“Humans are great sensors, but we're not very good at dashboarding anything. Having this IAQ data can become a change management tool and it could really impact the culture of the occupants in the space."
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Episode 84 is a conversation with Liam Bates, CEO of Kaiterra, and Shona O'Dea, Principal and High Performance Design Leader at DLR Group.
We talked about all things indoor air quality in 2022, including wading through all the noise on this complex topic and what an integrated IAQ strategy is all about.
I learned a ton in this one and I even measured the IAQ in my office as we spoke.
Without further ado, please enjoy the Nexus podcast with Kaiterra and DLR Group.
Mentions and Links
- DLR Group (1:14)
- Kaiterra (4:27)
- Li Mu's (Liam Bates) Outdoor Survival Channel (6:04)
- Modern Marco Polo 2014 Finalist (6:04)
- Expedition X: Silk Road Rising (6:04)
- Founding story of Kaiterra (6:52)
- Shona on the history of IAQ practice (9:16)
- Making sense of the wild wild west of IAQ - state of the industry (23:08)
- Making the business case - current best practice? (33:20)
- Should it be a stand-alone stack or integrated with building systems? (45:01)
- What is an integrated IAQ strategy? (56:14)
- Optimizing for IAQ and sustainability (1:01:23)
Note: transcript was created using an imperfect machine learning tool and lightly edited by a human (so you can get the gist). Please forgive errors!
James Dice: hello friends, welcome to the nexus podcast. I'm your host James dice each week. I fire questions that the leaders of the smart buildings industry to try to figure out where we're headed and how we can get there faster without all the marketing fluff. I'm pushing my learning to the limit. And I'm so glad to have you here following along.
James Dice: This episode is a conversation with Liam Bates, CEO of Tara and Shona O D principal and high-performance design leader at DLR group. We talked about all things. Indoor air quality in 2022, including waiting through all the noise on this complex topic. And when integrated. strategy is all about. I learned a ton in this one. And I even measured the IQ in my office as we spoke. So without further ado, please [00:01:00] enjoy the nexus podcast with Katara and DLR group. All right. Hello, Shona. And Liam, let's start with you Ashana. Can you introduce yourself please?
Shona O'Dea: Sure thing. So my name's Shona ODI. I lead the high-performance design team at DLR group. A DLR group is a integrated design firm with 29 offices, about 1300 employees. And my team really focuses on supporting our designers and the pursuit of high-performing buildings.
And so we do that in the design phase through simulation for design assistance. We do a lot of master planning work and also IOT deployments at scale.
Liam Bates: Cool.
James Dice: And then you'll be the second DLR group guests. We had Rory back and mid, mid 2020 Nexus and DLR group are big fans of each other, so glad to continue the string here.
And where are you located? Shona.
Shona O'Dea: So I'm in the Sacramento
Liam Bates: office.
James Dice: Okay. And while I was preparing for this, I realized that you're a boilermaker.
Shona O'Dea: [00:02:00] Yeah. So, ended up in an, a pilot exchange program from Ireland to Purdue. So I got to spend a year in west Lafayette and actually ended up living in the Midwest for eight years after that, so.
Liam Bates: Okay,
James Dice: cool. Mike, my grandpa was a boiler maker, which is why he went to Purdue in the fifties. Yeah. So long, long time ago.
Shona O'Dea: So
James Dice: did you come here for college and then stick around in the U S after that.
Shona O'Dea: Yeah. So it was kind of a funny story. I graduated from Dublin Institute of technology, which furry did as well. So both came from the same program and I was set up to start a job in, in London and combo engineering. And I kind of won the lottery.
I guess seven students were chosen from Ireland seven from Spain and then seven from Purdue to do a dual master's program in sustainability. And it was all funded. And so kind of went on an adventure around these different [00:03:00] universities, obtained, a dual master's in sustainability. And then when I finished my study, Really wanted to stay in the Midwest.
And so at that time, there wasn't really a defined position for someone with my background. And so I researched a number of sustainability leaders in the Chicago market and moved to Chicago and asked them to meet me for coffee. And very Barnwell was one of those people. And I've been at DLR group ever since.
James Dice: cool. And Rory, wasn't the one that connected us. So we got connected through Katara, I think, which is a great, so Liam, I'd love to introduce you now or for you to introduce yourself.
Liam Bates: no, one's shown up for uh, several years now and spent lots of time talking and nerding out about where our quality together, so excited to to be here and, and chat about this.
So my background I'm originally from Switzerland complicated family history with your parents from various corners of the [00:04:00] planet. And I was born and grew up in Switzerland on a halfway up a mountain in the middle of nowhere. You know, my, our, our neighbors were mostly cows um, not too many people.
And I spent a lot of time around technology when I was younger. Got really into programming, taught myself to program sort of in, in, around middle school and eventually through a lot of sort of twists and turns ended up starting Kitara. And our focus is really on indoor air quality and really creating hardware, software, and analytics to be able to help us understand what's going on within our.
And understand the air quality inside buildings so that ultimately we can make buildings, healthier places for the people inside them, but also more sustainable. So that's what we're all about.
James Dice: So why don't you have an accent?
Liam Bates: so, I, I grew up speaking like English and French bilingual. So [00:05:00] my, yeah, my mom was originally from the U S my dad is originally a British grew up in Africa. I was born and grew up in Switzerland, so I spoke French and English at home, French everywhere else. And then I went to university in Canada.
So some people say I have an Indian accent now. I don't know. I used to have a very British accent when I was like under about age 10 and then morphed over the years into whatever. All
James Dice: right. All right. Okay. And then when I was stalking you, I noticed some travel channel stuff. Can you talk about
Liam Bates: that?
Yeah, I mean, so, so my, my personal history is, is totally all over the place. It sounds like I I've always just sort of done what I find interesting and followed whatever passion I have at the time. And as long as it's something, which I think is fun and meaningful and helpful to the [00:06:00] planet, then I'm totally happy to go and dedicate my life to doing that.
And so for several years, I was making documentaries about travel and mostly, so it was making shows for, for example, discovery channel, the travel channel. And these were documentaries often about say dwindling populations around the world that we're living in lifestyles that might be quickly.
It was super interesting. So I spent several months floating on a boat in the middle of the ocean, for example, living with a family uh, on a deserted island and yeah, just amazing experiences and fascinating to capture those stories and then tell them to the rest of the world. I thought that was really valuable.
James Dice: cool. I have it on my list to like, go dig up some of these, but I haven't, haven't done it yet. Uh, I will have to try to try to find them and put them in the show notes. Well, cool. And you said Katara, what year did you start Katara and what was the impetus? Why did you decide to dedicate your life to indoor
Liam Bates: air [00:07:00] quality?
Yeah, so we started in 2014 and it was really just a passion project that got a little bit out of control. Very out of control at this point. So really it was, uh, it was actually in my then fiance now wife. Who, so she had asthma when she was a kid and then grew out of it as often happens.
And then in in, in, in 2014, I was, I was in living in Beijing at the time, which is, you know, famous for not having the best air. And she, she was planning to, to move to vision for a few years. And basically it just, it was like, w w is the air in the house that we are renting safe? Is it, is this, you know, is it okay or absolutely terrible.
And the rally was, there was absolutely no way to find out. There was nothing on the market that could help you understand is your air you know, safe or not. And so, yeah, weekend projects became quit. My [00:08:00] job became, you know, here we are six or seven years later and along the way, you know, found that actually this is a, this is a really massive problem.
Not just in places like Beijing or new Delhi but really everywhere for just about everybody on the planet. We all spend 90% of our time indoors. We're all breathing air. And we also waste a lot of energy doing often pretty dumb things with our air, you know, heating and cooling and moving it around when we don't need to.
And so there's going back to sort of following, following, following my passion and trying to. Sort of dedicate my time to a useful, cause I think this really ticked those boxes. And so that's why I'm still here.
James Dice: Absolutely. And here we are, and I have a, over my right shoulder here, a Katara monitor that's in my office realizing that I'm inhaling a lot of my own exhales that I, a lot more than that.
So I guess, yeah, thanks for, thanks for doing that and going on that journey. And here we are. So let's talk about, I [00:09:00] think we're, before we hit record showing that you mentioned one of, you mentioned wild wild west of indoor air quality. And I think that's a great place to kind of kick this conversation off, showing that you've been thinking about this problem for a lot longer than I have.
It sounds like maybe longer than Liam has as well. So can you talk about kind of the history of indoor air quality and maybe like how you guys at DLR group have approached the problem historic.
Shona O'Dea: Yeah, sure thing. And, you know, just to reflect if it, if we call it the wild wild west now, I don't know what it was like when, when I started trying to shop for, for indoor air quality monitors.
But I guess just thinking back to when I started at DLR group, I was coming into the firm as a simulation professional, and we had a lot of master planning work. So one of my first projects I was asked to create a performance grade for a large portfolio of buildings in K through 12 buildings. And so the process that we created for [00:10:00] benchmarking those buildings was quite heavily rooted into the philosophy that energy is any one piece of the performance pie.
At the time we actually had a presentation called 99 problems and a BTU eight. So really educate people on holistic building performance. And so when we went into the different buildings on a, on a campus, we were benchmarking energy performance, yes. And water performance. And then also quantifying a metric for visual comfort, thermal comfort, indoor air quality and acoustical comfort.
And so the idea was to have a really wide field of view of a building performance so that a low energy building that may not have mechanical ventilation was not getting a better score. And so, you know, a real challenge around that is how do you quantify it's difficult to benchmarks things like indoor air [00:11:00] quality and thermal comfort compared to something like in simple energy per square foot.
And so we created a three-pronged approach in doing so. And so we identify different performance indicators that we could observe with our eyes and would walk through the space to identify them. We had a scorecard for that. We also issued a criminal comfort surveys and then started to use sensor technology as well as the way that that started was really just borrowing some sensors from our commissioning group.
And so, you know, they had some hobo data loggers that were measuring temperature, relative humidity. They had some CO2 sensors, some Bestival meters, and we purchased some flood combo meters as well. So that was really the impetus of the process. And so since then have really been evolving that process and have stepped away from some of those point in time measurements where you're kind of making a building smart for a little while.
[00:12:00] Instead deploying more permanent indoor air quality monitors in spaces. And so a big game changer for us with some funding. We had internally at DLR group in 2017, where I led an initiative to deploy permanent indoor air quality monitors in all of our offices. And so at the time the reset air standard was only really being used in China, but one of the co-founders of that standard was in, was in Chicago.
And so we were able to partner with him, Ryan Dick on figuring out a way to that. Do IOT deployments at scale, and then went through the process of trying to purchase large, a large amount of air quality monitors and deploy them across, across our offices. And so it kind of been doing so ever since. And that's really where I met me and my
We were, we were really dreaming up a certain type of sensor and thankfully Cartera has [00:13:00] built one that meets a lot of our needs that some of the other monitors didn't
James Dice: So yeah, that'd be a great segue, Liam, to just talk about what you guys have built and then maybe we can talk about why that's different than the rest of them out there.
Liam Bates: Yeah. So I think going to the, you know, the, the question that you asked at the start as well about sort of the, the, the wild west um,
James Dice: we'll get back to that. We'll get back
Liam Bates: to that.
One of the challenges with, with air quality monitors is that they're basically white or black or whatever color you make them boxes, that output numbers that sometimes you can't see immediately, they, you know, you might need a dashboard or integrated into a building management system in order to view the data.
And it is also incredibly hard to know whether or not they are giving you the right numbers, because, you know, I, I can tell you, Hey, your CO2 level is 600 PBN and you might go, sure. That [00:14:00] sounds plausible. Or I can say it's 2000, you know, you may go well, okay. I'm surprised, but sure. And, and so it's not like temperature.
If I, if I tell you it's 32 degrees right now, and you probably didn't go that, I think you're wrong. I didn't know that that is not a correct statement, but air quality is really hard and, and that's across all parameters. And so this, this is a. I think one of, one of the things that has made it really hard over the years to have to have products that are continuously providing readings, is that it's, it's hard to know how accurate devices are.
It's hard to know if the data that you're getting is accurate and if over time there's a problem with the devices, they start to output incorrect data. You don't know necessarily if it's a problem with the device or, or if, you know, the air is actually changing because you can't see it. It's, it's, you know, it's something invisible.
And so that's, that's, that's a really big challenge. And it's a big part of also how we design our products. So from a hardware [00:15:00] perspective we really tried to build around standards that exist. So for example, there's the reset standard that Sean just mentioned. And within that they identified a lot of the, the potential pain points or problems.
With monitoring air quality and same thing with the well building standard as well. For example, they have certain features that are around continuous monitoring and they have, they have specific requirements around the, you know, the required accuracy, the required ranges, and perhaps most importantly, the ability to recalibrate devices.
So really when we designed our hardware, it's, it's built around these standards. And so a big feature of this is that we we've designed all our products to have modules that you can replace.
And this is addressing a couple of problems. One is that device sensors need to be recalibrated over time. It's just a fact of science is that a sensor over a long period of time can drift and it can become less accurate. And if [00:16:00] you're using that sensor to automate your building, for example, you want to make sure that the, the numbers are correct.
Otherwise you might be doing some, some really bad things with your building and totally. Yeah, we don't, you know, you don't want that to happen. So, so we've, you know, we've, we've made sensors which are replaceable, so that over time you can, you can swap them out. You can recalibrate and potentially you can also measure, measure new things.
The industry is changing so quickly. What was important last year is not necessarily important this year. There's new technology coming out in the world of COVID people are suddenly interested in measuring other parameters and you don't want to have to, you know, next year, when, when there's some new technology out to measure you know, VOC is more accurately.
For example, you don't want to have to pull these hundreds of devices off of your wall. And recommissioned with a whole bunch of new devices. That's just completely unsustainable. So we've tried to build this where you can think of it almost like printer cartridges, where, you know, you can change your black and white printer into a color printer [00:17:00] just by solving out of cartridge.
Yeah. And so the
James Dice: one that I have on my wall and you can swap out VOC and particulate matter, I believe. And then the temperature, humidity and CO2 are sort of embedded more deeply.
Liam Bates: Is that how it works? Yeah, exactly. It's, it's really, it depends on the, the technology that's used, if. You know, if they have a 12 plus year lifespan, then they can be built into the device.
But something like particulate matter. I mean, you're what you're measuring is dust by definition, you're going to get dust on the sensor. A dusty sensor is not going to give you accurate readings. So no matter how well designed that sensor is, you are facing a fundamental problem that you're measuring something which causes the sensor to degrade.
So it's important to be able to take it out, either clean it, replace it et cetera. So Shauna
James Dice: is that kind of that flexibility and, and maintainability, I guess, is that what you're talking about in terms of meeting
Liam Bates: a sensor, meeting your [00:18:00] needs?
Shona O'Dea: I guess when, as we've gone through different types of deployments, we've learned about a lot about what not to do.
And so, multiple features that, that the sense that I can sense that many have kind of solved those pain points to me, the first issue. Th the issue that has caused me a lot of time loss is around losing data. And so, you know, typically when an IOT device it's connecting to a network and the network is then feeding the data to a cloud based platform.
And so, you know, a lot of the time with other air quality monitors, someone might unplug them. If they're not hardwired where maybe the network goes down, or maybe the monitor stops connecting to the network itself for some reason. And if we lose data that could mean we have to go through an entirely new monitoring period.
So as a consultant, that's a lot of that's our profit at the window when it comes to serving our clients. And then for reset certification, [00:19:00] there are data loss limits. So if we lose the data, we actually lose the certification as well. And so that's something I really value is that the monitors themselves have memory in them and can then reload the data.
If the monitor goes offline for a certain reason, that's part of it. Also, yeah, calibration is key. So the monitors that we deployed across DLR DLR group portfolios, they don't have a robust uh, recalibration option. And so at the time of deployment, that manufacturer told us that they could help us recalibrate what then when we went back to them to ask for that help, we were told, yes, we needed to take them all off the wall.
We needed to ship them all back to China and then pay import duty again, to get them back into the country. And so, you know, that that's just not really a, that's not a realistic option. And so there, there are certain monitors that are so much. A great option with the [00:20:00] cartridge option and no option. And that's really, you know, where you're applying a drift factor in the dashboard to account for the sensor going out of calibration.
You know, while that might be, sustainable for some applications. To me, it's not really something that we can deploy at scale
James Dice: makes total sense. All right. So I want to kind of, you, you see told the history, and then at some point you didn't mention this, this little tiny event, worldwide event that happened, right.
That made indoor air quality more important to everyone. And so I'm assuming at some point after you met Liam, the pandemic hit and everyone started to care about indoor air quality. Is that just my perception that there was a big boom after that happened? Like for both of
Liam Bates: guys, I guess.
Shona O'Dea: I mean, I think the first boom for indoor air quality was when the Harvard school of public health cognitive function studies were released, where there truly, truly [00:21:00] was that link shown between cognitive function and indoor air quality.
And then obviously yet with the pandemic, the focus became much more of a widespread conversation.
James Dice: Yeah. How about for you guys?
Liam Bates: so the first thing is it depends a lot on the different regions of the world. So we're a very global company. We, you know, we sell, we sell in really every corner of the planet.
Our products are installed in something like 140 different countries. And the motivation can vary. But usually there's some, there's some sort of trigger. So the pandemic has definitely been a global trigger. And before that, you know, some other ones would be bushfires in Australia, that was a really serious issue.
And suddenly everybody woke up to the fact that if the outdoor air is bad, most likely they are in your building is, is, is terrible. And same thing on the west coast with, with fires, wildfires people not knowing do I go to the office? Do I stay at home? It really being in the exact same [00:22:00] position that I was in six years ago, she's like, I have no idea what's going on and no idea what I should do.
And so those have all been triggers and definitely COVID has sort of globally accelerated that trend because each one of these triggers that sort of acts as a catalyst to speed things up a little bit more. I think the general trend has always been moving in the direction of, we need to understand in real time what's happening with the Narcissus.
And then I'd add maybe another shift that we're seeing now, which is also more on the sustainability side and recognizing that. And I know we might talk a little bit more about this later, but recognizing that HVAC systems account for an enormous portion of our planets, greenhouse gases, and the more intelligently we can make those run the better it is for the planet and sustainability goals and that the two need to be in sync, you know, health and sustainability.
[00:23:00] And so I think that's also been a bit of a catalyst in maybe the past year.
James Dice: Absolutely. All right. So let's do kind of like a state of the wild, wild west a little bit real quick, like a rapid fire round. So like where do we sit today? And this is gonna be really difficult to answer. I just kind of want to give like a broad summary right.
Of, of where indoor air quality sits. So Shona, like when we think about new buildings, is it standard to put indoor air quality sensors in new buildings today? And which types of buildings, and then like, when you think about existing buildings, is everybody going and putting them in today retroactively, give us a sense for like what the
Liam Bates: market looks
Shona O'Dea: like.
Yeah. You know, I really think it depends on the sector. The workplace sector is definitely leading the charge when it comes to new construction installations. When I'm thinking of deploying my, the series, the core and shell deployments that are, you know, would be in the ducts of the HPAC [00:24:00] system versus indoor air quality monitors, which I Tara focuses on.
It's not in my eyes, the norm yet to be deploying air quality monitors across the entire workplaces. But we do have certain clients that are doing that. One thing, one client, we worked on a project with a good while ago was the general services administration. And they were really just trying to test out how indoor air quality monitors could support their existing post occupancy evaluation protocol.
They tested that on a pilot project in, in one of their Chicago locations. And it was so often then to see recently that on a new construction project, They deployed monitors across their entire square footage. And so it's starting to become those forward thinking clients that are deploying them across the portfolio or across new construction projects.
And then we are working with a number of tech clients about how to incorporate it into existing buildings. The biggest challenge we're seeing there is [00:25:00] around the procurement process. And so getting these monitors actually ships to different project locations. The other part is installers. And so part of our deployment processes and Liam knows this.
We have a training program for hardware installers to understand how to physically install the monitors and then partner with us on commissioning the monitors. And so those are two key kind of blockers, I guess. And the third one is just the installation. Sometimes integrators are charging the same amount for the monitor have to actually install it.
So those three things are definitely barriers, but, you know, we are seeing them start to be deployed on larger portfolios.
James Dice: Very cool. Leanna, that question is probably too hard for you to answer given the vast diversity across the
Liam Bates: whole world. Yeah, mean, I would just maybe add that on, on, definitely on the tech side, I think is, is you see a lot of sort of movement there.
[00:26:00] And that, that is I think in many ways tied to the fact that it has become easier to measure the ROI, the ROI, but th there is, there's a couple of things, you know, there's, there's, there's in the tech industry. There are some very clear commitments towards. Sort of carbon neutrality goals. So that's one piece.
And the other thing is, is also on the side of, you know, there's enough research out there that shows the impact of having improved air quality and, you know, the tech industry pays workers higher wages. And so the, the, the ROI on that suddenly can, can start to make a lot of sense when you, when you actually do the math reductions in absenteeism, for example.
So yeah, a lot of movement on that front.
James Dice: Interesting. It makes, makes perfect sense. So let's talk about certifications then. So you guys have already mentioned reset and well, right. I'd love to get a sense for where we're at in the wild, wild west of worldwide. Like, are there leading certifications, [00:27:00] which ones are leading are there others, besides those two kind of like, where are we at in terms of consolidation?
Like, that, that sort of thing.
Shona O'Dea: Yeah. You know, Lima, I did a presentation recently for internal indoor air quality champions at DLR group. So compare and contrast the different certification requirements for say well fit well, lead and reset honestly, is to people who think about air quality, probably more than most.
It's really difficult to navigate the expectations for each of the standards. My bias is towards the reset standard because it's just very, very clear on the intent on the deployment process. And it's evolved with time. And so even with the new version, it's focusing on all areas where occupants will be versus in the first standard, it was more where occupants spend the most time.
And so. To me that standard is providing thought leadership and rigor both for the deployment [00:28:00] professionals, but then also, you know, the hardware manufacturers and then, you know, even dealer group was able to be on the reset accredited data provider. So, you know, the guidelines around how to manage indoor air quality as well, that indoor air quality data.
So to me, it's more holistic standards that really acknowledges the realities of boots on the ground of doing these appointments. I had heard in the past that well and need, we're going to fully align with reset, but I dunno if you, if you've seen that come to fruition, I, the standards seem to be deviating more than they are actually converging.
Liam Bates: So that was going to say they, everyone everyone's got their own slightly different take. And that's also in some ways I think being accelerated by. Sort of what I was saying, how you have these, these kind of catalytic events and the motivation or the sort of the driving factor behind it, a standard is often tied in some way to its geography.
And [00:29:00] so if everyone's concerned about wildfires, then there might be more of a focus on particulate matter. Pandemic comes around, everyone's focused on CO2 other, say more indoor contaminants. So yeah, they, there they've definitely gone in slightly different directions, but all, I think generally falling the same sort of same path, I think well is doing a lot on this front as well, obviously.
Well is not just an air quality standard. It's, it's, it's much, much, much larger, more holistic. So if air quality is the single concern, you know, well is, is, is definitely overkill, but I think there's And I guess I should, I should preface by saying that I'm also on the advisory committee for, for the wealth error teacher and also performance writing.
So I may have some sort of bias here because I've been looking at, there are a lot of, a lot of documentation. But, but I think there's, there's a lot of really interesting things going on there in, in the right direction. And also looking at, you know, how can [00:30:00] we utilize this data to better understand the overall performance of a building and, and shifting away from, or not shifting away, but really flushing out the, the uses for continuous monitoring rather than just sort of point in time samples, which is where the historically the industry has been,
Shona O'Dea: you know, with that, you know, when we create these standards for air quality, if we're air quality deployments, you know, based on.
Certain events like those events change all the time. Obviously we can't gather data for everything, but one thing that I've, that has really struck me through the deployments we have done is most of the valuable insights that we've gathered were not the insights that we set out to gather when we started the deployments.
So, you know, when we first deployed air quality monitors in our office portfolio, I used to check my air quality off every morning, the same way people look at social media [00:31:00] apps. Right. And I remember seeing our San Francisco office, the particular matter in there was so high. I'd never seen anything like it.
I emailed the office leader to say like, something's wrong with your HPAC? Like, do not let people come in today. And her response was, you know, have you not looked at the news yet? And there was far as far as that side, right? You know, we didn't particularly matter at the time was not something on the tips of the lips of any American, right.
It was more something that was focused on and in China. And so even with the pandemic, there was more unanticipated insights. When we had our stay at home orders, we saw our CO2 levels go from, you know, open down 600 parts per million every day to just flat lining. And then that was at least just a way to show friends or people who didn't understand air quality, like the impact of humans on air quality.
But then also when we started the conversation around, what are we going to do when we bring people back to the [00:32:00] office, obviously we had our, our own air poly platform. We could put that on a kiosk in the lobby. We already had the monitors, but why were we actually gonna ask the HPAC operators in the building to do?
And so at the time, and I think a lot of discussion was happening around. Doubling the ventilation rate in order to make spaces healthier. But the biggest question was doubling it beyond WAFs like, what was it before? And we actually had that information. So we could look at our air quality data and say, okay, we knew that the CO2 never reached over 600 parts per million on a typical day ASHRAE is saying that, you know, 12 hundreds PPM of CO2 is the max.
So we're already twice as good as ASHRAE is saying. So we could release any expectations for the HPAC operators. So we've doubled the ventilation mode, right? So to me, when we, when we [00:33:00] think of what we're actually trying to measure, it's hard to say what those future, what those future insights will be.
But I feel like being able to gather at a wide, wide scale, can I, I guess, answer more questions.
James Dice: Absolutely. That's fascinating. So still on our rapid fire question, how about, well, like what's the, if, if we can draw generalizations around this making the business case, so, I mean, you mentioned all the research from Harvard got healthy buildings back there on the bookshelf somewhere.
It talks a lot about trying to quantify cognitive function, quantify productivity. We're obviously in the, in the world of ESG and sustainability as well. So where, where do you guys feel like it's at in terms of quantifying and making the business case for investments in indoor air quality?
Liam Bates: I feel like Shona Shona might have the the best take on this one.
Shona O'Dea: You know, the first time we had to do this [00:34:00] was internally when we were asking for funding to deploy air quality monitors in our spaces. And so, the, the conversation we had with the executive leadership team was that she just sharing observations from past school environments, where we could see that there was multiple classrooms that were grossly under ventilated.
And we had started, started seeing the research emerging around this wasn't even when the Harvard school of public health information that came out, this was beforehand where, where the world health organization had said that if the CO2 level was above 2000 parts per million you go into sleep mode.
And so, there was a day in the Chicago office where it was, you know, negative 10 outside. The space felt stuffy and I took a photo. We have had a flexible work environment time, and you could actually see that most people had gone home for the day. And so part of it was around, we knew that other buildings were being [00:35:00] under ventilated.
We had started to see our own anecdotal behavior around under ventilation. And so there was kind of a cost of not doing this initially and the risk associated with that. And then part of it was around. And I think something that has continued to be a conversation with our clients is around thought leadership.
No indoor air quality has become personal to, to all of us now. And being able to tell your employees that you're doing that extra mile to let them know that they're safe, I think is key. You know, Obviously productivity is a really important metric, but you can't really measure productivity if the people aren't there.
And so now this is becoming part of an integral return to office solution. And so when we talk to our clients, it starts with understanding the coverage area necessary in order to get a realistic insights into the [00:36:00] health of the air. And then the other piece is around communicating this to a non-technical audience and also monitoring the risks of sharing live data.
That's really personal with non-technical
Liam Bates: occupants.
ever, everybody has experienced that, that moment where you're sitting in the conference room at. I am meeting feels like it's dragging on too long. And you know, sometimes it isn't even, that's just the feeling that you get that is generated by the poor air quality.
You know, you just feel like, I can't think like we're going in circles. I feel hot and stuffy. Like, you know, it just, it's just really unpleasant. And sometimes that's because, you know, the meeting is poorly run, but sometimes it's just a vicious circle of too many people in a poorly ventilated room. And that's, it's a natural human sort of expression of like biological feature of being in a cramped closed environment.
Like any other, you know, at the end of the day we're we're we're [00:37:00] animals, right? You, you see any animal in a closed confined space with too many other animals is going to go, this is terrible. Let me out of here. And that's all we're doing. And, you know, subjectively, we like, we've all felt that and you open the doors and windows, everyone walks through.
Comes back and it's like, okay. So that, that that's now, you know, can, can be quantified by data. And it's very easy to, just to, you know, to be able to compare those side-by-side and, and understand, I think very quickly like the changes efficiency. I think another really interesting thing is what, what, what Shona was sort of saying about how you often don't know what you're going to find, but that, that can often be the most interesting thing.
So, I mean, we've been looking at data from a project recently where all of the conference rooms on a certain floor are performing significantly better than conference rooms on other floors. And I should say, [00:38:00] this is actually what we're looking at is, is really some insights that are derived from the raw data.
It's not the raw data. And maybe we'll talk about this more in a moment, but at the end of the day, it's not really about the raw data. It's about what can you extract from that data and where to the insights you can pull out of it. And so one of the things that we've been looking at is the, essentially the background chemical offgassing rate.
So looking at rooms, what is the rate let's say per square foot, per minute at which chemicals are being given off. And so that's independent of how their space is used or really anything else, you know, the ventilation system. And so looking at this, you're able to see how rooms that are otherwise similar might be offgassing at different rates.
And what we've seen is is that, you know, one floor is much better than. Okay. And, you know, so there, there are going to be obvious physical differences between these spaces when it comes to the materials used in do you have the same types [00:39:00] of tables? Do you not have tables in this space? Do you have artwork on the walls that were freshly painted?
You know, chemicals can be given off by all sorts of things in a space and they can last for a very, very long time. And when you're seeing a one floor that is performing four X better than anywhere else in your building, that's really interesting to take as an insight for determining how you build your, your, your, your, you know, your is going forwards, your considerations about material and hero's selection.
Yeah, just all of that. So I think that's, you know, there's, there's some, there's some really concrete takeaways that can be extracted from the data that often. You would never have even considered when you installed the monitors. Yeah. And I
James Dice: feel like even the question what's the business case for it is kind of framed in the wrong way, given these answers, right?
So I'm asking what's the business case for adding it on and can you identify one revenue stream that it impacts [00:40:00] and what you guys are saying to me is like, maybe, maybe not, but what I'm hearing is like flip your perspective here, and this is more like infrastructure for a building that you don't know, it kind of supports so many different things and you don't exactly know what it's going to support and how it's going to improve directly through
Liam Bates: operation.
Totally. It feels kind of like just, you know, often we're just driving blind without this. And, and it's actually what I said, you know, it's more the cost of not doing. It is really high. You can. I think one thing that sometimes confuses people or it makes it hard is, is that there's so much data around having improved indoor air quality.
I think everybody can. It's very, it's very easy to say, okay, improve air quality. There's 25 studies that show, this is better. This is better. This is better. The thing is how are you going to get improved air quality? It isn't just by pushing more fresh air into the [00:41:00] building, or maybe it is, but maybe, maybe that isn't going to work or maybe it's that, that is an incredibly energy inefficient way, which means expensive way to hit your goals.
And so trying to get improved air quality without having this foundation of knowing what is my air is just an exercise in futility that.
Shona O'Dea: I think what we keep gravitating towards is like value versus like business case. Part of me is reflecting back on talking to different clients before they press go on their air quality initiative.
And one thing just looking back on that is this, that decision is made by multiple stakeholder groups and all of those stakeholder groups have different metrics and different definitions for success. And I feel like the same way as most, most of the smart building [00:42:00] conversation, indoor air quality can impact operations in a different way to, to HR or the occupant.
And all of those, all of those impacts are valuable to me, you know, obviously closing the loop on the design decisions and how the design decisions. Impact the resultant indoor environmental quality. To me, it really helps me look at air because if I'm trying to unite an architect, mechanical engineer and an interior designer on a building system, air quality is such an awesome way to point to how all other decisions impact the result and building.
And then the other piece is just allowing occupants, the ability to decide what's wrong. You know what? I've poured over so many satisfaction surveys in in my work. And, you know, there's really emotional reactions to being in a space for a long period of time that they kind of control. And so if you [00:43:00] provide occupants with this data, they can at least try and troubleshoot.
Whether they needed, you know, open a window, modify their clothing. One, one example comes to mind where there was a school district that all of the surveys were saying that the air quality was really unhealthy and was making people sick. They had headaches and they didn't want to come to school. And when we did our assessment, the air quality was actually fine.
At least with the sentence variables that we were using. The issue was overlighting they had done an led replacement. They'd done a like for like replacement. And so it was a more efficient bulb. So there was more lighting. And as a result, that was actually what's causing the headaches. And so I feel like humans are, we're great sensors, but we're not very good at dashboarding, anything.
So, you know, having, having this data, I think can become a change management tool and it could really impact the culture of the occupants in the space.
Liam Bates: Fascinating. [00:44:00] I mean, it's just like, it goes back to that meeting thing. Right. You know, I think that's a, that's a great quote that you had just there. I mean, it's, you know, you're in a meeting and you walk out God.
Oh, like my boss sucks, you know, but it's like, no, you're just like 12 people in a room that was designed for, you know, to be ventilated for three. That's the fundamental.
James Dice: Absolutely. Hey guys, just another quick note from our sponsor Nexus labs. And then we'll get back to the show. This episode is brought to you by nexus foundations, our introductory course on the smart buildings industry. If you're new to the industry, this course is for you. If you're an industry vet, but want to understand how technology is changing things.
This course is also for you. The alumni are raving about the content, which they say pulls it all together, and they also love getting to meet the other students on the weekly zoom calls and in the private chat room, you can find out more about the firstname.lastname@example.org lab. Start online. All right, back to the interview
All right. So last, [00:45:00] last piece of the wild wild west puzzle here in my mind is I feel like when I've talked recently in the last year or so about indoor air quality, I've been sort of complaining about it being a standalone stack
Liam Bates: standalone
James Dice: solution.
So let's come in here and in our history of silos in the buildings industry, let's add a whole nother silo. Right. and, and even I posted recently on LinkedIn about the healthy buildings book and about how I feel like when I read that it looks at it as a silo. And as we know, it's not how healthiness is not one job to be done, or it is one job to be done that many jobs to pick jobs, to be done in the building.
I felt bad about calling it out because it's such an impactful book and it's such an amazing book, but like I had to point out that, like, that's not the only outcome that we're optimizing for. And so I feel like. I want to get your guys' take on where we're at. So when I set up the Katara monitor, I had many, many options for integrating it with other stuff, if I wanted to.
So I feel like I already know the answer to this, but what, where do, where are we [00:46:00] at in terms of the industry, in terms of standalone stacks or fully integrated stacks and with everything else that that we're doing?
Shona O'Dea: I feel like we've had this conversation name. When you, you let us know that your device was backnet enabled, right? So that was like a super exciting opportunity for the future. But when we're talking to clients a lot of the time, most of the time, they want a data visualization tool that is allowing them to do threshold analysis.
And the trend analysis piece is something that we would provide as a consulting service a lot of the time. And so all of our deployments to date have been a standalone stack. Conversations around BS integration. It hasn't been something that we have seen implemented yet. The goal is for it to be implemented on a project we're working on right now and in Dublin.
But the fear around that is having on not desired changes made to the [00:47:00] HPAC system because of this new sense, variable. Obviously it is the holy grail, right. To take a sense variable and automate the outcome. But right now that's not what we're seeing.
Liam Bates: yeah, this is, this is a multilayered kind of topic to unpack here. So, Maybe taking a couple steps back, like what do people want. First of all, they don't want more data. More data is like the, the short term, you know, I want more data so that I can do X and X is have a better building, which ultimately is, is to have a better, a better space for people, or it still is to create a better environment for, for occupants.
what, like what we're really focused on right now with a lot of our developments at Kotara is really about shifting from raw data to much deeper insights and being able to identify specific changes, specific problems, specific sources, [00:48:00] because something that we've really realized is we have, we have an insane amount of training for.
Are they internal staff. We have something called Kitara university, which is basically like a full on university course. And we've got 12 videos each and over an hour long about our quality that all our staff go through. Like most of our people working in marketing have degrees in chemical engineering and stuff like
Shona O'Dea: that. Can I go through this course?
Liam Bates: I would be happy to share some but it's, it's really, really, really in-depth. And, and then we have, you know, we have lectures and then we have class discussions. We do batches, so it's yeah, it's, it's, it's pretty involved. And the reason we do this is because air quality is a complex topic.
That is, I mean, just even CO2 is a complex topic, let alone everything else that matters. And so. [00:49:00] You can't expect, let's say the building operator or whoever is consuming this data to look at a bunch of graphs and go, oh, okay. It's because of the table that I installed on the third floor, you know, maybe I shouldn't use that way forwards.
So really we see it as our job to work all of that out and be able to use data, to build models of how a building is functioning based upon those models, understand what the issues are, what the changes that need to be made are, and then ultimately make those changes. And that could either be through sort of specific reporting saying this requires human intervention.
You should do a, or by a teller telling the building management system, you should do B because this can be automated, but we're not, we're not fully there yet. This is, you know, a big work in progress, but that's, that's definitely where we're going. And I think where things. To be because [00:50:00] as long as you are just throwing data at people, then basically you're asking everybody that's running a building to have a PhD and the world isn't built that way.
So this is, I think fundamentally really, really key is that we need to be providing the building with suggestions for what to do so that it can automate those. And that's also that that has been sort of, as you alluded to driven a lot of our design decisions around building a product, it should plug into a lot of different things.
So since as many that's on the on, on your wall, there has like RS four or five pins. So you can, you can run mod bus. It's got me ethernet port supports back then over IP and QTT, you can go via cloud local. Ultimately I see, systems being connected to two places at the same time.
And that's kind of how the census mini has been designed, which is that data needs to go to the cloud because if you want to make intelligent decisions, it's not, it's not just a simple control [00:51:00] algorithm that says, okay, CO2 has over 600 increased ventilation. That's it. It's models have to be run around the building.
You need to find out what those areas for optimization are. Those need to go back to the device. And then, and then we get into the control piece. And so it needs to talk to the building management system. It also needs to talk to the clouds that you can process entire buildings at a time and not just this one device connected to, you know, a VAV box, for example.
James Dice: Got it. I love that. So is that kind of like the next phase of this then is like, start to think about closed loop and getting into using
Liam Bates: the data and control. Yeah, totally. And I think, you know, there's two ways that you can, you can approach it. There's this kind of the simple way of just basic control algorithm algorithms.
But what we've seen is is that air quality, isn't simple. It's not like it's not like temperature and humidity, your temperature you're too hot. Okay. It just means that you need to bring the temperature down, problem solved. And you [00:52:00] also see what the energy implications are of making that decision. It's very straightforward.
If we take an example, like when the wildfires are burning on the west coast, w w what do I do? Do I bring in more outdoor air? Okay. It's polluted. If I bring in more outdoor air, I need to know how efficient this building is at filtering that air other before I can even consider whether or not this is, this is the optimal choice.
Another option is let's say I bring in less outdoor air, and I'm, re-circulating more in. And, you know, it's, it's going through the filter. So it's effectively being filtered multiple times. So my particulate matter levels will be dropping significantly. If I do that, obviously that has an impact on CO2.
How do I balance these two things together? You know, what is the on VOC is? Well, that depends on how much this room is off gas and chemicals, you know? So I need that, that background, right? So there's so many inputs that need to go into this model to make the right decision.
James Dice: [00:53:00] So all of that, it's beyond the capabilities of 99.9% of controls building control systems today, essentially.
So someone has to basically do all that math, make all those decisions and then maybe control can start being optimized
Liam Bates: from there. Exactly. And the thing is, it's a very niche and very specific, and that's, that's really what we've realized over the past few years. Yeah, you can't expect really anybody else to do this because it requires so much specific air quality knowledge.
And, you know, we're, we're uniquely placed to do that because we've been making this stuff really, since there were continuous monitors on the market you know, we made really the first products to, to ever do this. And we've just spent so many years building this knowledge. You don't necessarily feel it, but when we're talking like, like internally, it's sometimes, you know, it's easy to forget that, but then when you're talking to somebody that's running a building and you go, oh, wow.
Yeah, I actually, this is all sort of in, in, in my [00:54:00] head, we should really build it into a piece of software that can do it for you because, you know, I can't expect, I can't expect you to, to sort of absorb, you know, six, six years of, of knowledge in order to do your job and run your building.
Shona O'Dea: And I think there's some little wins.
Like one thing that we always bring up as part of our sustainability goal setting is around air quality monitoring. And if, if the client doesn't really have an appetite for a full-blown reset accredited building, we have talked to them about, you know, you have your code code required, CO2 sensors, habit.
Replacing those code requires CO2 sensors with a device that measures multiple variables, you know, items like that, that can lead to an addition to having that data feed that BAS have a fee to a kiosk in the lobby as well. So I feel like there's little wins like that. I kind of break it out in my head to what we can do in say smaller densely occupied spaces like [00:55:00] conference rooms, focus rooms that have a higher sensitivity versus the open plan space with the conference rooms in particular.
We did a research project with UC Berkeley Johan Pentelic was a researcher there at the time where we were trying to identify what indoor air quality variables could actually predict the utilization of the space. And so, you know, obviously there's so many different utilization solutions coming out right now.
And so is there a way to predict occupancy with say just a certain CO2 monitor? And what we found was, you know, for a lot of utilization sensors, there is a, for an infrared sensor, at least there's a degree of inaccuracy and we could use relative humidity and CO2 to actually have the same level of accuracy of how many people were in this space.
And so to me that becomes like a dual benefit of the integration where maybe, you know, you're just using the CO2 feedback. CO2 and relative [00:56:00] humidity or terms that are building operators are typically familiar with. So being able to combine them just so that they know which rooms are occupied, can again, layer on more value to the same data.
James Dice: Fascinating. Totally. So, okay. So we've kind of started into this question around what should an IQ strategy be integrated with in terms of like, whatever, everything else that's going on in the building. I'd love to just run through a couple of, more of my ideas on other places that should be integrated with and get your guys' take.
So another piece is like, I think we've, we've talked about it. This, we talked about integration with controls, right? What about Liam? You mentioned turning insights from the sensors themselves into action. And so I think what I've heard from you is that there needs to be a layer of analytics that helps me get to where.
Get to the action quicker rather than saying, Hey, here's this dashboard with five pieces of data on it, streaming all the time, do something with that and then multiply that by all the rooms, [00:57:00] your appetizers. It that's insane. Right? So the ability to then take the insights into whatever their workflows are on how they're managing the building today.
What would you say that like the best practices are, are there today?
Liam Bates: I mean, I think it's definitely a work in progress and it depends a lot on how the, how the building is organized, how, how you're measuring your art quality. You know, there's, there's a big difference if you're measuring every single. Versus let's say one monitor per floor and having spaces tagged correctly is also really important.
You know, going to the point, like showing I had with, using data from monitors to identify occupancy in a specific conference room, that's it? That can be quite easy because the changes can be so, so, so, so fast, but in, let's say an open, open, open plan office space, that can be a lot more complicated.
And of course, you've got an air handling unit making everything complicated by, you know, pulling the air [00:58:00] from the whole building, mixing it together and then pushing it back into, into the, into the space. So it doesn't, you know, if CO2 is increasing in one room, it doesn't necessarily mean that anyone is in the room.
It's just that the building has more people in it total. And so having spaces be sort of tagged correctly so that you can run the right analytical. On it is a really key piece of that.
Shona O'Dea: It's kind of bringing me to think about are the steps in our ICU deployment strategy? I feel like most people think of, you know, an ICU deployment strategy just starts with marking up your floor plans for where the monitor goes. we front-load the process with a lot of design thinking to talk about strategy.
And that is because we have met with so many groups that did a large-scale deployment of a technology, but the use case wasn't really understood. Yep. And so [00:59:00] we typically have our designers do a, you know, a full visioning exercise with all stakeholder groups associated with an entity, right? So say the one that we're working on right now, we had 12 different stakeholder group meetings and everyone from their security team to their design team to understand user stories.
So each one hour meeting typically results in like 40 or 50 user stories around, you know, I want to know this about a space so that I can do this thing in my job better. And, you know, we typically end up clustering those, you know, 300, 500 user stories into data use cases. And so typically the data use cases, as we mentioned, are broken down into like, is it room by room?
Is it a certain room type? That's your area of interest? Is it floor by floor or building level? And that, that equates to a recommendation for. And so when we get to the point where we've already done [01:00:00] visioning stakeholder engagement, and then also evaluated the data gaps that they have, the hardware recommendation is normally like we have these spreadsheets internally, but compare, say every air quality monitor on the market or every acoustics monitor on the market.
And then we do a ten-year cost of ownership just to try and figure out which monitor actually makes sense for the client. And based on those data use cases. And then we'll do pilot deployments where we very clear success criteria to then verify if it has been met before doing a full deployment. So I feel like obviously you can go ahead and deploy monitors and see what happens.
But I do think that the investment in this technology is, is significant and it's also a very visible. Piece of hardware in the space that people can see. And so I think that front-loading processes really helps make sure [01:01:00] that the deployments are successful and they actually meet the questions that you're trying to answer.
James Dice: Totally. I mean, that's exactly the process we teach in our foundations courses, obviously not in that level of detail and probably not with that level of expertise, but yeah. Start with the workflow of the person that needs to use the data and how are they actually going to use it and how's it going to update their workflow after that?
All right. So another area that I think is important from an integration standpoint is a lot of building owners I hope have started down the path of fall detection and diagnostics.
Right. So, we're talking about turning sensor data into action, right? Well, there's another software suite that, that already does that. Right. So how do you guys think about integrating with other sort of analytics packages that a lot of times they're also coming up with analytics on the HVAC systems and their performance as well.
Shona O'Dea: Yeah. You know, we're doing that right now. When we started gathering indoor air quality data, we typically [01:02:00] download the data from whatever the proprietary dashboard was and we'd run our own analysis, but because we have a fall detection, diagnostics team and. We started to just integrate to the sensors themselves and pull them into sky spark.
And so honestly, that to me is just a necessary part of the workflow to be able to analyze a large amount of data. And it ended up the data analytics platform like that. And so we we've, we had done it both ways where sometimes the client wants to integrate the data separately and it just creates inefficiencies in the process.
I also think we have a lot to learn from the monitoring based commissioning or pulse detection, diagnostics industry, around data analysis, the types of trends that they see on every project. Right. And so I think that just comes from that partnership. And sometimes if we have different teams across an entity, all gathering the same data, using the [01:03:00] same tool to at least bring it all together can be an alignment solution.
Liam Bates: Absolutely.
like from our perspective where we see ourselves as really being flexible in that, you know, we don't want to force everybody to use, you had another dashboard if they've got their dashboards. But what we do want to be able to do, because we, we think it really delivers value is interpret some of that data for you so that you don't, again, you need to have the PhD.
And so an example of how that could tie into this is for example, understanding the efficiency of the building's filtration system, which we are uniquely placed to do, because we've got the raw data for how that sensor is performing, but we also have one of the world's largest databases of outdoor air quality.
We collect data from satellite imagery. We do a lot of processing. We work with multiple sort of bodies, like the EPA to collect data. We also have our own outdoor sensors. So we've got this vast database of what's [01:04:00] happening outside the building, as well as inside the building. And so if we're talking about things like fault detection, that's, that's kind of an example of where you can you can start to see how equipment might be varying in performance over time.
And we are uniquely positioned to be able to give you some of those insights. But again, you don't have to use it through a you know, a specific dashboard. If you want to get that via API, that's also fine. Ultimately it should be convenient for the end customer and make their life simpler. Like that's, that's the, that's the goal here
James Dice: really, really cool.
Really cool. I think that is a really compelling future to combine. Insights from different places and then serve them into who or whoever needs those insights. Absolutely. All right. A couple more here show you mentioned occupant facing application, so like what's the best practice around. Okay. I have this data, hopefully now I've turned that into some sort of insights you mentioned, I think kiosks for occupants, right.
But we also have we're in the days of [01:05:00] the tenant app explosion, right. As well. What's the best practice in terms of showing a potentially uneducated? I mean, I would consider myself uneducated as well. Someone that's not a PhD and air quality, what's the best practice in terms of showing them what the air quality of their spaces.
Shona O'Dea: That was a big discussion at the start of the pandemic. Actually, there was kind of a it's, it's split, divided the air quality industry. I think there is kind of a school of thought that we shouldn't be sharing this data with occupants that don't understand it. And then there was another group of people who were focused on, on wanting to share what we have.
And to me, it's just a data visualization challenge. Like everyone knows the red light green light system. Red is black. Green is God. Right? And so to me, You can have a tiered layer approach to the data that you're sharing. So something like a kiosk where the audience is someone who's passing by, they're in [01:06:00] transit.
They have like a second to ingest the data and either feel good or panic. And so to me, that's where, you know, that kind of just air is good. Air is bad with smaller text around the, the the S sense variables can really help. But then some people want to know more. And I think that's where the tenant facing applications can really help.
We've integrated to multiple tenant applications for that reason, so that you can look at your air quality data and then look at something else you want to look at it and your tenant applications. Um, I think the other piece though, and something that we're trying to, we're working with multiple clients on, and that's be developing a tool and has, is to pull air quality data alongside some of the other metrics around.
Maybe if you're planning your week at the office, you can also see what the air quality is like while you're planning that, or maybe you're deciding which meeting room [01:07:00] to pick. So you can get a push notification that, you know, this meeting room has four meetings booked today, and it typically takes X amount of time to return to healthy levels.
So maybe pick this other room. So I think when it comes to the optimum kind of facing applications, there is going to be more of that data overlap that we mentioned on the other pieces. What happens when your office goes beyond the four walls of your building? And so how do you allow the occupants.
To understand, or there the staff member to understand their air quality when they're an occupant in the workplace that you're providing, versus just like you're doing that in your own home or the occupant of your own home. How can you actually quantify the air there?
James Dice: Fascinating.
Liam Bates: on the topic of sort of, there's a school of thought of, we shouldn't share data because people don't understand it. And I [01:08:00] have a lot of experience of that backfiring for clients. It's, it's not, it's not, you know, it's not 15 years ago where you, nobody could measure.
You can go on Amazon, you can buy a product and then you can walk into the building and go, Hey, and then you can post them on Twitter. And if this is something that you want to be proactive about, if you're measuring the air, you know, it's an opportunity to do, to do good. And I, yeah, I have a lot of horror stories.
I once met someone from an international like a private international school in I think it was new Delhi and, you know, we met and exchanged business cards. He looked at my business card and went, ah, you, I hate you guys.
It was like, I have so many, so many parents buy your products, Evan, like send them in the backpacks of children into, [01:09:00] into the school and take readings and then come to me and be like, Hey, you guys, aren't doing what you need to do. Yeah, like this is happening all over the place. And it's an opportunity to, to, to be proactive rather than, you know, deal with that.
Shona O'Dea: Probably the TOC, the backpack, just off gassing onto your
Liam Bates: right. I mean, there's like, there's so many ways that this whole experiment was flawed.
Shona O'Dea: We bring them at good points. And I guess that's back to the business case. That's where it started for us in schools. There was throughs, a lot of monitors on Amazon that looked like little Fisher-Price toys and their air quality monitors and people were seeing students have those clicked on to their backpacks.
And if that's the only data set that's available, even if it's a really inaccurate TPOC monitor, it was the only data set. So it was the best dataset. Right. So I feel like that that's where selecting an accurate [01:10:00] model. And actually having that shared with occupants, it eliminates that risk
James Dice: transparency is the default should be the default position at this point.
Liam Bates: Yeah. I just add on to your comment there about the Fisher-Price monitor and the wild west of monitoring. It's really, really hard to know. And this is why standards like reset are I think so helpful is because they've, they've set, you know, standards for what is acceptable. What's not, and they actually physically test products to make sure that they're okay.
Hmm. Where, what you go and what you buy on Amazon could be absolutely anything. And there was, you know, there's, there's a case of a consumer grade monitor that you know, I won't name extremely popular and it claimed to be measuring CO2, but if you physically take the device apart, there is no CO2 sensor inside.
And this is surprisingly commons in a lot of [01:11:00] application stuff.
James Dice: How is it making
Liam Bates: a so it's, it's using a sensor that's designed to measure PLCs, and there's typically a high correlation between CO2 and DFCS because a lot of your seeds are human generated, but there is absolutely no way that you can conclusively say that there's any grip CO2 based on the OCS.
I mean, you open a whiteboard marker next to it. And it tells you that, you know, there's 10,000 PPM of CO2 in the room. It's, it's just, and then of course there's issues with drift. So this is an example of a device that, you know, you look at the text backs and it says that it measures CO2. You physically take it apart and the sensor is not there.
James Dice: And the,
Liam Bates: okay.
James Dice: How about, so speaking of, of, sort of the. Well, so there's a procurement aspect, but where my mind just went was the maintenance aspect. So the ongoing piece of this, if, if I'm a building [01:12:00] operator, I got 12, 15 things on my to-do list. And now I'm saying, Hey, now there's all these sensors that we're adding in that need to be calibrated and maintained and potentially replaced the internal components.
Right. So how do we integrate IQ into the ONM process? Like what's the best practice for that
Liam Bates: days?
I mean, from our side, we've tried to make that as, as simple and straightforward as possible by, you know, avoiding sort of the problem that Jonah was describing earlier of like, yeah, sure. Just, you know, ship the ship, the ship to China. But recognizing that, you know, absolutely there, there is, there's still a.
Cost, you know, be it mental cumin, whatever, in, in, in making sure that devices are, are accurate and that you need to, you know, maybe once, once a year, once every two years swap out some of these modules or cartridges that are, that are inside inside sensors. And really it's just about having sort of being proactive about that from day one.
And having, having that put on a [01:13:00] schedule with a responsible individual, the same way that you would maintain your air handling unit and change filters that, you know, this is something else. So at least you're not, you're not needing to do, to do this every three months or anything. You know, the timeframe is, is significantly longer.
We tried to make it as easy as possible. How
James Dice: about you've shown up from from a
Shona O'Dea: design state. Yeah. You know, this has definitely been a very long conversation with a, to your clients because there isn't standards best practices for it, honestly. And typically we have a series of meetings with all stakeholder groups and create a playbook for like, have what they need to follow once we walk away.
But the, the problem it's kind of like energy, where energy bill goes to the accounting office and someone pays that. And then someone else is the person impacting the energy bill. And they'd never talk to me. It's kind of the same with air quality monitoring, where it may be, you know, the head of workplace deploying air quality monitors across [01:14:00] their entire portfolio.
And they're seeing it's thresholds and also surrounds if the air is good or bad, and that's what they're looking for. And then the air quality monitors are not actually connected back to the building automation system, nor is there a. Uh, Data visualization tool around administration of the monitors.
This is something that we're trying to work on. And it's like a visualization that says, like, here's, here's the amount of time left on the filter. And some of this criteria has here's the mean average error of each of the monitors. So maybe one of the monitors is drifting faster than another. And then also just having this be part of the proactive maintenance plan for the facilities engineers.
Another, another thing around this is, you know, it is similar to filters where you have to have a stock of replacements and then decide when to do the replacement. When it comes to contracting at [01:15:00] least typically everyone's purchasing the monitors and focusing on the deployment with the actual add bulk ordering of the cartridges is something that still needs to be figured out.
And then also to figure out how long can the cartridges stay in storage? How should they be stored before they are not useful anymore? Obviously something mean can speak to in a little bit more detail. So I think it's something that it's almost being figured out as part of the procurement process and it is frequently forgotten.
And then no one has actually told when the monitor needs to be recalibrated.
James Dice: Absolutely. Yeah. It really goes throughout the whole organization that this has to be thought about
Shona O'Dea: knowledge management challenge.
James Dice: Absolutely. So, all right, so let's go with our capstone question here. So I spent my whole pretty much my whole career before.
Trying to re like, make sure it building had adequate [01:16:00] ventilation, but also tried to reduce the ventilation to that minimum because I was trying to help my clients to reduce their energy consumption. Right. And now the world of energy has expanded into ESG. And I think it's not obvious to everyone that the two goals are sort of in conflict, energy and IQ.
But there, there, what I like to say is that they're indirect conflict and less you're managing them and optimizing for both. So like, what's the, what's the best practice today for trying to optimize to outcomes that are in direct conflict with each other?
Shona O'Dea: I mean, I think energy and air quality has a symbiotic relationship. I think it's just something that needs to be balanced on both. You know, my background is in stimulation. And initially when you do a simulation, you always expect that the air quality is actually that need is being met. And you're just looking at the levers to reduce the energy consumption.
[01:17:00] So to me, they just need to be viewed in the same field of you. There's going to be situations, as we mentioned, where you need to increase the ventilation in order to purge at something as a toxin, that's in the space, there's going to be situations where you need to increase the resistance of the air handler by putting in more filters, to filter out the outdoor air.
And there's going to be opportunities where you can reduce the, the ventilation or change your ventilation strategy in order to save energy. So to me, the, the issue is when those problems are being solved in isolation and not together
Liam Bates: this is what I, I like, I'm super excited about this because it's where I see the biggest opportunities for improvement. You know, two people on the planet. you know, air air is, is, is, is massively important to, to our comfort.
And it's also where we see. Such a vast amount of energy, you know, trying [01:18:00] often very ineffectively to optimize it and they are definitely in conflict. And so it's kind of about how do you tweak those, those, those leavers to find this balance point in the middle that's that's optimized. That's a really interesting optimization problem then is what, where a lot of our efforts are going.
So continuous monitoring is really the first step in this, because if you want to do things more intelligently, you need to understand where where's waste taking place and then reduce waste. So if, if the space has being ventilated and there's nobody there that's waste, if it's not going to be used, you know, that's also waste, but there's there's also, you know, examples of changes that can be made.
Lead to a, the opportunity to use less energy. So a simple example that we've seen throughout the pandemic is around cleaning schedules. So what we're often seeing is cleaning, taking place in, in the morning before the day starts in many parts of the world. And [01:19:00] what that does is it creates a very often high amount of VOC in the air.
So if you clean the office at 6:00 AM, you come in at 8:00 AM and you're basically in a toxic environment and it takes a long time for those chemicals to, to drop down just like when you burn your toast in the morning, like there's still particles in the air for at least half of the day. And what that means is that if you're trying to optimize for air quality, your ventilation system is running on max for half the day, trying to flush all those chemicals out of the building.
It's however you shift that cleaning schedule to 7:00 PM, right after everyone's left the building, then you don't need to run the ventilation overnight. You can just let them uh, sort of disperse throughout the night. And then 45 minutes before the building becomes occupied, turn on the HVAC system, flush the building out, and it's far more effective because you're not fighting, you know, the people inside.
So that's the one sort of simple example [01:20:00] of the, again, like the insight that can be gained from this data that can then shift how, how, how you run the space. Another example that we've seen is, is just around or really over ventilating, especially when spaces are not occupied. Especially on driven by COVID this thought of what we need to just bring in fresh air all the time, but really it's if your CO2 levels are 500 PPM and there's almost nobody in the building, like you're good, you don't need to be putting more, more fresh air in there. So having, having these, these, these two perspectives and shifting between them is, is really the only way to, I think, make, make buildings that are, are healthy for the occupants, but also energy efficient.
James Dice: Awesome. I totally agree. All right. Rapid fire round to close out. What are you two looking forward to in the area of indoor air quality, this coming year,
Shona O'Dea: uh, one thing I'm really looking forward to is we're building [01:21:00] a showroom for IOT devices in our San Francisco office. And so, Tara will be one of the monitors in there in addition to acoustic monitors, just density monitors as well. The goal there is to demonstrate in a real space, what this looks like to our designers that are afraid of sensor acne across their beautiful designs.
And then also just to experiment with combining these data sets together for, for deeper insights. So, um, and then we're pulling that all together into a holistic data visualization tool. So more to come on that, but we've been working on it for a year and getting close to an MVP.
James Dice: Very cool. I'm doing something similar.
So the like high Tara monitor is the first nexus labs was named because I'm envisioning there being an actual lab or many labs. Uh, So Mike, hi, Tara monitor here was the first one. And yeah, so I'll be doing something similar
Liam Bates: as well. Awesome. What about you, [01:22:00] Liam? Yeah, that's true. That's really exciting.
So I'm just super, super excited about a lot of ulcers, a lot of what I was talking about when it comes to insights and we spent the past year or so really digging deep into a lot of data in a lot of different projects and buildings worldwide and identifying trends that I think were previously not, not really visible.
And so there's been a lot of manual labor. That's gone into that and we've been building all of algorithms around. Extracting that insight. And so I'm really excited over the next year. We're going to be turning that into you know, products that, that people can actually use and get some of this insight themselves, you know, from installing monitors and, and then just sort of being wowed by like, oh, this is what's happening.
I think that is that's really exciting. We're we're, we're our team is growing very fast and we're double doubling tripling over the next year or so to make this happen. So it's, it's an exciting time. [01:23:00] Absolutely. I'm
James Dice: excited about that. I'll look forward to some sort of update being pushed to me and that happens.
Yeah. Awesome. Well, thank you to so much for coming on the show. This has been a deep dive, very educational, deep dive from two different perspectives that are complimentary, but from different angles. So this has been fun. Thank you
Liam Bates: so much. Likewise. Thanks a lot.
James Dice: All right friends, thanks for listening to this episode of the Nexus Podcast. For more episodes like this and to get the weekly Nexus Newsletter, which by the way, readers have said is the best way to stay up to date on the future of the smart building industry, please subscribe at nexuslabs.online. You can find the show notes for this conversation there as well. Have a great day.