of diseases.
IAQ (Indoor Air Quality) and Public Health
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the air we breathe to the forefront of everyone’s minds. Medical experts reinforced the reality that airborne diseases like the COVID-19 virus and its variants spread much easier indoors. Medical professionals have pointed out that dry, cold air can worsen the effects of COVID-19 and increase susceptibility to the virus and other diseases.
Low relative humidity (RH) indoors can weaken the respiratory immune system and make it easier for airborne particles and droplets to travel. Further studies in 2022 confirmed the effect of ventilation and humidity on preventing the spread of disease. Researchers at the University of Oregon found that higher ventilation, filtration, and humidity levels significantly reduced the amount of COVID-19 viral particles both in the air and on indoor surfaces.
Given these findings, it is no surprise that building managers all over the world spent 2020 and 2021 updating older air quality management systems, whether through retrofitting, recommissioning, or even replacement.
For example, a building manager might invest in new die-cut gaskets, which offer more customization, allowing for older systems to be retrofitted quickly for urgent current needs. Likewise, a new filtration system might be squeezed into an outdated system or consumer humidifiers might be used as a stop-gap solution.
Of course, at the same time, the relative humidity can’t be too high or building managers might see mold and mildew crop up, along with symptoms of sick building syndrome. This just reinforces the need for temperature and humidity control, the key word being “control.”
Today, fine-tuning is needed to reach a healthy balance between humid enough to stave off the spread of disease but not so humid that new health threats emerge. Heat must be controlled closely alongside humidity to accomplish this. Outdoor air pollutants may impact IAQ and public health, as well.
Buildings at Risk
Unfortunately, the types of buildings that tend to be more likely to have outdated HVAC systems also tend to pose a high risk of spreading disease in one way or another.
For example, nursing homes for senior citizens often lack the most up-to-date HVAC equipment, whether due to funding or simply aging infrastructure. To make matters worse, older adults are already at higher risk of contracting airborne diseases like COVID-19 and falling seriously ill as a result.
Commercial buildings in general pose a serious risk of spreading disease due to poor indoor air quality simply because there is a high concentration of people using these spaces every day. Even without the concern of disease in mind, IAQ should be a serious consideration for all types of commercial buildings.
For instance, studies have shown that poor indoor air quality can reduce productivity and lower cognitive performance in the office. Poor IAQ can even have serious health effects, ranging from eye irritation to respiratory disease.
How Commercial Buildings Can Modernize Their HVAC
So, what can building managers do to improve the temperature and humidity control in aging commercial buildings? There are many ways to take action. Of course, recommissioning and updating HVAC systems will make a noticeable difference. There may be other strategies that building managers can try, though.
A good place to start is updating visibility. When humidity and temperature can be closely monitored throughout a building, it is easier to get a grasp on controlling them. Industry experts recommend using smart humidity monitors placed throughout the building to accomplish this. The sensors can send out an alert to building management when humidity levels fall above or below a certain threshold. If specific areas of a building are struggling to maintain the right humidity levels, local humidifiers are also a viable solution.
Building managers can also look into dew point control tactics. Older commercial buildings may not need new equipment to manage dew point, either. One HVAC expert recommends building managers “find the dehumidification loads and remove them as close to the source as possible. That way, the big loads won’t mess up the stability of humidity in the rest of the building.”
Moving Forward With Older Commercial Buildings
There is a clear need today for effective temperature and humidity control in all types of buildings. Older commercial buildings are falling behind due to aging HVAC installations and a lack of modern technology. Adopting things like smart temperature and humidity sensors can help building managers adapt.
Additionally, recommissioning, retrofitting, and creative uses of existing HVAC infrastructure may be able to provide clear air in older buildings without overhauling existing installations.