Perhaps for the first time ever, indoor air quality sensing is on the front pages of national newspapers, thanks to the pandemic. Schools, offices, and buildings are racing to implement healthy building strategies with indoor air quality (IAQ) sensors.
Given the surge of interest in IAQ, this article provides a simple overview of the types of indoor air quality sensors that facilities should deploy.
Indoor air quality sensors and healthy buildings
Even before the pandemic, healthy buildings best practices emphasized improving IAQ. Why? Because IAQ isn’t just a measure of what’s in the air; it’s a measure of overall building health. Buildings with moisture problems or high levels of volatile organic compounds likely have deeper issues related to poorly functioning HVAC or building management systems. And suboptimal building systems lead to unsatisfied tenants.
Consider some data points on the importance of improving indoor air quality:
- Cognitive scores improved by 101% in well-ventilated areas, according to the EPA.
- Healthy building occupants experience up to 3.5 fewer sick days per year, per the International WELL Building Institute.
- ASHRAE recommends 3 – 6 air changes per hour — yet most schools get half the minimum recommended level — according to Harvard researchers
The pandemic has only increased awareness and interest in improving IAQ. Now, it’s time for facility managers and commercial building owners to act.
3 indoor air quality sensors you need
The first step toward improving IAQ is to measure it. Fortunately, there are all kinds of sensors — which ones are most important? Here are the three foundational indoor air quality sensors.
- Carbon dioxide sensors
It’s long been known that excessive carbon dioxide (CO2) can cause fatigue, headaches, and other maladies (it’s a condition called hypercapnia). But here’s something you may not know: You can use CO2 sensors as a gauge for the overall level of “staleness” in the air and even to detect where people are congregating. If you’re seeking a certain level of fresh air for public health reasons, you can use your CO2 sensors to sense stale air and direct ventilation efforts accordingly. Of course, you’ll need an advanced building management system (BMS) along with your sensor to make that happen quickly.
- Temperature sensors
Temperature sensors are a bit of a no brainer — every building has a thermostat. But smart temperature sensors that connect to intelligent BMSs do things that typical sensors can’t.
- Humidity sensors
Humidity is the third pillar of indoor air quality sensing — it’s your first line of defense against mold and mildew. Plus, Harvard researchers recently found that maintaining optimal relative humidity levels of 40 – 60 percent can be effective in mitigating the spread of coronaviruses.
Think beyond indoor air quality sensors
As I alluded to earlier, you can only go so far with simply installing some more IAQ sensors. Where you can amplify impact is by integrating IAQ sensors with intelligent building management systems.
Intelligent BMSs don’t just use indoor air quality sensor data — they use data from occupancy sensors, room controllers, and even meeting room booking platforms. Equipped with this data, you can direct attention where people are congregating. If one meeting room is occupied all day, your BMS can detect that and increase air exchanges there — but not in the meeting room down the hall that’s sitting empty. The same idea applies to your cleaning staff: Why clean a room that no one’s used all day?
That granular control can lead to significant efficiency gains and savings. And indoor air quality sensors are a foundational component of such a system. For more ideas on optimizing energy efficiency while improving IAQ, we’ve got 15 savvy ways to do that in this e-guide.
Federal incentives for indoor air quality sensors
Recent federal legislation has created financial incentives for schools and commercial buildings to improve IAQ. For more details on how you can fund projects for adding IAQ sensors and modernizing building management systems, check out this guide to seven funding opportunities for facility improvements. You may be surprised how far this funding could go toward transforming your building.
And check out our website if you’d like to see more specs and features of our indoor air quality sensors.