The sky across California darkened and stayed orange during day as smoke from many wildfires across the state created a massive smoke cloud changing the sunlight to a perpetual orange glow.As the blaze of Canadian wildfires sputters with menacing aggression, an unseen casualty is subtly entering the scene – local businesses. The thick, toxic haze, a byproduct of such disasters, truthfully feels as if Mother Nature has laid a chokehold on the environment, obscuring visibility, and leaving a grittiness in the air that quite literally doesn’t sit well. As people take shelter from the poor air quality, streets are sparsely populated, and businesses stand soulless. This unintended consequence of the wildfires is causing a ripple effect on the economy which needs to be acknowledged and addressed with the hope and resilience we all keenly associate with these challenging times.

What can we do about it?

In areas impacted by wildfires and poor outside air quality, it’s still possible to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) within buildings using well-thought-out strategies. Ensuring your company maintains good indoor air quality, especially during times of poor outdoor air quality, can attract customers by providing a comfortable and healthy environment.

Employing efficient air filtration systems, maintaining HVAC regularly, and utilizing energy management systems can create a healthier environment for customers and employees, even amid external challenges. Prioritizing IAQ ensures that customers and employees can breathe cleaner air, mitigating potential health risks associated with exposure to wildfire smoke and pollutants.

Understanding Indoor Air Quality

Before diving into the solutions, let’s briefly understand what IAQ encompasses. IAQ refers to the quality of the air within buildings. It is influenced by various factors such as ventilation, temperature, humidity, outdoor pollutants, and particulate matter. Common sources of indoor air pollutants include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), mold, dust mites, and chemical emissions from building materials. Outdoor pollutants such as pollen, ozone, and in most recent cases, wildfire smoke, can also significantly impact indoor air quality when they infiltrate buildings through ventilation systems and open windows.

Smart Sensors for IAQ Monitoring

Smart sensors are revolutionizing the way we monitor IAQ. These advanced devices can detect and measure various parameters, providing real-time data on indoor air quality. Some key features of smart sensors include:

  1. Temperature and Humidity Monitoring: Maintaining optimal temperature and humidity levels is essential for both occupant comfort and preventing mold growth. Smart sensors can monitor these parameters and provide insights for effective HVAC control.
  2. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Monitoring: High levels of CO2 indicate poor ventilation, which can lead to drowsiness, reduced cognitive function, and an increase in airborne contaminants. Smart sensors can continuously monitor CO2 levels and trigger alerts when they exceed recommended thresholds.

Utilizing HVAC Monitoring for IAQ

Using an HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system is a vital component in improving indoor air quality when outdoor air quality is suboptimal. HVAC systems play a crucial role in maintaining adequate ventilation, regulating temperature and humidity, and filtering out pollutants from the air. Here’s how to use your HVAC to improve IAQ:

  1. Increase Air Circulation: By enhancing air circulation, an HVAC system can effectively distribute fresh, filtered air throughout an indoor space. This process helps to dilute and remove pollutants, including airborne particles, dust, and odors. Improved air circulation also helps to reduce the concentration of indoor allergens and control humidity levels, preventing the growth of mold and mildew. Additionally, increased air circulation promotes better ventilation, which is crucial for maintaining a healthy indoor environment. GridPoint Energy Management System (EMS) supports multi-period advance scheduling that can run fans in ON mode with systems in OFF mode.
  2. Change Filters Regularly: Regularly changing HVAC air filters is a vital step in improving indoor air quality. Air filters play a crucial role in capturing and removing airborne particles, such as dust, pollen, and other allergens. Over time, these filters can become clogged with accumulated debris, reducing their efficiency, and allowing pollutants to circulate in the indoor air. By regularly replacing air filters as recommended by the manufacturer, the HVAC system can effectively remove these contaminants, preventing them from being recirculated into the indoor environment.

Energy Management Systems for IAQ Improvement

In addition to smart sensors and HVAC systems, energy management systems (EMS) can significantly contribute to improving IAQ, especially when outdoor air is polluted. An EMS optimizes energy consumption while ensuring a healthy and comfortable indoor environment. Here’s how an EMS can enhance IAQ:

  1. Demand-Controlled Ventilation: An EMS can work with the HVAC system to implement demand-controlled ventilation and adjust ventilation rates. This approach minimizes energy waste while maintaining adequate ventilation.
  2. Scheduling and Zoning: An EMS enables scheduling and zoning capabilities, allowing for efficient management of heating, cooling, and ventilation systems. By aligning HVAC operations with occupancy patterns, energy consumption can be optimized without compromising IAQ.
  3. Data Analytics and Reporting: EMS platforms collect and analyze data from various sensors, providing real-time data and valuable insights into IAQ trends and patterns. These analytics help facility managers make informed decisions to address IAQ issues proactively.
  4. Humidity Management: It’s common practice to increase indoor humidity levels to reduce airborne viruses, but higher humidity can result in mold and other undesired outcomes. In the absence of a dedicated humidifier/dehumidifier, GridPoint’s Humidity Control Algorithm can optimize the setpoints of an HVAC system to control humidity levels within the HVAC systems range of influence.
  5. Filter Recommendations: In accordance with ASHRAE standards, GridPoint’s EMS recommends MERV-13+ air filters and suggests that filter replacement happens on a regular schedule.

IAQ Utility Incentives

Local utilities often provide valuable incentives to encourage the installation of IAQ equipment, a proactive approach to alleviate the strain caused by outdoor pollutants. By promoting cleaner air within buildings, these incentives aim to enhance public health and reduce the overall burden on the companies during periods of poor outdoor air quality, such as wildfires or pollution events. Businesses can benefit from such programs, which may include rebates, tax credits, or subsidized equipment costs. To take advantage of these offerings, it is essential to check your local utilities and explore the available incentives.

Get Started Today
An EMS can help your building take control of energy performance while optimizing indoor air quality (IAQ), especially during periods of poor outside air quality from wildfires. This approach allows you to make informed decisions to reduce energy consumption, lower costs, and prioritize the well-being of both employees and customers by ensuring cleaner air despite external conditions.

Get started today with a Free Energy Audit from GridPoint’s energy experts to assess your building’s energy efficiency and explore tailored solutions for enhancing IAQ and creating a healthier and more sustainable environment for your occupants, especially in the face of wildfire-related challenges.