In July, three Google Street View cars roamed Denver for 750 hours, capturing 150 million data points on air quality to make people more aware of how cities ‘live and breathe’. Place-making, meet public health.

Air quality is the most fundamental component of human health. It is also, globally, one of the most threatened. In recognition of this health crisis, the most heavily weighted section of the WELL building standard is ‘Air’. From testing, monitoring and display of air quality inside your building, to filtration, ventilation, and microbe control, WELL pre-conditions and optimizations aim to limit pollutant concentrations in the buildings we live and work in.

photo credit: Joe Pemberton

photo credit: Joe Pemberton

The challenges are many though. At a building-level, increased filtration often increases pressure drop which affects air delivery and efficiency. Sensors are expensive. Many external conditions are beyond the engineers’ control (I hear stories of smoking students outside the RNL Denver office air intake…). At a more fundamental level, exposure to harmful air quality is nebulous and hard to pinpoint: ‘monitoring is complicated by the fact air is everywhere, yet scientists can’t be.’

Scientists can’t be everywhere, but in the age of the IoT (internet of things) they don’t need to be. Physical cloud, meet your virtual counterpart. Networked sensors and smartphone apps are stepping in to capture data on air pollution at a much more granular level than previously possible – specific to communities or neighborhoods rather than the nearest airport weather station. This article describes sensors and apps developed to help Joe Public track air pollution levels, including low-cost devices in recognition of the social-environmental inequity of the least affluent communities suffering the worst air quality. This is good news for our WELL projects, as we try to think of innovative, people-empowered ways to provide monitoring of the most important environmental conditions, without adding to the project budget or impeding the performance. All it takes is a few people with the smartphone app / sensor networked to the building’s website, intranet or display monitor, to create an air quality map of the project locale.