by Terrence DeFranco, CEO and President of Iota Communications, Inc.
Typically, efforts to improve the environment tend to focus on the outdoors. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, greenhouse gas emissions are down and outdoor air quality has gone up. Shutdowns of economic activity have caused transportation-related pollution to momentarily decrease. However, as we appreciate this silver lining during an otherwise dismal pandemic, studies show that there’s another area that could use some attention: indoor environments.
According to the EPA, indoor air in homes and buildings may be more polluted than outdoor air—a serious issue since people spend, on average, 90% of their time indoors, pre-COVID-19. Clearly during this pandemic, we are spending nearly 100% of our days indoors.
So what contaminants are indoors that we need to be concerned about? Radon forms as the result of uranium in soil or rock breaking down; it can also be released from building materials, such as granite. Mold grows as a result of high indoor humidity, and is known to be common in office buildings and schools. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), or organic chemicals emitted as gases from products or processes, can come from things like cleaning agents, disinfectants, air fresheners, dehumidifiers, carpet, flooring material, and even furnishings. Carbon monoxide (CO) arises from generators, poorly maintained boilers or furnaces, automobile exhaust from nearby idling vehicles, and more. Dust particles can be produced by lead-based paint, vacuuming, fireplaces, cigarette smoking, or other activities.
Measuring the Quality of Indoor Air
The presence of particular pollutants—including carbon monoxide, particulate matter (dust), VOCs, humidity, radon, and more—can be detected using Internet of Things (IoT) sensors. Placed strategically throughout a building, sensors take frequent, real-time samples of the air in every area where they are located.
The main components of environmental monitoring are:
• Energy consumption—Sensors can help you understand how and when your building uses energy. By continuously monitoring individual machinery and building operations (lighting, HVAC, ventilation, etc.), greater insight is gathered about current energy consumption and the building environment so more targeted improvements can be made.
• Air quality—IoT sensors can continuously monitor air quality for the presence of harmful pollutants such as carbon monoxide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, radon, formaldehyde, and more. Air quality monitoring can also make your building more energy efficient by activating ventilation only when carbon dioxide levels necessitate it, as opposed to running ventilation at a fixed rate. (A strategy like this could save you as much as 20% on your energy bill.)
• Water use—Flow sensors can be used to measure the volumetric flow rate of any liquid, gas, or steam—a measurement that’s particularly useful in manufacturing facilities. Changes in flow rate may be an indicator of pipe leakages or other operational malfunctions, giving you a chance to address problems before too much water is wasted.
• Temperature—It can be measured in multiple locations, not just at thermostats. In situations where strict temperature controls are required, such as for food or vaccine storage, temperature monitoring allows you to get the relevant data quickly to avoid spoilage and waste.
In the past, the concept of monitoring building operations referred to facilities personnel visiting properties and recording data from various meters. It was a time-consuming task that yielded small amounts of data.
IoT sensors, in contrast, are capable of remotely monitoring more aspects of your building’s environment more easily than traditional methods, giving greater insight into conditions and processes. IoT systems also provide a better foundation for actionable data because the data they collect is dynamic rather than static. Sensors can transmit information in 15-minute increments, giving you the ability to be more flexible and agile in your approach to building management. And the sensors monitor remotely—no staff members required.
IoT sensors are also capable of gathering more detailed data than manual monitoring methods. Not only is the data capture more frequent, but you can also attach sensors to just about anything. To make that data actionable, many IoT environmental monitoring systems have an advanced analytics component that provides context around it, helping facility managers make better decisions and reach specific goals.
Sometimes a temporary indoor air quality problem is created simply by a one-off, out-of-the-ordinary activity taking place inside a room or building, such as an overcrowded meeting area. In those cases, a short-term fix may be all that’s needed, such as opening a window or bringing in a fan. But more complex issues—identified by consistently unacceptable air quality monitoring results—will require a different tack. Depending on the issue the building is experiencing, getting an IoT reading can be appropriate.
Keep in mind that the right approach to addressing the issue isn’t always clear at the outset; therefore, it may be helpful to deploy more sensors to get a better understanding of the problem before investing time and resources in attempting to solve it.
About the Author
Terrence DeFranco is CEO and President of Iota Communications, Inc., a wireless network carrier and software service company providing Internet of Things (IoT) solutions for commercial and industrial facilities. He can be reached at tmdefranco(@)iotacommunications.com.