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Occupant Health vs. Efficiency – You Don’t Have to Choose

For years buildings have been designed with a bias toward efficiency rather than the occupant experience. Given the impact of COVID-19, focus is shifting to a specific element of the occupant experience: wellness. Now more than ever, building owners and facility managers must act to help protect occupants from exposure to viruses, while also managing factors that impact health and holistic wellbeing.

This begs the question: Do building owners and facility managers need to compromise operational efficiency to help foster wellness and keep occupants healthy?

Thanks to advancements in Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning, building operations can be optimized to focus on occupant health while still functioning efficiently and without compromising any critical needs. An intelligent building management system (BMS) – equipped with enhanced sensing and control technologies – can create an ideal environment that promotes health, comfort, productivity and efficiency.

Optimized Climate, Air Flow and Air Quality

A healthy building is one that is at low risk of contributing to undesirable health conditions in its occupants. As a first step to reaching this status, optimum climate, air flow and air quality is critical.

A smart HVAC system, controlled by a BMS, can help curb the spread of infectious diseases and cross contamination by controlling the temperature range, humidity level, pressure and fresh air intake in a building. Connected HVAC devices can also meet or exceed local ventilation guidelines to cut air recirculation and dilute indoor contaminants.

Optimized climate, air flow and air quality also saves energy. For instance, advanced configuration or systems that use artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms can automatically manage setpoints across the HVAC system based on factors such as occupancy, weather and time of day. Energy recovery technology requires less energy to heat or cool purified air recirculated in the building.

At the same time, the BMS will collect and analyze data from the HVAC system sensors in real time, delivering actionable insights and predictions. This information ensures that the building is running at the most energy-efficient level. It can also help prevent reactive maintenance by allowing facility managers to tackle issues before they arise – cutting the cost of expensive last-minute repairs and increasing staff efficiency.

Making the Most Out of Security Systems

While HVAC is essential, security systems are also important when it comes to healthy buildings. Security cameras and connected sensors situated throughout a building can provide insight into how spaces have historically been used to predict where and when occupants come into contact with each other or congregate. These foot traffic patterns can inform settings for a variety of devices – like ventilation and temperature controls – to address both health needs, such as social distancing guidelines, and energy use.

Security systems as tools for wellness don’t have to stay inside the building. Access control technology can prevent unauthorized or at-risk people from entering a building, or specific areas of the building, to curb the spread of illnesses when required without the need for manual inspection.

Surveillance video analytics can also help ensure proper health protocols are followed. Security alerts can notify facility managers to crowds. Video forensics can identify where in a building an infected occupant spent time for contact tracing. All of this can be done with limited human labor, granting staff time to focus on other critical tasks.

Millions of people usually spend the majority of their day working hard in a built environment. As they return to buildings, they deserve buildings that work hard for them too. Building owners don’t have to choose between occupant wellness and operational efficiency when using smart building technologies. Using the right technology and insights, they can confidently deliver both.

Contributed by Manish Sharma, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Honeywell Building Technologies