There has been an explosion of “air monitoring” devices in the last couple years. Just as it is with the fitness tracker trend, there are many different models and brands with varying options and prices. We have pulled many of the individual specification sheets together and have asked our chemists to review for a scientific viewpoint on the pitfalls and benefits of investing in an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) continuous monitor.
Why the push for improved indoor air quality? As builders and designers are improving the efficiency of the home to save on energy costs long term, we are experiencing an unintended drawback – breathing dirty indoor air. Our home’s breathing air is polluted with the build up of chemicals and particulates from our everyday products, belongings, pets, ourselves, and building materials. Always looking to either improve efficiency or lessen impact, manufacturers are jumping on board to improve formulations. Many retailers have multiple “Green” products available to purchase.
Clean indoor air quality is more difficult to obtain than simply switching to green alternatives and replacing the air filters. It involves linking the poor air quality to an activity, event, or change in products used. Indoor air sensors are filling this missing link and are helping consumers change not only the brands they are using but more importantly their actions that cause poor indoor air quality. Maintaining healthy indoor air is easier and more effective when individuals know what is causing dirty and poor quality air.
Indoor air quality includes a number of different factors. Monitoring devices available commercially have a wide variety of analytes ranging from particulate to humidity to chemical levels. Though these monitors help alert to changes in the indoor environment real time, many lack the clarity of what specific chemical or particulate is elevated. Manufacturers simply cannot pack all the power of a full laboratory into a small, sleek, and affordable design.
Specifics of the contaminants in the air, beyond the already available monitors such as CO and CO2, is only available through a laboratory and/or IAQ consultant. Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) and Particulate Matter (PM) concentrations are the more difficult to analyze in the indoor air environment. Often, both monitors and laboratories, will report both the VOC and PM as total levels.
PM can be reported based on it’s different sizes and therefore your report or monitor may include more than one PM level. Common PM readings fall under PM10, PM2.5, and PM0.5. The smaller the size the smaller the particle and this is correlated to the danger or risk of reaching deeper into the lungs. Many labs can take the particulate analysis a level further to report what type of contaminants are found and if they are at normal or abnormal levels. Some of the particulate categories include mold spores, pollen, dander, mineral, or fibers. This level of detail is not readily available in real time home monitors.
VOC determination can be more complicated with the vast number of compounds that can be identified. Many monitors will detect and calculate to a moderately weighted compound such as Toluene or Hexane. This method of reporting a Total VOC calculation is commonly recognized in the industry. It can be much less accurate in environments when the VOCs present are on the lighter or heavier end of molecular weights. This method of testing for VOCs is best for long term data logging and helping to identify specific activities in the home that are having the most adverse effect on the overall indoor air quality. Analysis in the lab will be required when there is a known chemical concern, specific sensitivities of one or more individual, or when there are unexplained spikes on a monitor or more than one activity is triggering the “Poor Indoor Air” event on the monitor.
In summary, like the fitness bands sending reminders to be more active, get better sleep, etc., indoor air quality monitors can help train our actions, purchases, and habits for the best indoor air quality at home. Just as it is with fitness bands and regular physician check ups, at home monitors do not replace the real deal laboratory verified check up on the indoor air quality of the home.
Did You Know? We take in more air per day by volume than we do daily of water and food combined. Let’s make sure each breath is as pure and clean as we can!