Carrier powered new COGfx study shows indoor air more polluted than outdoor air by 2-5 times

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A new study by a group of researchers from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health as part of the COGfx Study series has found that healthy buildings with enhanced ventilation can improve the cognitive function and health of occupants. The study series, conducted with support from industry leaders for HVAC systems like Carrier, has submitted three findings till now from three different study groups.

The first study found that cognitive function test scores doubled when study participants were in simulated green building environments with enhanced ventilation as opposed to conventional building environments. The COGfx Study 2 examined real-world building environments in the U.S. and showed that employees in green-certified buildings showed 26 percent higher cognitive function test scores and 30 percent fewer sick building symptoms versus buildings that were not green-certified.

The new study is aimed at showcasing the evidence of the acute impacts on cognitive function associated with poor air indoor air quality. It is expected to give a better incentive for improving air quality in indoor spaces. Speaking about the new findings, Chirag Baijal, managing director, Carrier India said, “The COGfx Study continues to demonstrate that proper ventilation and filtration of indoor environments plays an important role in healthier buildings. At Carrier, we are focused on delivering innovative solutions and services that positively impact the health, productivity and cognitive performance of occupants of India’s buildings.” 

Chirag Baijal, managing director, Carrier India

Chirag Baijal further shared his insights about the new COGfx study series and the importance of a healthy building. The following are the responses given by him to our queries –

What led to the beginning of the COGfx Study series? When and why did Carrier get associated with this activity? 

When we communicate our expertise in healthy buildings, we don’t just talk about solutions and services. Our strategies and technologies – and the resulting impact – are rooted in science. This is why we support key research around the impact of healthy indoor environments and collaborate with global experts and organizations.

Carrier supported the COGfx Study, comprised of three separate but related studies. Primary support for the COGfx was provided by Carrier, and they were conducted by research teams from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and SUNY Upstate Medical University.

COGfx Study 1: Indoor Environmental Quality found cognitive function test scores doubled when study participants were in simulated green building environments with enhanced ventilation as opposed to conventional building environments. The research verified that healthy buildings are a critical public health solution. 

COGfx Study 2: Buildingomics examined real-world building environments in the U.S. and showed that employees in green-certified buildings showed 26% higher cognitive function test scores and 30% fewer sick building symptoms versus buildings that were not green-certified. 

COGfx Study 3: Global Buildings examined the impact of indoor air quality on the cognitive function of office workers across six countries – China, India, Mexico, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States. The research found that cognitive function declines as the levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and carbon dioxide (CO2) increase. Higher CO2 can be an indicator of poor ventilation in buildings.

What kind of support are you expecting from authorities and government bodies to further emphasize the need for a healthy building? Are there any countries that have already taken the initiative in achieving this? 

In my opinion, the government should communicate about the importance of indoor air quality and its effect on occupants of the building. And on the fact that indoor air can be more polluted than outdoor air.

Current conversations about air pollution are limited to outdoor air pollution. Also, this sees a spike during winters (as that is the time outdoor air pollution is more visible). Hence that only remains a focus of concern. We forget the fact that, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air is often 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air.

To ensure indoor air quality, enhanced ventilation and filtration solutions should be considered for any commercial building.

Countries like Singapore and Australia have taken the lead in creating a regulatory ecosystem to ensure high standards of building construction from the safety and health aspects of the inhabitants. Requirements for safety, health, amenity and sustainability are provided in the design and construction of new buildings.

What are the solutions provided by Carrier to improve the internal air quality across the cities of India? Some case studies would be great. Also, kindly tell us about the ‘Healthy Buildings Program’.

According to the COGfx Study, as humans we spend 90% of our time indoors. The research found that cognitive function declines as the levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and carbon dioxide (CO2) increase. Higher CO2 can be an indicator of poor ventilation in buildings.

Carrier offers numerous products and services that optimize indoor air quality, including a suite of advanced solutions through Carrier’s Healthy Buildings Program that serves key verticals including, healthcare, hospitality, education and retail. Here are a few solutions being offered by Carrier as a part of this program:

Air Purifiers – Carrier air purifiers include products catering to areas from 180 sq. ft. going all the way up to 4,400 sq. ft. Products come equipped with different filters like pre-filters, HEPA filters, and active carbon filters. Range of air purifiers is available with UVGI technology, which comes with a Photocatalyst filter, and deactivates 99.9% of viruses and bacteria.

OptiClean – We also introduced OptiCleanTM negative air machine and air scrubber in the Indian market. OptiClean is a portable negative air machine, which cleans and removes air potentially contaminated by the coronavirus. It has the capability of converting any hospital room into an Air Borne Infectious Isolation Room to prevent the spread of contaminants.  It can also serve as an air-scrubber, returning cleaner air to the occupied space. 

Light Commercial – We have also launched a PM 2.5 filter and display kit which can be retrofitted to our Ducted products. It is a combined air purification and air conditioning solution built into a single product.

UVGI technology in Air Handling Units (AHUs) – UVGI technology helps improve indoor air quality in AHU-fitted large application areas like airports, shopping halls, cinema malls, etc. The technology is applicable for AHUs coupled with both chillers or VRF.

I am proud to share that one-of-the large retail outlet chains have trusted us for their IAQ requirements and chose us to install commercial air purifiers in their stores. It started as a pilot project in which we installed Carrier air purifiers in a select few outlets. Due to the product performance and the improved indoor air quality in the pilot outlets, we are now in the process of providing air purification solutions to a large number of their outlets across India. 

What is the cost of construction and cost of maintenance of ‘Green+’ buildings as compared to conventional buildings? How can the costs be brought down furthermore?  

While the cost of a Green+ building depends on a lot of factors, I can comment from the HVAC standpoint. On a total cost of ownership basis (with an expected life of applied equipment to be around 15-20 years), the payback for greener & efficient HVAC solutions is between six months to two years depending upon the type of applications and operational hours of the building.

Green buildings are smart investments in the long run. According to the HEALTHfx Study, energy-efficient buildings can deliver billions of dollars’ worth of public health benefits, including fewer hospitalizations and reduced climate impacts. In this study supported by Carrier, experts at Harvard University examined a subset of green-certified buildings over a 16-year period in six countries: the U.S., Mainland China, India, Brazil, Germany and Turkey. It found nearly $6 billion in combined health and climate benefits.

Please give us a brief about the positive and negative effects of Covid-19 on the HVAC equipment market.

Covid-19 has changed dynamics globally, and the HVAC segment is no different. While business segments like healthcare and pharmaceutical have grown significantly, the manufacturing, commercial, and hospitality industries have seen a downward trend.

Also, the pandemic has changed the way we work and operate. Because of remote working, there is a phenomenal increase in the data that we generate. It has led to a rise in data center requirements (and the need for cooling them).

As many people move toward returning to offices, schools and commercial buildings, the health, safety and intelligence of indoor environments have come into greater focus. It has changed the expectations from the HVAC industry, from providing energy-efficient air conditioning solutions to providing cleaner indoor air solutions as well.

How are climate change reports and events affecting the sales of HVAC equipment across the globe? We would like to know the status reports that you have observed from APAC and the US. 

The HVAC industry has a critical role to play in the fight against climate change – from supporting the clean energy transition to fostering the move toward low GWP refrigerants. At Carrier, we are committed to tackling this global challenge, and are focused on driving enhanced sustainability and energy-efficient solutions.

Over the last four decades, we’ve improved the efficiency of our large building air conditioning chillers by 15% per decade. For example, one of our chillers, the AquaEdge 23XRV is the world’s leading efficiency screw chiller, 44% better than the industry standard. *

We are also focused on driving better energy efficiency through better building systems. Research has found that installing building automation systems could cut commercial building energy consumption by nearly a third.

In India, climate change is driving the need for energy-efficient HVAC equipment to reduce the carbon footprint, coupled with the government’s push on labelling programs in India for commercial equipment. Manufacturers are also encouraged to transition from HFCs and develop and introduce HFO-based equipment

What do you predict in the future of construction technology, considering the advancements in HVAC equipment and sustainable solutions? 

India is evolving towards the District Cooling concept. District cooling systems are set up to benefit from economies of scale – centralized plants instead of individual cooling plants in each building. They are advantageous, as they are environmentally friendly, yield lower lifecycle costs, are reliable, decrease building costs, and provide architectural flexibility. 

In addition, with the upcoming concept of cooling as an outsourced service, focus around performance contracting will increase significantly, leading to modified building and HVAC designs to have efficient solutions at lower costs.

These energy and cost-effective solutions will change the way the construction industry is operating currently. 

What are the trends and major events we could look forward to in the global HVAC market for the next five years? The same for the Indian and the APAC market. 

We can see the APAC region being a geography with significant economic growth encouraging more investments in the core sectors like healthcare, industrial, and construction, increasing the demand for reliable and sustainable HVAC solutions. Indian government policies encouraging local manufacturing through incentivization could see India scale up to become an export hub for HVAC equipment besides catering to the growing and expanding domestic market.  

Article by Ujal Nair

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