Anyone who has ever worked in an office, knows how it feels to need a couple extra cups of coffee to get through the day after lunch. Often people think it might be because they had a big lunch, or that they just need their second wind. What you do not realize is it is often because CO₂ has built up in a space over the day, and by lunch it is harder to concentrate and stay awake.
This was the situation that Edge Consultants walked into when asked to present on a Friday afternoon at an architectural firm in Vancouver (to approximately 30 people). The open office (55 people at full capacity) was full of interested attendees who all had come to learn about building performance modeling. The presenter from Edge could tell that the air quality was having an effect, because he could literally feel the air quality and was struggling to collect his thoughts. Unable to quantify the problem, he turned to Airsset to help.
With the permission of the firm, Airsset placed a real-time indoor air quality monitor which confirmed that by 1 p.m., the CO₂ levels were reaching nearly 2,200 ppm (parts per million). For context 900 ppm is recommended as the maximum level for indoor spaces. This information quickly allowed Edge to demonstrate to the firm that they needed to simply bring in more fresh air.
Edge Consultants being the problem solvers that they were, then replaced the analog thermostat with an Ecobee thermostat where they could set the fan to run every 30 minutes to bring in fresh air. The old thermostat was simply set to manage temperature, so when the space got to 21℃ (which happens quickly as humans produce energy in a space), their system would just stop circulating air.
The $350 device worked very well, allowing the space to have CO₂ levels that rarely exceeded 900 ppm. After the fix was installed many staff members commented on how their post lunch coffees were almost no longer necessary. “I always thought I was eating too much at lunch. I had no idea it was air quality”. That means with a staff of 55 people, if you had a 10% reduction in productivity and $50/hour as the average bill out rate, the firm was losing $2,200* in billable hourly work a day.
Eighteen months later a staff member had adjusted the thermostat to turn off the intermittent fan. Airsset noticed through an alert right away, as the CO₂ levels jumped to 1500 ppm that first afternoon. A member of the management team was alerted by Airsset and the thermostat was set back to its air quality settings (they also locked controls behind a password).
Knowing is always the first step to solving any indoor air quality problem. In the words of Harvard air quality researcher Doctor Joseph Allen “It doesn’t take multimillion dollar fixes”. In this case, the fix was less than buying everyone a new coffee machine.
*10% of an 8 hour day is 48 minutes a day, which is 2,640 minutes or with 55 people, 44 hours. And 44 hours a day x $50/hour is a loss of $2,200 a day.