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While New York City made headlines in June by registering the worst outdoor air quality of any major city in the world, the story left out one equally disconcerting fact: For most Americans, the concentration of pollutants is often much higher inside of the home than outside of it, according to the EPA — and that’s true regardless of whether you live in an urban, suburban, or rural area.

The takeaway? If you think you’re always breathing healthy, unpolluted air in the safety of your home, think again.

In fact, it’s one of the reasons many homeowners are buying smart home devices to monitor indoor air quality (IAQ) right now. But how do these devices work, where do they add value, and what features should you look for? Here’s a quick rundown of everything you need to know.

Related Post: Breathe Easy by Improving Your Home’s Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

Key Benefits of IAQ Monitoring

The adverse health effects of exposure to poor IAQ range from mild irritation of the eyes and throat to headaches, respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer, according to the EPA. Poor IAQ can also exacerbate a number of existing health conditions for people in your household, including:

  • Asthma

  • Allergies

  • Emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or other chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) conditions

So there are a lot of compelling reasons for most people to start monitoring the air quality in their home right now. In fact, doctors have described these devices as “very beneficial,” even if you’re healthy, because they can identify sources of indoor air pollution and help you eliminate or mitigate them right away.

Say, for example, the readings from your IAQ device are generally healthy for most of the day, but spike most nights around 6 p.m. when you’re often in the kitchen cooking. In that case, the solution might be as simple as increasing ventilation by turning on the range hood and opening up windows during meal prep.

If, however, the problem proves more widespread and identifying the source becomes complicated, you might consider installing an air cleaning system to facilitate particle removal. But the first step in either case is identifying what the root cause is — and whether it’s a long-term health challenge or a short-term deviation from the norm.

Related Post: Colds and Flu and Your IAQ

How IAQ Monitors Work

Before going further, it’s probably worth answering a fundamental question. Namely, how do IAQ monitoring devices work?

In the simplest terms, IAQ monitors use a combination of optical particle sensors and other sensor technologies to detect, monitor, and report on a wide range of contaminants and pollutants in indoor spaces. However, to promote home health — and to help guard against the negative health impacts associated with poor IAQ outlined above — here are the most important things to track with your IAQ monitoring devices:

  • Mold (or mold risk): Fungal growth typically associated with moist environments that can cause asthma attacks and irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs

  • Particulate matter (PM): Droplets of liquid, dry solid fragments, and solid cores with liquid coatings that are very small — particulate matter (PM2.5), for example, is more than 100 times thinner than human hair — and can remain suspended in the air for long periods of time, travel deep into the respiratory tract, reach the lungs, and enter the bloodstream.

  • Radon: An odorless, invisible, radioactive gas that can get into your home through small cracks or holes, potentially causing lung cancer and other health conditions over time

  • Volatile organic compounds (VOC): Formaldehyde and other contaminants that can enter the the air in your home via cleaning supplies and “off-gassing” — the airborne release of a chemical — from rugs, furniture, and more

Additionally, since outdoor air quality directly impacts indoor air quality, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on the former as well. Many IAQ monitors come with this as a built-in capability; if not, you can easily use the AirNow app from the EPA.

You should also be aware that IAQ monitoring devices are not viable replacements for emergency alert devices like CO2 and CO alarms or smoke detectors that notify you of potentially life-threatening situations requiring immediate attention. For this reason, you should have battery-operated emergency alert devices installed at home alongside any IAQ monitoring devices.

What to Look for in an IAQ Monitoring Device

What’s the right kind of IAQ monitoring device for your home? The answer to that question largely depends on your needs and goals, of course, but it’s going to reflect what’s on the market as well.

At this point, virtually every IAQ monitor designed for at-home use is either a dedicated “smart” device — meaning that it connects to the cloud through your home Wi-Fi network and probably has a smartphone app to go with it — or offers something similar as an optional or add-on capability. With that in mind, there are effectively two different models of IAQ devices to choose from:

  • Wall- or ceiling-mounted IAQ devices: Devices designed to measure IAQ in the room or rooms around them — these can be room-based or whole-home solutions, in other words.

  • Portable, handheld models: Battery-powered devices that are lightweight enough for you to carry from room to room

The primary difference here, as you can probably tell, has to do with the size of the space you want to monitor. If your home is on the smaller side, or if there’s only one room in which IAQ is a concern, a portable option might be the right choice. Otherwise, a wall- or ceiling-mounted model probably makes the most sense. (The EPA recommends installing one sensor for every 10,000 square feet of indoor space, so for most residences, one monitor should be enough. Check the specs on any model you buy to make sure it’s rated for your square footage.)

If your air-quality concerns are centered around age- or health-related risks, it may be best to first consult with the relevant doctors, then meet with an IAQ expert in order to determine the best IAQ solution for your home.

Related Post: How to Improve Home Health and Lower Energy Bills with Smart Home Technology

Next Steps

Sourcing and implementing the right smart monitoring device is an easy first step if you’re interested in understanding not only what causes your IAQ to change over time, but also what you can do to correct it. Just be sure to keep the pointers outlined above in mind as you begin exploring smart IAQ products.

In the meantime, if you’re really serious about improving your home’s performance across the board, download Green Door. Armed with our free app, it’s easy to identify home performance improvements that will deliver the most bang for your buck, find rebates and tax credits, connect with vetted Pearl Network Contractors, arrange for Pearl Certified installation, and more.

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