03 June 2021
Andrew Faulkner, product manager at Samsung Climate Solutions, considers the implications for health and wellbeing as more employees spend at least some of their week working from home.
There is a lot of speculation about the future of the ‘office’ as the main place of work in the future. In general, there’s a feeling that quite a lot of people want to be able to get back to face-to-face meetings, but with the option to continue working from home for some of the week.
While internet connectivity and video conferencing software support that option for many workers, there are aspects of the office that are more difficult to replicate at home. Some of these impact health and wellbeing, two significant factors for any home worker and their employer to consider.
One of the benefits of an office working environment is that it can be planned, designed and operated to provide a safe and comfortable space for occupants. In the past, the notion of ‘health’ in buildings focused on physical safety issues, such as fire regulations. Over time, we have seen a new interest in energy efficiency and carbon reduction.
More recently, however, there is growing interest from clients, designers and operators in buildings as spaces that support human comfort, productivity and wellbeing. In May 2020, the Chartered Institute for Building Services Engineering (CIBSE) published TM40: 2020 Health and wellbeing in building services. This points to the growing awareness of and evidence for links between buildings and occupant health.
From a building services point of view, this means the provision of ventilation, cooling and heating. As we are increasingly aware, the air we breathe impacts significantly on our health. Office ventilation systems are designed to support good indoor air quality (IAQ) and to protect occupants from outdoor pollutants – and those created indoors too.
The home office environment
But what about the home office environment? Can we provide a similar standard of climate control and indoor air quality at home as we do in an office space?
IAQ is an important issue because if people are spending more time working from home, they are less likely to be in a space with ventilation designed for health and comfort. If we’re honest, the average ‘home office’ is likely to be a spare bedroom or the dining room table.
The new home office may well be a converted garage or even a specially-constructed office ‘pod’. Garden office construction companies have found themselves very busy in the past year, and research from the Home Builders Federation1 shows that almost half of people would prioritise some kind of home office space when looking for a new property.
But these outside constructions are not necessarily built with ventilation and cooling in mind. And while we like to think of our homes as comfortable and clean, they are often a source of pollutants that have a negative impact on our health. Indoor pollutants can be created by cleaning products, moisture in the air (from bathrooms or kitchens), or cooking activities.
The latter is one source of particulate matter (PM) which is air pollution produced by a combination of suspended solid and liquid particles in the air. It’s present indoors and outside.
Particulate matter (PM)
PM is measured according to particulate size (in microns). Leading health organisations classify PM10, PM2.5 and PM1.0 as harmful for humans. This means that their inhalation is linked to conditions such as asthma and lung cancer, as well as heart disease and cancer. PM1.0 particles can be inhaled to the deepest area of the lungs and then enter the bloodstream, damaging arteries and tissues.
While opening windows can help dilute indoor particulate matter, the benefits of this simple approach are very dependent on your location. An inner city home is likely to face issues of outdoor pollution entering the home in this way. And for asthma and allergy sufferers, even a rural location can be surrounded by airborne irritants, such as pollen.
Removing particulate matter is therefore key to health in our homes. While the installation of whole-house ventilation systems is very challenging in an existing home, it is possible to apply air filtration. This can play a very important role in maintaining healthy indoor air quality by eliminating potentially harmful PM, and the technology to achieve this in the domestic market is available today.
One example is the Samsung WindFree Pure 1.0. This is a wall-mounted air conditioner for homes that fits into a small space and can be installed quickly. It has a built-in PM1.0 filter, which can remove particles as small as 0.3 microns. It also sterilises micro-organisms using an electrostatic charger, providing cleaner and purer air in homes. The WindFree Pure has a sensor that measures the presence of PM10, PM2.5 and PM1.0 in the indoor air and can clean itself with an AI-enabled function.
The unit’s self-cleaning function is known as ‘Freeze Wash’. The heat exchanger within the unit is cooled to -15oC to coat it with frost. When it enters ‘defrost’ mode, the melting ice removes certain types of bacteria within the heat exchanger.
Climate control at home is another issue to consider. As the UK faces hotter summers, home workers will undoubtedly miss the comforts of cooling that’s often found in our offices. And overheating at home can be just as damaging to health as pollution.
Desk fans seem like a simple solution to alleviate the problems of an overheated hot home or garden office space. However, they can exacerbate the problem of IAQ by stirring up more particulates and dust. In addition, they may move air, but they don’t cool it.
Home air conditioning is now a more realistic option for many householders. The Samsung WindFree Pure includes the unique Samsung WindFree technology that uses thousands of micro-holes to disperse fresh air uniformly without unpleasant blasts of cold air.
As many more people are now offered the option to work from home more frequently than ever before, we need to remember that well-designed office buildings support occupant health and comfort. But it is now possible to offer similar air filtration and climate control in the domestic environment affordably and efficiently.