How Air Quality Monitors Help Develop Greener Buildings

Air Quality in Architecture

In the ever-evolving landscape of sustainable architecture and construction, the quest for greener buildings continues. As environmental concerns take center stage, a fundamental aspect of this pursuit lies in ensuring the health and well-being of occupants. So begins the conversation of air quality in architecture.  

Many people wonder, do buildings cause air pollution?

While buildings themselves aren't a significant source of air pollution, the construction process and how buildings are built can impact air quality. Enter air quality monitors – these pivotal devices have revolutionized how we approach building design, operation, and maintenance.

Air quality monitors play a remarkable role in transforming structures into eco-friendly buildings. These monitors allow inhabitants to thrive while also maintaining energy efficiency. Together, we can act in ways that help us reduce our impact on the environment.

Before we delve in, let's look at how architecture impacts air quality and how green buildings work.


How Architecture Affects the Environment 

Curious about how architecture affects the environment? Here's how buildings can contribute to air pollution: 

  1. Indoor Air Pollution: Buildings can be sources of indoor air pollutants such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) released from building materials, paints, cleaning products, and furnishings. Inadequate ventilation and improper building maintenance can worsen indoor air quality.  
  2. Energy Consumption: The operation of buildings, particularly heating, cooling, and lighting, often relies on the burning of fossil fuels like natural gas, oil, or coal. Combustion processes from these fossil fuels release air pollutants into the atmosphere, contributing to outdoor air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. 
  3. Construction and Demolition: Construction activities include demolition, excavation, and transportation of construction materials. This can release dust, Particulate Matter (PM), and other pollutants into the air. Heavy machinery and equipment used during construction can also emit pollutants if improperly maintained. 
  4. Urban Heat Island Effect: Poorly designed or densely built urban areas can create "urban heat islands," where buildings and pavement absorb and retain excess heat, causing higher temperatures. These activities can lead to increased energy use for cooling, contributing to air pollution. 
  5. Waste Generation: Finally, buildings generate significant waste, including construction debris, discarded materials, and electronics. Improper disposal of these wastes can lead to air pollution. 

What is a Green Building? 

A green building, also known as a sustainable or eco-friendly building, is a structure that is designed, constructed, operated, and maintained with a focus on reducing its environmental impact. Additionally, a green building promotes the health and well-being of its occupants. Green buildings aim to use resources more efficiently, minimize waste, and create a healthier indoor environment. 

Key Features of Green Buildings 

  • Energy Efficiency: Incorporating energy-efficient technology and design strategies to reduce energy consumption and lower greenhouse gas emissions can include efficient insulation, high-performance windows, energy-efficient lighting, and HVAC systems. 
  • Water Efficiency: Implementing water-saving measures such as low-flow faucets, efficient irrigation systems, and water-recycling systems, helps to reduce water consumption and minimize strain on local water resources. 
  • Sustainable Materials: Using environmentally-friendly and locally-sourced materials with a lower environmental impact throughout their lifecycle. This may involve using recycled materials, responsibly-sourced wood, and low-emission paints and finishes. 
  • Site Selection and Land Use: Choosing a location that minimizes disruption to natural habitats and promotes public transportation also reduces the building's environmental footprint. 
  • Indoor Air Quality: Ensuring good indoor air quality by using proper ventilation systems, selecting low-emission building materials, reducing potential sources of air pollutants, and monitoring indoor air quality. 
  • Waste Reduction: Minimizing construction and operational waste through recycling and reusing materials and implementing waste management practices. 
  • Renewable Energy: Incorporating renewable energy sources like solar panels, wind turbines, or geothermal systems to generate clean energy on-site. 

How Do You Know if a Building is Green? 

Determining if a building is green involves assessing its design, construction, operation, and maintenance practices against established green building standards or certification criteria.  

Many countries have established green building certification programs that set specific criteria for environmentally friendly construction and operation. The most well-known of these programs is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). 

The LEED program offers different levels of certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. This certification is based on a building's performance in various categories such as energy efficiency, water conservation, indoor air quality, and sustainable materials. 

Some other green certifications in the US include: 

  • ENERGY STAR focuses on energy efficiency and certifies buildings that surpass performance benchmarks.  
  • Green Globes provides flexible assessments for energy, water, materials, and more, awarding One to Four Globe ratings. 
  • The Living Building Challenge sets stringent sustainability standards.
  • The WELL Building Standard prioritizes occupant health through air quality and lighting.
  • The NAHB Green Building Standard guides sustainable residential construction.

How Air Quality Monitors Make for Greener Buildings 

Air quality monitors are crucial in creating green buildings by providing real-time data and insights into indoor air quality. Here are several ways in which air quality monitors contribute to greener buildings.

#1 - Healthy Indoor Environment

Air quality monitors help maintain optimal indoor air quality by detecting air pollutants like particulate matter. This promotes the health and well-being of occupants by taking action to reduce the risk of health problems related to poor air quality.

#2 - Energy Efficiency

Monitors can help optimize ventilation systems based on real-time occupancy and pollutant levels. This prevents over-ventilation, which can waste energy, and ensures ventilation rates are adjusted to maintain air quality while minimizing energy consumption. 

#3 - Operational Efficiency

By identifying sources of indoor air pollutants, monitors enable targeted interventions to reduce or eliminate these sources. This can lead to more efficient use of resources and reduced operational costs. 

#4 - Maintenance and Remediation

Air quality monitors can alert building operators to issues like air filtration problems. Timely notifications allow for prompt maintenance and remediation, preventing long-term damage and the need for costly repairs. 

#5 - Certification and Compliance

Green building certification programs like LEED and WELL often require air quality monitoring and maintenance of indoor air quality as part of their criteria. Air quality monitors help buildings meet these requirements and earn certification, showcasing their commitment to sustainability. 

#6 - Data-Driven Decisions

Air quality data collected over time can be analyzed to identify trends and patterns. This information guides building design and operational improvements, optimizing building systems, selecting low-emission materials, and implementing effective ventilation strategies. 

#7 - Occupant Engagement

Displaying real-time air quality information to occupants fosters awareness about their indoor environment and improves human behavior. This awareness encourages behaviors such as investing in proper ventilation and avoiding the use of products that release pollutants. 

In the realm of sustainable architecture, the concept of air quality in architecture has emerged as a guiding principle for creating spaces that not only inspire awe but also prioritize the health and well-being of their occupants. It’s evident that air quality monitoring plays an important role in developing green buildings. 

Worried About Air Quality?    

Monitor the Particulate Matter levels around the world with our free, real-time PurpleAir Map, or join PurpleAir’s mission to make air quality data accessible to everyone by investing in an air quality monitor for your home. Together, we can be informed and make changes in our daily habits and the community to improve air quality.