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CO2 monitoring is a powerful weapon in the facilities manager’s arsenal. It allows them to make precise adjustments to ventilation rates, ensuring the health and well-being of tenants and patrons while ensuring key systems are brought online as needed.

Since March 2020, a great deal has changed in the world. The very nature of how and where we work and shop, our travel activity and much of our recreation has been transformed as a result of the COVID pandemic. Before ongoing travel restrictions, rolling lockdowns and other mandated changes to how we live and work building occupancy rates in most major cities were high.

The Property Council of Australia reports that occupancy rates in some Australian cities are still below 10% of pre-COVID levels. In order for building owners and managers to adapt to these changes, new rules about how to manage major systems such as (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) HVAC need to be developed. Even though we are now moving into a new phase of the pandemic, occupancy rates aren’t expected to return to pre-COVID levels as hybrid and remote working have now become entrenched in many organisations and online shopping has become the default for many people.

This has created new challenges for building owners and facilities managers. They now must be able to remotely monitor and manage building plant and equipment as they may themselves be working flexibly and remotely. And they need to be able to quickly make adjustments according to the changing occupancy as workers are no longer attending workplaces regularly.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) monitoring is a powerful tool that gives facilities managers the ability to monitor occupancy within their assets and aid them to make adjustments to AC and ventilation systems.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have released advice for ventilation and air conditioning systems that will assist with reducing the spread of the Sars-Cov-2 virus that causes COVID. A key piece of that advice suggests optimal ventilation rates – the provision of outdoor air – that maximise air quality and help to dilute the concentration of virus particles and other contaminants.

However, simply introducing external air into a managed environment such as a shopping centre, office building or airport creates other challenges. Building owners and facilities managers are trying to balance the ventilation rate with occupant thermal comfort and energy expenditure.

CO2 levels give property managers a way of knowing how many people are in a building and their location. When people exhale, they expel CO2. The level of CO2 can be measured by sensors. By measuring the level of CO2, it’s possible to make an accurate inference about the number of people in a building and their location. This allows facilities managers to make localised changes to HVAC controls that optimise the safety and comfort of those people while balancing the energy needs of the entire building.

CO2 monitoring
Figure 1: average daily indoor CO2 levels profile daily average for a commercial office shows the low CO2 levels during the NSW lockdown period

Monitoring CO2 gives facilities and property managers the tool they need to manage the balance between ventilation, thermal comfort and energy expenditure. For example, there may be a higher concentration of people in a food court at a shopping centre during peak times. The facilities manager can use this information as a guide of the number of people that are within that space and make changes on the BMS to introduce more outside air if thresholds are exceeded to maximise the health and safety of shoppers. However, in a smaller specialty store in the same centre, where people aren’t congregating and thermal comfort is more important, then the settings can be managed differently in that region of the building.

Decision making relies on access to data that can be translated into useful information. By monitoring CO2 levels it’s also possible to limit energy creep in response to increased occupancy and foot traffic as you know where people are in a building, allowing you to restore normal controls and return furloughed equipment to service as foot traffic and occupancy returns.

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