(p. A1) “Indoor air quality is not a nice-to-have anymore—people have realized it’s essential,” says Arjun Kaicker, an architect at Zaha Hadid Architects, a London-based firm that has designed buildings around the world.
Many of the technologies bringing about this transformation are part of the oft-touted “Internet of Things.” It’s a combination of wireless, internet-connected sensors and automation, tied together by the cloud and millions of lines of code and sold as a service to solve a particular problem—in this case, the spread of communicable diseases and other air pollutants indoors.
As with other applications of the Internet of Things, such as in factories, much of the technology involved is about tying together existing systems so they can respond more dynamically to information their sensors are gathering, says Bobby George, chief digital officer of Carrier, which manufactures heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.
The goal is relatively simple: In more than 95% of buildings, air-conditioning systems are set on a schedule that remains largely untouched. Smart-building systems can pump more clean air into parts of an office as occupancy or other factors change throughout the day, adds Mr. George.
Wireless, battery-powered air-quality and occupancy sensors that can handle continuous monitoring are rapidly falling in price. They can be peppered throughout a building and don’t require opening up walls to connect to data and power.
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In a May  letter in the journal Science, 39 researchers and experts in public health, indoor air quality and engineering asserted that our understanding of transmission of respiratory infections, especially Covid-19, has progressed so rapidly that it should spur a “paradigm shift” for those responsible for the health and safety of office workers.
No longer, they continued, should people accept the idea that there is little we can do to prevent the spread of airborne infections at work. Just as we take pains to eliminate the spread of waterborne and foodborne disease, we now have the knowledge and tools to reduce the spread of germs in the air. And we should start demanding employers do something about it, they said.
To make that happen, businesses and schools should follow guidelines like those offered by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, says William Bahnfleth, a professor of architectural engineering at Pennsylvania State University and the head of the committee that created these standards. Those guidelines include ensuring the right mix of fresh outdoor air and filtered indoor air, and using air filters that meet a higher standard of effectiveness.
Employees can use these types of published guidelines to inform their questions when talking to employers about returning to the office, Dr. Bahnfleth says. Similar guidelines are offered by the American Industrial Hygiene Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “KEYWORDS; The Pandemic Could Help Us Breathe Easier at the Office.”)