Cover story

IAQ vigilance


We still consider air free, but clean air is no longer free. India is leading in yearly PM2.5 levels, highlighting the concerns about the quality of air we breathe. Like all problems, this also starts at home; mitigating indoor air pollution comes with a price tag. Monitoring and filtering the air to be breathable has become routine in many parts of our country. IAQ experts wonder whether routing to traditional methods will prove effective or whether integrating Al will give a sigh of relief while discussing this topic. 

India recorded the highest average yearly PM2.5 levels (55.18% of indoor average PM2.5 (μg/m2)), followed by China, Turkey, the UAE, and South Korea. PM2.5 refers to particles as tiny as 2.5 microns in diameter, not visible to the naked eye. Indoor pollution sources include combustion, building materials, bioaerosols, dust, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), cleaning, and cooking gas. Dyson’s inaugural Global Connected Air Quality Data report revealed that indoor air during the winter was 15% worse than outdoors. In India, indoor air quality deteriorates by 41% during winters; in Delhi, it worsens even more at 48 percent, as stated by The Hindu.

The first step to mitigating pollution for a healthier living condition is monitoring the problem. If we see something visually, action will follow. Suhel Parker, Director, IAQA, shares that we look at sensor data, but our understanding of the device is limited. Apart from that, education for engineers is vital to understanding how they can sense and analyse the collected data.

The data assists in implementing solutions and identifying the culprits and problematic parameters. Sensors detect pollutants. IoT devices help by providing the data needed to craft solutions, like the type and level of filtration needed.

“IAQ monitors provide real-time information on indoor air quality, allowing individuals to implement effective solutions. Currently, numerous affordable solutions are available, starting at $9–$10,000 for filtration units. However, it is crucial to practice measuring before implementing these solutions,” says Kapil Kapoor, Chief Technology Officer at Vayuguard.

AI and sensors

Sensor technology has advanced to a level where it has become accessible to the general public. Equipment is now available for continuous monitoring, and these devices are wall-mounted and left permanently in the offices. They have a long life and good accuracy and come with replaceable sensors. They can be deployed very judiciously in buildings to take corrective action.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is used to interpret trends and discern the current state of a specific building. CO2 levels fluctuate weekly, and PM levels change at specific times every week. All these trends can be analysed with Al. Since the problem occurs once a week in particular, it could also be addressed by introducing behavioural changes. The world is moving from measuring to real-time analytics. If you are a building operator or a building user, you will get a weekly or daily analysis telling you what is happening in your building. If there is a sudden spike in the building environment, it will also tell us about the probable cause. While selecting monitors, we need to assess the support provided by the manufacturer to analyse what is happening in the building.

Impact of building design

Buildings are used in a different way than they were intended to be used in the designing phase. The situation is highly dynamic when a building is in operation, with daily conditions varying significantly and each consecutive day presenting a completely different scenario. Air quality issues are tackled by measuring and understanding what is happening in the building. Evaluating trends leads to corrective action, and we also need actions on a real-time basis. If the CO2 in the building is going up, a demand control ventilation system can be opened along with a fresh air damper. A fresh damper has to be filtered to avoid additional PM 2.5 loads in the indoor air.

Nitin Naik, Founder and Managing Partner of Dew Point, adds, “We can consider an ERV or HRV system with heat exchangers to save energy and reduce carbon footprints. This is especially important in tropical climates, where the heat load is dynamically higher.”

If we operate our systems the way they were designed, then we will be able to optimise our building performance. Mr. Naik has noticed how many hotels switch off TFA (the treated fresh air unit) at 10 p.m. and switch it on at 6 a.m. as a standard operating procedure to save on electricity bills. Rather, optimising operations and controls is the ideal way to deal with it. Hotels have control systems that are not put into use; the operator considers switching the devices as a better way to reduce electricity bills. We need to have more awareness and education in the industry.

Traditional solutions

Humans recognise the problem and work to derive a solution, but the rise of CO2 has only one solution, i.e., bethrowing pollution. Many European countries are promoting the growth of microscopic silica algae (diatoms) to neutralise pollution. They are called liquid trees, which capture pollutants like fertilisers, heavy metals, microplastics, and CO2. These solutions will be used indoors and outdoors shortly because they can absorb CO2 from the environment better.

In the past century, Indian houses were adequately ventilated, and there was no problem of mould formation. The government of India is also emphasising gober-based paints. It has practical efficiency on the micro level. Wherever the coat of cow dung has been implemented, even in the darkest area of a room, there will be no mould formation.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities are implemented to grow trees. Development zeal made us remove adult and forest trees. Now, we are re-installing flashing trees or child trees, which are much less efficient than the trees that were cut. Re-planting does not rebuild the ecosystem that was destroyed. 

Building design

Monitoring ensures sufficient provisions for ventilation and exhaust systems in any building. High occupancy in a building generates moisture from numerous sources, making monitoring a critical criterion for building design. There are kitchens, bathrooms, and pipelines that create problems like condensation. The stark difference in temperatures from hot to cold leads to condensation. Renovation work within buildings without precautions generates particulate matter. What comes into a building stays inside; it never goes out, and the building environment keeps getting more contaminated year after year.

Older HVAC systems need to gain their performance credibility. The filters and coils also produce moisture on drip trays, which are blatantly ignored. A study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) focused on using AI to monitor the HVAC dust system and moisture levels in ducting. Hotels are the worst culprits, with 90% having contaminated coils. An optical camera has been developed to read contamination levels on coils, and efforts are being made to correct it before it worsens.

Filtration technologies

COVID-19 was a common virus our generation witnessed. The pandemic shook the world and made people realise the aftermath of airborne diseases and how quickly they spread. The MERV 13, MERV 14, or MERV 15 filters played a huge role in the HVAC systems, and they were also suggested by the WHO and CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention). A mandate was created to use a minimum of 13-rated filters in an HVAC system to mitigate the risk of viruses. The virus also has a certain size, like the COVID-19 virus, which has a size of 0.12 microns. The virus requires a medium to travel. Air is a common medium, but viruses can also use moisture to travel in the air. If we can trap those particles, we can trap the aerosols, viruses, and bacteria.

Certification and guidelines

Every building, whether commercial, hospitality, or residential, must have a natural ventilation process. Natural ventilation is the best way to reduce carbon footprints. Commercial buildings are now subject to jurisprudence because of the need for green building certifications. The WELL-building certification is a viable option, as per Tushar Kalra, Air Exchange Solutions founder. The certification is beyond the papers; the agency has developed a performance verification mechanism to validate whether the actual system is in place and whether they can maintain the air quality. The quality is beyond the standards; it also considers the well-being of the occupants.

The international Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOC) standards are still being determined. However, standards and guidelines for other pollutants are in place. The National Building Code of India is being revised, and industry veterans are working on it. Mr Naik mentioned that the new national building code will be ready by early next year and will shed light on the care required for indoor air quality, filtration, and different aspects when building and designing buildings. A whole ambit of HVAC was missing earlier and is being incorporated now.


Kapil Kapoor, Chief Technology Officer, Vayuguard

“Solutions can be planned by analysing the monitored data to deploy better indoor air quality and address contamination effectively.”

Nitin Naik, Founder and Managing Partner, Dew Point

“Indoor air quality in building conditions can improve with constant monitoring and AI-driven controls.”

Suhel Parker, Director, IAQA

“Educating engineers with visual and sensor data will reform ventilation, manage contaminants, and maintain healthier building environments.”

Tushar Kalra, Founder, Air Exchange Solutions

“Optimal IAQ in commercial buildings requires natural ventilation, advanced purification, and MERV 13+ filters to reduce airborne viruses and benefit occupant health.”

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