We spend nearly 90% of our time in confined spaces, particularly offices and housing. Air quality affects the concentration, well-being and health of building users. It has become a concern for user-citizens, a health and economic issue for public authorities but also an essential criterion for real estate and urban actors.
Outdoor air pollution feeds indoor air pollution, and vice versa. But indoor air is 5 to 10 times more polluted than outdoor air, according to the Indoor Air Quality Observatory (OQAI – 2016).
There are many sources of pollutants indoors
- Building characteristics: building or decorative materials containing chemical materials that can emit VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds, such as formaldehyde and benzene), insulation, waterproofing, building humidity, inadequate ventilation;
- The activities and habits of the occupants: cooking, household products, cosmetics, perfumes and candles, smoking, presence of animals;
- The type of inefficient heating and air conditioning, fuel poverty
The actors of sustainable construction, driven by a regulatory context, increasingly offer materials with labels, which make it possible to characterize the emissions into the air of products. Since 2013, they have been using labelling on containers intended for indoor use. The sector has also improved ventilation systems, air handling units (AHUs) and activated carbon filters to capture harmful components and fine particles.
Environmental certifications and labels, vectors for improving the air quality of buildings
The environmental certification market in Europe continues to grow, especially for commercial real estate. Green Soluce has just published its 2019 edition of the Sustainability Certification Barometer™. Nearly 5000 HQE, LEED, DGNB and BREEAM certifications were issued in 2018 for new, renovated and operational buildings. Environmental and wellness certifications integrate indoor air quality criteria and measure VOCs between the end of construction and the beginning of occupancy.
Groups, SMEs and start-ups offer innovative and inspiring solutions
Air Liquide, through its innovation laboratory, has devised a pilot solution for commercial buildings, called UMPAI (Unité Modulaire de Purification Air Intérieur). It treats the ventilated air within a building in a global way in order to reduce the concentration of CO₂ and the pollutants in the indoor atmosphere. This filtration process is based on the adsorption technique, which allows, via a solid material, to capture gas molecules (volatile organic compounds) without transforming them. The system, not yet commercialized, is in the development phase, installed in a company building in the Rhône.
The plant solution comes from the company MVAW (Micro-organisms and Vegetal At Work). Placed in the interior spaces of buildings, the device, the size of a piece of furniture, is covered with a plant cover. It houses a biofilter made up of several layers of plant and mineral substrates. The environment is then favourable to the development of micro-organisms, which trap fine particles and degrade certain gaseous pollutants. Connected to electricity and water, the module has no tank to empty or filter to change.
Finally, home automation brings initiatives to the treatment of indoor air. It makes it possible to measure air components according to various parameters, process these data and make them accessible to users of residential and commercial buildings. For example, NanoSense designs and produces multi-sensor air quality sensors. In collaboration with PandO₂, they developed an application to monitor and report in real time measurements made by indoor air quality sensors. This data, via an interface, is accessible to users, who can then control the various devices for better air quality.
In this dynamic, recognizing the importance of air quality for a building and the use value of real estate assets, developers and landowners are currently developing innovative projects in their sustainable development policy and CSR strategy.
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