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Do Home Indoor Air Quality Sensors Really Detect Particle Pollution?

As proponents of improving indoor air quality, the staff at ecobeco often wondered how the lower-cost indoor air quality sensors we recommend to customers compare to the better sensors available to universities and larger commercial users. Fortunately, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories (LBNL) decided to find out in relation to PM2.5, which is arguably the most important pollutant particle size due to its ability to penetrate the human bloodstream.

We encourage customers with concerns about indoor air quality to look at ecobeco’s Smarter IAQ solution, which includes a Foobot low-cost sensor paired with a Nest thermostat, high quality filters, and a VOC destroyer light. The folks at LBNL wondered whether Foobot and similar consumer-grade sensors did a good job measuring PM2.5 particle pollutants. And the answer is… YES!!!

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In fact, Foobot appears at the very top of the LBNL results.  Reporting their findings at the Forum on Dry Climate, LBNL researchers Brett Singer and Woody Delp compared these lower-cost sensors that use light-based technology to commercial grade sensors that use weight-based technologies.

The conclusion of the research is that the top 4 monitors “appear suitable to manage IAQ” which means that they are reliably monitoring PM2.5 levels, and that the data can be used to turn on ventilation fans to help disburse the pollution.  This is exactly what the Foobot/Nest combination is designed to do.

Want to learn more about PM2.5?  Here is some information provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency: PM stands for particulate matter (also called particle pollution): the term for a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye. Others are so small they can only be detected using an electron microscope.

Particle pollution includes:

  • PM10 : inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 10 micrometers and smaller; and
  • PM2.5 : fine inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller.
    • How small is 2.5 micrometers? Think about a single hair from your head. The average human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter – making it 30 times larger than the largest fine particle.

These particles come in many sizes and shapes and can be made up of hundreds of different chemicals. Some are emitted directly from a source, such as construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, smokestacks or fires. Most particles form in the atmosphere as a result of complex reactions of chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which are pollutants emitted from power plants, industries and automobiles.

Particulate matter contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems. Particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems, because they can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into your bloodstream.

Fine particles (PM2.5) are the main cause of reduced visibility (haze) in parts of the United States, including many of our treasured national parks and wilderness areas. 

Learn more at EPA’s website by clicking here.

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