The Environments We Occupy: How Understanding Indoor Environmental Quality Will Improve Building Performance

Graham Coulby, Ryder funded PhD candidate, discusses his research which focusses on new technologies and scalable solutions to Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) monitoring.

The COVID-19 pandemic has focussed a lens on Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) in buildings.  Scientists around the world are concentrating research efforts on understanding the effects air circulation has on the accumulation of indoor contaminants.  While COVID-19 has renewed the awareness of IEQ, research into indoor environments has been commonplace in building sciences for many years.

IEQ has wider impacts than only virus transmission and control.  The quality of indoor environments can directly affect our health, productivity, cognitive ability and, ultimately, our wellbeing.  Moreover, IEQ can also affect buildings themselves, causing them to deteriorate, which can have a cascading effect.

To understand IEQ, we must first observe it, by leveraging the digital technologies that are currently transforming the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry.  Digital building information and sensor technologies are two major disruptive technologies that allow us to learn from the buildings we design throughout their lifecycles.  Buildings are no longer pen and paper blueprints stored in local archives.  Instead, they are digital twins that provide real time feedback of buildings in use, allowing us to interact with our buildings, understand them better and optimise their performance.

What are we doing?

While Ryder has been an active adopter and driver of digital transformations for over a decade, it is the last five years that have truly transformed how we look at the buildings we design.  In 2016, we undertook an Innovate UK funded project to monitor buildings and to develop a proof of concept system to capture and augment building information with real time data, from Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.

Working in partnership with Northumbria University and Your Homes Newcastle, we integrated sensor technologies into a social housing complex and linked the data to 3D Building Information Modelling (BIM) models.  This project allowed us to examine the value of augmented technologies, providing new insights into how buildings are used by occupants.  This information enabled us to provide real time actionable advice to building occupants – resulting in the better management of homes to improve health, wellbeing and energy consumption – a major consideration for social housing tenants.

What happened next?

In 2018, Ryder partnered with Northumbria University once again to sponsor me as a PhD student that would enable the practice to further our research into IEQ and exploit several research opportunities that were identified throughout the Innovate UK project.  Ryder was one of the first SMEs to sponsor a new wave of industry focussed PhD programmes funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), via an Intensive Industrial Innovation Programme (IIIP).  Ryder continues to work closely with leading academics and innovation centres, nurturing the next generation of building design professionals.  Before beginning my PhD, I was part of our joint venture with Northumbria University, BIM Academy, which gave me the opportunity to work on some of the most pioneering applications of BIM in the world.

While Ryder has maintained close connections with academia for many years, funding the PhD focussed on industrial innovation presented a valuable opportunity to accelerate developments in sensor integration and implement our findings on live projects.  I have been able to fully immerse myself into the latest scientific research pertaining to IEQ, building monitoring and IoT technologies.  I have also been involved in developing a new IoT module for computer science students at Northumbria University.  My involvement has allowed me to integrate building science research into the programme to expose computer science students to the exciting applications that are emerging in the construction industry, with demand growing for these skills.

What stage are we at?

I am currently working through the final year on the project and have gained valuable insight into my field of study.  Over the last two years, I have been actively involved in the research and development of new technologies, which will provide the industry with scalable solutions to IEQ monitoring that have pragmatic implications outside of academic research.  Over the coming months, I will be producing a range of articles to showcase findings from my scientific publications since starting the programme.

I hope that the upcoming articles can provide valuable insights and showcase this research to wider audiences.

Who is involved?

This work was funded by Northumbria University and the European Regional Development Fund’s Intensive Industrial Innovation Programme (IIIP), as part of doctoral research.  Ryder sponsored the research and it is being delivered through Northumbria University’s Department for Computer and Information Sciences.

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