Professor Richard de Dear at the SAMBA launch

Investa Office has signed a cornerstone partnership agreement with the University of Sydney’s IEQ Lab for the commercial rollout of the SAMBA indoor environment quality monitoring stations developed by the IEQ Analytics Research Partnership.

Under the agreement Investa will implement the technology across its portfolio of commercial properties and contribute capital funds to the mass production of SAMBA units.

The property fund has found the technology an effective and user-friendly method of collecting accurate IEQ metrics and collating data that does not require any significant modification to building systems. It has been an industry participant in IEQ Analytics’ research since the lab’s inception in 2012.

“We anticipate, at a minimum, by the end of this research partnership we will understand what kinds of IEQ data are important, and how to capture, analyse and effectively communicate them so they can be most useful to us and beneficial to our tenants,” Investa Office general manager environment and safety Shaun Condon said.

Mr Condon said if facilities managers were able to view and analyse broader sets of information such as IEQ, energy and building attribute information such as plant and equipment control methodologies, they would be better equipped to understand how each building is performing.

They would also know what indicators may suggest that the building could perform better, and what options were available to improve performance, he said.

Investa has been undertaking a range of activities across its properties in relation to IEQ, including providing tenants with a Green Lease Guide that helps them make fitout design decisions that maximise the IEQ of their tenancy. This aims to avert the problem that once a fitout is complete, IEQ issues such as poor light, acoustics or air quality often become embedded.

The tenant information being provided combines effective design principles, supported by data gained through participation in the IEQ Lab research.

“Landlords also have a role to play in maximising IEQ and it doesn’t always have to involve capital expenditure,” Mr Condon said.

“IEQ issues can often be improved through review of cleaning practices, maintenance standards, recommissioning or tweaking airconditioning control methodologies to get the best out of the existing building.

“An active landlord should be able to describe those things that they are doing to improve conditions for tenants.”

Other measures the fund has been taking include limiting the use of volatile organic compounds in carpet and paint, conducting regular indoor air quality testing, and tracking and analysing tenant issues to pinpoint the origin of problems with the aim of minimising reoccurrence.

Low energy use and low complaint rates

One of its findings has been that when energy and complaint data are compared, buildings with lower energy use profiles generate fewer complaints around tenant comfort.

The fund aims to use an understanding of drivers at the operational level to manage IEQ more effectively while also the reducing energy consumption of its assets.

It sees a clear relationship between IEQ and the competitiveness of office assets in the market, and aims to go beyond annual star ratings to utilise SAMBA data to manage building and inform tenants more effectively.

“Our buildings are here to provide space in which people conduct business. IEQ is a key component of what we provide to occupants. If we can help our occupants be happier and more productive, this will lead to tenant retention and increased demand for space our buildings,” Investa chief operating officer Jason Leong said.

Investa looking to NABERS IE

The fund is looking to target NABERS Indoor Environment ratings across the entire national portfolio, and one of the outputs expected from the research partnership is the data required to complete the rating process.

Head of the IEQ Lab and the SAMBA development team Professor Richard de Dear said the final stages of industrial design work by the university’s Industrial Design School on the commercial prototype versions of SAMBA was almost complete.

A lot of interest

Professor de Dear said there was almost “too much interest” from industry in accessing and deploying the technology.

“Dozens and dozens of companies are beta testing it,” he said.

Pending the satisfactory performance of the prototypes, SAMBA will then go into mass production.

At this stage, it is unclear if IEQ Analytics or the University will pursue holding onto the Intellectual Property rights, he said.

“Universities like MIT [in the US] have become incredibly rich with the commercialising of their ideas, but Australian universities are not as good at that,” Professor de Dear said.

From a technical point of view, what SAMBA does is monitor and display building performance against a whole raft of indicators, including CO2 levels, VOC levels and thermal data. It incorporates a range of benchmarks against which data is displayed, such as the ASHRAE targets for CO2 levels.

Where the unit shows an issue, such as high VOC levels, Professor de Dear said this should then prompt a high level audit to identify the specific source of the problem.

This information then becomes the catalyst for remediation, such as replacing flooring materials if the problem is derived from off-gassing of PVC-backed carpets or vinyl.

Professor de Dear said SAMBA and the lab’s research brought together both resource efficiency and building health.

“One of the core tenets of green building is that a green building should respect the global environment and respect occupants,” he said.

“In a lot of people’s minds, the dual objectives of resource efficiency and IEQ optimisation are at opposite ends of a seesaw, and you can have one but not the other. But that is not the case.”

He said optimising building performance was about using both resources and energy more intelligently.

“Building management systems are at the heart of that – and that’s where SAMBA comes in.”