Carleton researchers exploring how to efficiently operate buildings with reduced occupancy

Burak Gunay
Burak Gunay is an assistant professor in building science at Carleton University.
Editor's Note

This article originally appeared in the BOMA Ottawa Commercial Space Directory. Read the full publication here.

New research being conducted by a team from Carleton University could be just the breath of fresh air that commercial office buildings need.

Dr. Burak Gunay and more than a dozen PhD and graduate students from Carleton are examining the use of occupancy-based smart ventilation control strategies to provide better ventilation to areas of buildings where people tend to work the most.

“What we’re really trying to do is optimize the way buildings are operating,” says Gunay, an assistant professor in building science with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The research could also help to reduce airborne transmission of COVID-19 in indoor environments, such as commercial office buildings, by diluting existing recirculated air and lowering the risk of infection. 

One of the problems with heating and cooling systems is that much of the energy is equally distributed throughout the buildings. Redirecting air that’s intended for spaces that are currently vacant to the areas where people are working the most could help increase air flow while also saving energy, Gunay says.

“You might have 99 per cent of the building that’s empty but there’s one section of the building that’s overpopulated,” Gunay says. “You are wasting money because you’re ventilating that large section of the building but you need to better ventilate the section that is actually occupied.”

Data from motion detectors, carbon dioxide sensors and WiFi networks can help determine where people tend to congregate in a building. Once this information is known, the HVAC system can be reprogrammed to direct fresh air to the most commonly used areas.