Indoor Air Quality Trends and Best Practices with Wynd
The topic of air quality continues to be a hot issue discussed throughout indoor environments, and it’s unlikely that it will stop any time soon. As Ray Wu, CEO of Wynd describes it, soon, air quality will be monitored like we do with temperature in buildings, even if right now most people are taking an all or nothing approach.
Since starting Wynd has quickly become a major leader in the realm of air quality in building, not only for the effectiveness of its products, but the ingenuity and intelligence that helps power their more comprehensive solutions.
So, while we have Ray with us, we’ll be exploring:
- The science and rationale behind Wynd’s solutions.
- Current trends of how air quality is being handled in buildings.
- And best practices to consider when setting up your own air quality solutions.
Hello everyone. And welcome to the DesignWell 365 podcast. I’m your host, Nick Boever editor of DesignWell 365. And today I have with me Ray Wu. CEO of Wynd Technologies. So Ray, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself to start us off?
Sounds great. And thanks Nick for having me on this show. My name is Ray Wu. I’m the CEO and co-founder of a startup called Wynd. Spelled W-Y-N-D. We monitor and improve indoor air quality at scale. And I’m happy to dive into more if you’d like.
Yeah. I was actually going to say, you guys have been in the air quality business for some time, starting off with work in the more commercial sphere, but then you later on adapted your offerings there to the residential setting. And one of the things that I actually got introduced to you guys on where I first heard about you, was your air quality monitoring with the AirID. That’s a very extensive metric to go by. So, if you wanted to just kind of dive into some of those.
Yeah, sure. So, at a very high level, the reason why we started this company is I was born in part of the world that suffers from large amounts of air pollution. I was born in Beijing actually. And the air pollution was so bad that people couldn’t go to school, cars couldn’t drive in the freeway, airplanes couldn’t even land in certain times of the year or certain days. And the thing that really gnawed at me was most of the time, people did not know how good or bad the air was. Air was kind of by its very nature, mostly invisible. And in many ways the difference between good or bad air is just so subtle that our human senses can’t detect it. And so anyway, about six and a half, seven years ago, when we started, some of my friends we went to school from MIT together, and we designed technologies that can understand what’s in the air.
And by leveraging that knowledge, we can design the appropriate recommendations, the appropriate solutions that then act on it. And so, you mentioned AirID, that’s kind of our foundational technology. And basically it started with a question of, “What’s in the air?” The previous technologies that were made, especially on particles, like PM2.5, things like that. It talks about air pollutants in a super general way, just by size. It doesn’t tell you if it’s smog from industrial sources or pollen or dander or somebody smoking, or even a biological issue. What we really worked on developing is, still in a very cheap way, an accessible way, to figure out how bad the air is, but also what’s in there so we can drive the right solutions. And so, that kind of sustained us for a long time. And as you mentioned, we got into both residential and commercial buildings. I can talk about kind of our findings in these different places. And obviously, the pandemic has had a huge impact on people’s understanding and also caring of indoor air quality. So, I can talk about our views there and what we learned.
Yeah. Because one of the things that kind of introduced us to one another was the recent study that came out the Texas A&M study, that kind of highlighted something that I don’t think a lot of people… I can’t say that a lot of people were saying that objectively the office was worse than the home in terms of air quality, but there was definitely kind of an informational bias going on there, where a lot of the conversations centered around how bad the office air is. And so, it wasn’t really too much of a focus being placed on the home. There was still focus being placed on the home, but not in the same way that was being placed in the office. And so, I’m kind of wondering what your thoughts are on that study and just what you guys have found through all the research that you have done.
Yeah. I think the first principle is that air in each built environment, it could be home, it could be a restaurant, a hotel, or commercial office building. It differs building by building, home by home. And the second to first principle is, it’s really hard for people to figure that out by themselves. We can’t really see the air. You can’t see the pollutants. You can’t hear them, you can’t smell them, you can’t taste them. Unless it’s obviously so bad that there’s visible smoke or something, but most of the time it’s subtle enough that we can’t detect it. And based on that, I think it’s kind of intuitive that people in their own home, they just have no idea. And the sources of pollutants come from human beings from processes in the home, including the furnace and it could be outside pollutants and most people have no idea of this, therefore they haven’t maybe maintained that air system in their home, as well as they should have.
Most people don’t even know what their HVAC system is, who made it, when it was installed. They don’t replace their filter at the right time. The US government suggests every three months in most cases, but I doubt that actually happens in most households. And so, I’m not surprised by the findings that for example, PM2.5 levels are higher in the home and in the office. In the office, in contrast, you sort of have professionals managing it. It’s their job to know what system was installed and maintain it well, and make sure that filters do get changed from time to time. Although, I’m sure maybe some in some buildings, it doesn’t happen as regularly as it should. And during the pandemic, you really didn’t have that many people in these buildings. And furthermore, because of the pandemic in these commercial buildings, people were trying to make them healthy.
And so, they went to a 100% outside air. They changed the filters to be thicker, to capture more particles. And so, they have made it healthier for people. And so, that also drove maybe the difference in what these findings are seeing. Although, there are some negative implications as well, and it’s probably not sustainable, and I use that word on many levels, energy spend due to people turning the knob all the way to the right on ventilation, air cycle exchanges, changing the filter. It’s just wasting a lot more energy without any kind of modulation based on demand. And that can’t continue long term. Otherwise, the systems themselves can’t handle it and it’s bad for the planet as well. So, there needs to be better knowledge and better intelligence in these buildings.
Now, because you guys manufacture the air quality monitoring. One of the things that I was wondering, is there currently capabilities for it to sort of communicate with other ventilators or HVAC systems? Or are there plans for it to be able to do that down the road?
Yeah, definitely. So, we can already communicate with building management systems today and with permission, control the HVAC and basically use our information from our sensors to drive automation of the building. And that can optimize for both people’s health, as well as energy efficiency, which helps the earth, but also even the bottom line, because it’s basically less waste. And also, the information that we generate from our sensors can also drive better recommendations for layout in a building if you’re a building manager or even an occupier. Like, are you maybe aggregating too many people in this area? Maybe janitorial services should be targeted in certain spaces? Or with AirID, we detect mold in this area of a Marriott Hotel, which is one of our customers, that can save them a lot of money before it gets too bad and can also improve health outcomes.
Another example with AirID is we’re getting into property risk as well. So, it’s more than just about pure health. Many of our customers in the multifamily space for long term rentals and even short term rentals like Airbnb, they don’t want people smoking. They don’t want people vaping. They don’t want people ruining the experience for the next guest let’s call it. Or even for the property itself. And traditionally there’s been no way of classifying that. Again, it goes back to sensors before us, it’s just all very general. Smoke is just a particle and it would just tell you particles by size. We can tell you exactly what it is. And that can make a big difference also in the realm of keeping properties risk free or minimizing that risk as well.
Yeah, I know that’s definitely a thing that I’ve been hearing more and more of. Not just the property owners, but the occupants themselves, kind of wanting that straightforward information. And I think that’s where a lot of the complaints generally stem from because as we were talking earlier, a lot of professional work has been put into cleaning up the office environment in terms of air quality. But I think a lot of the communication from the consumer side when it comes to their general concerns about air quality in these office spaces, I figure a lot of it probably stems from the fact that that information that these facility managers and building owners are getting, isn’t really being communicated towards the people that are occupying those spaces a lot of the time.
Yeah. I think you’re spot on. So first of all, some buildings have made a lot of improvements. They’ve done the ventilation upgrades, the switch to much more outside air, which helps dilute any issues, including viruses on the inside. They’ve upgraded their filters, but people don’t see that. And they certainly can’t detect that it’s healthier than a relative other building next door that maybe didn’t make those upgrades. And so, what we see in the design world and kind of architectural world is technology is going to become more visible. The HVAC system, all that is just kind of taken for granted before. Obviously, if you’re too hot, too cold, you can complain or there’s a funky smell coming from the corner of the office. But I think, more and more people are going to be wanting to see that their hotel, their school, their office, their healthcare facility is taking care of them and gravitated and reward them with their dollars frankly.
And so, technology can be a way to kind of make them comfortable. And you mentioned the Las Vegas study, maybe I can quickly talk about what we found there. Basically you have this very tiny geographical area. There’s 28, 30 hotels, casinos. And the difference between the healthiest and unhealthiest hotel from a concentration of pollutants perspective, is 80 times. With the worst basically being, you’re basically breathing the smog of a top 10 pollution city, like New Deli, all day long. And the best one being better than Hawaii, better than outside air. And the implication of that is enormous because if I were a consumer, if I were a business traveler, if I were an event planner, I would pay more out of responsibility, out of economic wellness to make sure my employees don’t get sick and catch COVID. And I would go to those hotels and those establishments that are healthy. And I think technology can be used to in many ways, reward those places and show confidence to their customers and prospective customers that they are keeping people healthy. I think that’s going to really change things a lot in this industry.
And it’s definitely something that I’ve been seeing a lot more of, especially with the, WELL business certification, Fitwel, all of those different types of wellness certifications, have really been coming up. Not just in terms of being out there and kind of getting the word out in terms of propagating this idea that our buildings need to be healthier, but a lot of the people that are getting these certifications are really kind of taking that to heart and are even using it as marketing material in a way.
Right now, where I live, I live not too far away from a hockey rink that is a big central point of the area and you drive past it on their billboard they have, “We are now WELL certified,” just kind of plastered up there. So it’s definitely something that in this day and age, especially with current consumer sentiments on air quality, having that assurance there, is definitely going to be driving a lot of people to these places more and more. And even just going off of a Honeywell study that I read originally. I think it said 65% of the people surveyed are genuinely considering leaving their work based on poor office conditions. So, it’s something that is across the board driving consumer sentiments.
Absolutely. Yeah. I saw that study too. And we’ve seen similar ones from one of our customers, Steelcase, they’re the big furniture manufacturer. They surveyed 32,000 office workers about the return to office which is a hot topic these days. And 74% of them said that air quality is their number one concern with respect to return office. And so, if you want your employees to be innovative, again, to collaborate together, because there are benefits of in-person, you have to both from a scientific perspective, keep the air clean.
So people don’t get sick, but also from a psychological perspective, like you’re talking about. Give them that peace of mind that it’s okay to come back, that this employer cares about you. And the proof is in the pudding. One of our fastest growing areas is actually in the occupier side. Basically they want to bring their employees back, but they want to be responsible about it. They want to project their confidence, but it’s got to be backed by science. It can’t just be, “I slapped a label on here and then everyone’s good.” We actually put both our monitoring technology that shows actual data, as well as our purification products and whatnot, to the clean air as needed. And together that both scientifically helps and psychologically also gives people confidence.
So I think it’s great that more people are talking about air quality, especially on a consumer level, because that’s definitely driving a lot of action from businesses as a whole, but I still feel like there’s a lot that people kind of like to focus on where they should be looking at a much broader picture. In the case of a lot of strategies surrounding air quality, most of it still seems to kind of relate to COVID and VOCs. And so, I was wondering considering you have the entire product that’s dedicated to breaking down the different types of pollutants in the air, what are some of the other pollutants people or just other aspects of air quality that people should be focusing on?
Yeah. So, I have two view points on that. Number one, there is a much more comprehensive world of air quality that people should pay attention to. So in addition to, call it the traditional metrics, people are measuring CO2, for example, as a proxy for ventilation, they’re measuring TVOC, which is a super broad category of really anything that’s a I’ll just use acronym, volatile organic compound. It could be perfume, it could be benzene, which is a carcinogen. It could be formaldehyde, which is similarly not very good for you. It could be particles, which could be generally expressed as again, the PM2.5 or PM10 by size. But that itself breaks down into large particles, which could be pollen, mold, or small particles like aerosols that could transmit disease. Or smog that’s from industrial processes or even wildfires.
So, we want to basically capture that more comprehensive set of information for people. However, our other viewpoint though, is we have to deliver that information to people in a way that doesn’t require them to be an expert in environmental sciences. That doesn’t require them to look at charts all day long. So, we view our work as doing the homework for them. So, we’ll monitor all these things, but we’re not just going to regurgitate that to you. And I think one of the mistakes with the industry in the last 10 years, maybe before COVID and even up to now, they just regurgitate information. So, you have a monitor that and so instead of two sensors, they have 10. And they show you all that data from all 10 sensors. And for the average office manager, for the building owner, for even the homeowner, they have no idea what to do with it.
They would have to get a master’s degree in chemistry, environmental sciences, just to know what’s going on. And so, we basically see ourselves as doing that homework. We’ll read ASHRAE 62.1 and what the guidance is from CDC and environmental science textbooks. That’s what we’ve been doing the last few seven years really, to turn that data into actionable recommendations, alerts. Better yet, automation. So, rather than say, “Hey, the recommendation is for you to get better ventilation.” Well, if you were to make that even better for the customer, just change it. Turn it higher and turn it down when you don’t need to. And you can tell them later, “Look, I saved you energy.” Or, “I made you healthier by this much.” I think that people appreciate that. So yes, definitely more data is needed because it does provide more root solutions that could be products or services, but we want to digest that for them, so they don’t have to do all the hard work.
And now, I guess, one of the questions that I wanted to ask too, before we sort of close up is that for building managers, facility owners, and even for professionals within just either the commercial space or the residential space, because this is something that integrators, like custom home integrators, are starting to get in on now too, in a lot of cases. Considering they’re the ones that are mainly dealing with all of these technological integrations within a home for those people. What are some of the things they should be making sure they’re paying attention to keep that indoor air a lot safer for people?
Yeah. So we think that our products, by being more comprehensive, it can provide for a more proactive approach to helping manage a building or a home. So for instance, if we detect mold, then it should be very targeted. You bring in the company or the pro to come to the home and actually look for that mold, because it is flustering in our sensors in a certain way. We think it’s there, but obviously to get rid of it, you can’t just vent that away. You might need a person to come in. And this industry around these facility managers, these pros, they sometimes are very reactionary. And if it’s so bad that it’s obvious, then the homeowner will go call somebody.
If there’s a smell, if people are getting sick already then okay, then you call somebody. And then in the meantime, these people who are trying to service buildings and homes, they’re kind of blind, in that they’re just sort of calling everybody. That’s why, when you open your coupon book and there’s a lot of mailers, inevitably two or three of those are from some HVAC pro who’s volunteering to clean your duct or replace something or renovate something. This happens in the commercial space too. We think if you project four or five, 10 years down the road, and we’re talking about smart buildings then, it will become so obvious that these buildings should self diagnose what’s going on. And say, “I have a mold problem. My chiller is emanating biomaterial, because it’s gunked up with bacteria and other things. Let’s call somebody in there.”
Or, “We have a ventilation problem. We need somebody to come in and actually open up the ventilation system so we can bring more at fresh outside air.” That should be proactive, not this reactionary thing. And so, I feel like we’re kind of in that middle of that, by generating the right information, more specific information. Five, 10 years later, people will look back and I think, really be surprised that for so many years, for really the entire history of buildings, all we measured was temperature. It will just become so surprising like, “Why did we do it like that?” Obviously, it’s maybe cheaper to do that, but health is such an important part and even property risk. It’s such an important part. And now, sensors and analytics are available at a reasonable cost to be able to make every home and every building much more responsive. And I think that’s better for everyone.
Yeah. I think as you were saying, definitely a lot has happened to really drive down the price of a lot of monitoring software for people. So that it’s even in the purchasing range of most homeowners now. It’s kind of always been in that purchasing range for commercial spaces a lot because that’s sort of something they’ve had to focus on a lot more, especially recently. But just being able to have kind of a more proactive approach to it, I think is going to be incredibly important, especially based off of the A&M study where there’s a great big emphasis being placed on that kind of early intervention in these spaces. So, that you’re looking at the conditions and you’re monitoring for them before issues start to come about.
Absolutely. Yeah, I think being proactive is good for people’s health. It’s actually good for business too, because those people who are trying to sell you that new HVAC system or renovate your system or upgrade it, they’re looking for who needs help. And just like with our study, in Las Vegas, it’s not every building that needed help. They could more, I think, efficiently target those if they knew that these homes or these buildings actually were not that good.
Yeah. It’s actually a really good point. So it was great getting a chance to talk with you. I was really glad for you to make time for the podcast. Is there anything else you’d like to say before we close out?
I guess, maybe my last point is we really think that indoor air quality has always been important, but it’s really been brought to the forefront in the last few years for a few reasons. One, is obviously the pandemic and there’s also wildfires in general. But we’re really happy that we can be helpful in this industry and hopefully take a leadership position to help people better understand and then take the right action. And I think that’s good for people’s health. That’s good for businesses and society to come back. That’s good for all the partners and all the companies in this industry to better service their customers. And so, hopefully it’s a win-win for everyone. And if anybody would like more information, they can go to our website at Wynd, W-Y-N-D.ai to learn more. And Nick, thank you so much for this opportunity and for the time to chat.