Indoor Air Quality Monitoring FAQs
Research shows the average person spends around 90 percent of their time indoors. That makes the quality of the air we breathe indoors essential for good health, comfort, and optimal performance for work and study. This FAQ answers some of the most common questions Thinxtra and its partners receive about commercial-scale indoor air quality monitoring solutions.
What is Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)?
Air quality is a measure of how clean or polluted air is. Breathing polluted air can be harmful to our health and our environment. Depending on the indoor environment the requirements for IAQ monitoring may vary. The monitoring of a dusty manufacturing plant would require different monitoring as compared to an office meeting room.
What is Indoor Air Quality Monitoring and why is it important?
Indoor air quality monitoring uses technology to continually gather data on the particles, chemicals, and other pollutants in your air. Collecting air quality data, versus doing one-off tests, helps facilities managers, building owners, and residents understand where problems are happening and gives the insights necessary to make targeted improvements.
Employers who accurately monitor indoor air quality provide safer, more comfortable environments for employees, customers, and visitors with air free from potentially dangerous pollutants and chemicals. Environments with cleaner air report higher retention levels, reduced absenteeism, and increased productivity. Science proves that monitoring indoor air quality to improve ventilation reduces the risk of COVID-19 transmission inside.
What is carbon dioxide (CO2) monitoring and why is it important to minimise the threat of COVID 19 transmission?
Humans exhale carbon dioxide (CO2). CO2 monitoring can identify a build-up of CO2 in a particular area to indicate where ventilation is required. There is strong evidence suggesting that improving ventilation can reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission indoors. CO2 monitoring is a common proxy to show when ventilation needs improvement.
What is a CO2 meter or monitor and how does it work?
A CO2 meter is a sensor that measures concentrations of CO2 gas. For many years, businesses and individuals have used CO2 meters to help assess ventilation requirements using CO2 concentrations as a key indicator of degrading air quality. As the world opens after the COVID-19 pandemic, there is growing interest in how CO2 meters can help reduce the risk of indoor virus transmission by indicating when ventilation improvements are required.
What makes real-time IAQ monitoring so valuable?
Real-time IAQ monitoring systems collect air quality data every few minutes 24×7 via remotely managed sensors. Reliable, continuous monitoring means you’ll receive an alert as soon as a problem area is detected, enabling fast corrective action. Other IAQ solutions offer data on air quality based on information captured periodically, which makes it challenging, time-consuming, and costly to pinpoint problem areas.
How does the IoT enable real-time IAQ monitoring?
IoT-enabled IAQ monitoring is a reliable method to measure indoor air quality in real-time continually. IoT-enabled IAQ monitoring enables the remote, continuous measurement of indoor air quality without manual checks. Smart air quality sensors and web-based applications connect to the cloud via a network that transfers information to the data platform of your choice. This connected capability provides a real-time view of indoor air quality.
IoT-enabled IAQ monitoring is always-on, non-intrusive, and provides a fast, cost-effective method to assess indoor air quality across multiple facilities. Reporting is available on-demand and doesn’t rely on slow, costly, error-prone manual checks.
What are the most common IAQ "parameters"?
“Parameters” describe the levels of different pollutants monitored and measured by IAQ monitoring systems. The most common IAQ monitoring parameters include:
- carbon dioxide (CO2)
- particulate matter (PM0.5, PM1.0, PM2.5, PM5.0, and PM10)
- Volatile Organic Compounds
Is regular spot testing of air quality sufficient to understand air quality?
Ad hoc indoor air quality measurements capture data at a point in time. However, air quality is dynamic. It changes from healthy to unhealthy in less than a minute with pollutants or poor ventilation. IAQ monitoring systems are always-on, offer on-demand insight to air quality and historical data for reporting, and issue alerts to enable fast corrective action.
Is it valuable to have an independent source of IAQ monitoring data?
Yes. Best practice IAQ monitoring systems provide dedicated, reliable insight into the air quality in your indoor environments. An independent data source ensures easier access and faster insights for all stakeholders to improve decision-making around corrective actions to improve indoor air quality.
If I deploy air purifiers, humidifiers, HVAC upgrades, or other measures, do I still need IAQ monitoring?
You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Reliable, real-time, fact-based insights into indoor air quality problem areas provide critical context to know what specific action to take to improve your air quality. Corrective action may mean the placement of additional purifiers or humidifiers, an upgrade to an HVAC system, mould investigation, improved ventilation, or another action unique to your situation. Some remedial solutions, including purifiers and humidifiers, have built-in IAQ. While useful, these “point solutions” only measure IAQ at their location and cannot provide insight to IAQ from the opposite end of the room or within multiple rooms across different buildings.
Do IoT-enabled IAQ monitoring systems need to be integrated with my IT infrastructure or access a dedicated mains power supply?
No. IoT-enabled IAQ monitoring systems do not need the power, network connectivity, databases, or business intelligence tools of your existing infrastructures to operate effectively. You may choose to integrate the data collected by the IAQ system with your current dashboards, but this is entirely optional.
Does an IoT-enabled IAQ system need to be integrated with a Building Management System?
No. Building Management Systems (BMS) are invaluable to managing buildings efficiently and cost-effectively by optimising many aspects of a facility’s daily operations, from energy efficiency to routine maintenance tasks.
While the BMS plays a vital role in facilities management, it’s not necessary to integrate it with indoor air quality monitoring systems. IAQ data needs to be available for analysis, verification, and corrective action by multiple stakeholders, many of whom traditionally don’t have access to the BMS. Independent IAQ monitoring systems help ensure the right information reaches the right person at the right time to take the best action to provide a safe indoor environment.
How many IAQ sensors do I need?
Many environmental variables influence how many IAQ sensors are needed and what kind of monitoring capabilities are required. Deciding how many sensors are needed starts with answering two questions: What do you need to learn about air quality? And in what spaces does air quality need monitoring? It also depends on the specifications of the sensor technology and how they cover indoor space. Answering these questions begins to define the number of sensors required, the most appropriate type of sensor, the ideal placement, and more. For example, if you want to monitor only CO2 across the buildings, you need to know the number of rooms and the size of them to know how many sensors per 100 sqm you might need.
What is the difference between IAQ monitoring and testing?
IAQ monitoring collects air quality data 24×7 using sensors. IAQ monitoring systems gather and store data on indoor air quality, enabling historical and predictive analysis.
IAQ testing is a one-off event performed by a technician who assesses air quality with a handheld device. Testing indoor air quality gives insight into air quality at a snapshot in time only.
Air quality changes in an instant. The only way to confidently assure occupant safety and wellbeing is through always-on IAQ monitoring.
How does IoT-enabled IAQ monitoring work?
Three components working together are necessary for effective IAQ monitoring:
- Hardware. Compact battery-powered IoT devices placed in your facility monitor data and collect data on your required indoor air quality parameters.
- Network connectivity. A wireless network moves data collected by the IAQ devices to a centralised data platform.
- Software. A centralised data platform tracks, analyses, and shares IAQ data, issues alerts and offers historical context for reporting and analysis.
How long does it take to install and connect an IoT-enabled IAQ monitoring system?
It depends. If a monitoring device requires a power supply, hardwiring, or access to networks such as WiFi, the installation process can become complex, intrusive, costly, and time-consuming. Alternatively, battery-powered IAQ monitoring devices from Thinxtra and its partners take minutes to install and instantly connect to Thinxtra’s 0G Network.
What information can you expect to get from an IAQ monitoring system?
Well-designed IoT-enabled IAQ monitoring solutions provide:
- real-time data visualisation on monitored spaces
- notifications and alerts based on air quality changes anywhere, anytime
- historical reporting and analytics
- a centralised view of all sensors, anywhere, anytime
- fact-based insights to improve your decision-making on where to place remedial treatments.
Do I need one sensor per parameter I want to measure?
No. Many IAQ sensors measure multiple parameters, including CO2, temperature, and humidity, at a minimum. Some pollutants, such as certain particulate matter or volatile organic compounds, require specific sensors. Thinxtra and its partners have the experience to recommend the most viable sensor, or combination of sensors, for every use case.
What maintenance do IoT-enabled IAQ monitoring systems need?
It depends on the solution and can vary significantly. IoT-enabled IAQ monitoring systems available through Thinxtra and its partners are maintenance-free because we provide:
- simple, instant connectivity to our public 0G Network dedicated to the IoT
- five-year battery life
- monitoring devices require no calibration over time
- no need for wiring to connect to the network or power sources
- real-time, remote visibility to each device’s operating status.
How are IoT-enabled IAQ sensors powered?
IoT-enabled IAQ monitoring systems connected to the 0G Network run on devices powered by long-life batteries, which don’t need changing or re-charging for up to five years. Removing the need for devices to connect to traditional power supplies makes installation fast and easy, reduces maintenance, and helps meet sustainability goals.
How do I choose suitable IAQ monitoring sensors for my needs?
Choosing the best IAQ monitoring sensors starts with understanding what you want to measure, in what location, and how often. Answering these fundamental questions guides you through decisions on:
- Single parameter sensors may be the best fit if you want to track one specific parameter, such as CO2 levels or VOC.
- Multi-parameter sensors will be required if you’re seeking to track multiple parameters, such as CO2, humidity or temperature.
2. System requirements.
- Network connectivity. There are several options to link IAQ monitoring sensors to the cloud and a data platform. The Thinxtra 0G Network provides low-cost, always-on, publicly available network connectivity out of the box.
- Power supply. Battery-powered IoT devices are an appealing option compared to the expense and complexity of wiring in additional power supplies.
- Installation sites. Deciding where to place sensors for optimal monitoring performance will likely influence the sensor choice.
3. Functional needs.
- Data visibility is what unlocks the true value of IoT-enabled monitoring systems. Choosing sensors to collect the data you need and sharing it with a central platform to guide decision-making influences sensor(s) required for your environment.
- Reporting. Centralised, real-time reporting across all sensors and facilities is essential to provide safe indoor environments for occupants. Not all sensors are created equal so get clarity on your ideal reporting needs for today and the future to choose the best-fit sensor.
- Size. In a populated indoor space, your preference may be for a discreet sensor. Yet, it’s essential not to compromise on functionality. Weighing the commercial value against aesthetics may also influence your decision on the sensor type.
- Alerts and thresholds
What do I need to know about hardware for IoT-enabled IAQ monitoring systems?
IAQ monitoring devices should be proven, scalable and available off-the-shelf to seamlessly create end-to-end IoT solutions across many indoor environments and different facilities. It is important to note that the CO2 monitoring device is only part of the solution and need to be evaluated together with the right network and data visualisation components you require for a fit-for-purpose solution. Key considerations for IoT-enabled IAQ monitors include:
- long-life battery-powered devices
- maintenance-free hardware, requiring no calibration
- easy, fast set up and installation and “set and forget” operability
- remote configuration for system changes (no need to physically visit one or more sensors to make updates or changes)
- multi-parameter measurements through a single device
- no power supply or hard wiring needed
- reliable network connectivity and data transmission in challenging environments, including underground locations and through different building materials (brick, concrete, stone, and timber) without network cabling
- no specific technical skills required to install or maintain
- simple mounting options using commonly available screws or double-sided tape
- flexibility to move devices as required
- secure, non-intrusive devices
- straightforward reporting capabilities.
What are essential considerations for IAQ data collection and reporting?
The value of IoT-enabled IAQ monitoring systems lies in the value of the data these solutions deliver to administrators and decision-makers. Optimise the data collection and reporting capabilities of your IAQ monitoring system by considering its ability to:
- reliable accurate measurements
- set one or more parameter thresholds
- perform continuous monitoring
- reliably transmit data at regular frequencies
- integrate data into existing infrastructure without “locking” it in a system that needs specialist access
- provide remote visibility and real-time information
- deliver easy, meaningful reporting across multiple sensors and centralised reporting for real-time and historical analysis
- provide easily understood information that doesn’t need a data scientist to explain its meaning.
How to choose the right IoT network connection?
The choice of the IAQ monitoring device determines the most appropriate network connection. The type of network connectivity has significant implications for the overall implementation, maintenance costs, and risks and, therefore, needs to be part of the hardware selection. Key considerations to choose the right IoT network connection include:
- Connecting to WiFi or Bluetooth networks requires coverage testing and densification, setup, and ongoing maintenance. Other internal networks may require hardwiring wiring and IT support to set up.
- Cellular connectivity options such as 3G, 4G or 5G require a power supply or frequent battery replacement.
- Connecting IoT devices to Thinxtra’s public 0G Network means devices are able to be easily connected without complex, time-consuming, costly processes and require no maintenance. The 0G Network is reliable, purpose-built for the IoT, and performs to high service level agreements.
What are the other benefits of monitoring Indoor Air Quality? (Productivity, Sustainability, Health...) How does an IoT-enabled IAQ monitoring system support sustainability objectives?
IoT-enabled IAQ monitoring systems are a low-cost, low-power solution to assess indoor air quality and meet sustainability goals through:
- using long-life exchangeable batteries to power monitoring sensors
- requiring minimal power to operate a reliable, robust IAQ monitoring solution
- needing no additional hardware or wiring to work effectively
- improves energy use by:
- optimising HVAC system operations to ventilate spaces when necessary
- reducing heating and cooling loads by measuring relative humidity and temperature levels inside a building.
What is the science behind CO2 Monitoring to build COVID-19 resilience with better Indoor Air Quality?
There are many publicly available resources on the value of IAQ monitoring. We recommend the following reading as quality references for Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Macau:
- CSIRO Media Release: Beating The $12 Billion Cost of Polluted Air (Australia)
- Publications by Lidia Morawska, Professor and Director, International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health; Co-Director for Australia, Australia-China Centre for Air Quality Science and Management (Australia)
- Guidelines from Safe Work Australia Managing the Work Environment and Facilities (Australia)
- Ambient Air Quality guidelines: 2022 update (New Zealand)
- A guide on Indoor Air Quality Certification Schemes for Offices and Public Spaces (Hong Kong)
- Indoor Air Quality measurement in Hong Kong (Hong Kong)
- Indoor Air Quality guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency (United States)