The Internet of Things powers informed, reliable indoor air quality monitoring

by FM Media
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CO2 monitor attached to wall

By supercharging indoor air quality monitors with the Internet of Things, FMs can unlock the monitoring capabilities needed to determine, in real time, the best actions for keeping occupants safe.

Indoor air quality (IAQ) has reached the limelight amid Australia’s staggered reopening.

As our economy transitions to the so-called ‘new normal’ – one of living with COVID-19 – there is increasing advice pushing for improved ventilation to help keep Australians safe as we return to workplaces, schools, shopping centres and event halls.

The discussion was amplified back in March when the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed its ‘roadmap to improve and ensure good ventilation in the context of COVID-19’. The report advised “understanding and controlling building ventilation can improve the quality of the air we breathe and reduce the risk of indoor health concerns including preventing the virus that causes COVID-19 from spreading indoors.”

Experts have provided further clarity. Lidia Morawska, a professor at Queensland University of Technology and executive at OzSAGE, noted “Wide use of monitors displaying the state of indoor air quality must be mandated because the general public currently have no way of knowing the condition of indoor spaces they occupy and share with others. Visible displays will keep building operators accountable for air quality. The public should be made aware and demand safe environments.”

Meanwhile, Joseph Allen, associate professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, recently wrote that roughly three percent of air someone breathes in a typical home, office building or school settings is from the lungs of others in the room. Allen states: “Instead of being designed to meet a bare-minimum standard, buildings should optimise human health.”

Ventilation, purification and filtration are far from new concerns for building operators, but the recent state of play has seen a notable shift in the requirements of solutions. While experts of the built environment and facility managers are accustomed to using, for example, building management systems and hard-wired CO₂ sensors, there are two questions that need greater attention:

  • How do we know if and where there could be an air quality problem, so we can address the risk before it spreads? And
  • how do we know how well investments in IAQ control solutions are working over long periods of time and in constantly changing conditions?

These questions are answered by the continuous monitoring of CO₂ levels, which gleans invaluable data to drive informed, decisive action when it’s needed, not after a risk gets out of control.

This is critical in context of the ongoing management of COVID-19, but also in limiting the impact of harmful ‘forever chemicals’ (known as PFAS in industry), plus extraordinary contaminants such as smoke resulting from Australia’s lengthening bushfire seasons.

Although there has been increased investment in the likes of handheld CO₂ monitoring sensors, most of these devices offer spot testing of air quality. They capture data to test air quality at one point in time, and rely on people being physically present to read the data displayed on a device’s screen. This makes measurement and risk assessment a mammoth – and often very tedious – task.

While that information is useful, it only refers to the immediate location, and can’t provide insight to IAQ from the opposite end of the room or within multiple rooms across different buildings. That’s problematic – air quality is dynamic, can switch from healthy to unhealthy in a matter of minutes, and can vary greatly across different rooms and buildings scattered across multiple locations.

However, once battery-powered devices are connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), they are always online to inform IAQ monitoring systems that work around the clock to collect air quality data every few minutes – and they don’t need wi-fi or power supplies to run.

By IoT-enabling IAQ monitoring, facility managers gain a reliable way to measure indoor environments continuously, and without needing to be physically present or conduct manual spot-checks.

Take, for example, recent investments into sensors from the Victorian and ACT state governments. By combining these low-cost and battery-powered devices with dedicated networks and data analytics, authorities can supercharge these purchases to establish centralised, remote monitoring capabilities and alerts for CO₂, temperature, humidity and other factors to determine the best, immediate actions that could be taken to keep students and teachers safe. That same model works just as well in any professional and social setting or event.

As reported by FM last month, the University of Adelaide’s Geoff Hanmer, who is also a member of OzSAGE, highlighted “We’ve basically been happy enough to have air that is comfortable and doesn’t smell, rather than air that is of good quality” and this is indeed a consequence of the current National Construction Code.

With IoT-enabled IAQ monitoring in the mix, existing efforts to ventilate by opening windows and installing purifiers on gut instinct will be elevated to long-term solutions to ensure Australia can safely ‘live with COVID’, and leverage the insights offered by technology to shape future policy that benefits our health beyond the pandemic and its potential future variants.

For more info visit Thinxtra’s website

Nick Lambrou is chief executive officer at Australian technology company Thinxstra.

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