Many people that know me also know that I am very involved with the San Diego Green Building Council. One of the programs I allocate quite a bit of time to is our highly regarded Green Assistance Program (GAP), which gives our volunteer community an opportunity to work on improving the operations and maintenance of facilities belonging to other local nonprofits. A big part of that process includes evaluating indoor air quality and identifying the no- and low-cost upgrades that can improve health for occupants.
Few people, even in the design and construction industry, realize the impact of indoor air quality on human comfort. It is subtle, and often very subjective. However, clear objective standards do exist.
The difficulty is in making it easy for people to evaluate the indoor air quality of their spaces, as the equipment for taking objective readings can be quite expensive. But Illah Nourbakhsh, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab, developed a low-cost indoor air quality monitoring product called Speck that will hopefully change that:
Even perfectly healthy people can be harmed in the long term by polluted air, Noorbaksh says. “We’re talking about the kind of heart conditions like arrhythmia, like cardiovascular disease,” he says. “Those are things that are going to not necessarily kill you, but they’re going to make the quality of your life go down.”
For now, Pittsburgh libraries are the only ones to make the Speck available to borrowers. But the CREATE Lab is trying to place the monitors for lending in other libraries across the country. People with low incomes tend to live in areas with the worst air quality, Noobaksh emphasizes. Those who can’t afford their own Speck — each costs $200 — can borrow one for a few weeks.
Ultimately, Nourbakhsh says, the goal is to change behaviors. Since the quality of a room’s air can be affected by a variety of ordinary household activities, Nourbakhsh says the monitor can help people identify and change habits that contribute to poor air quality. For example, people can make sure air is vented while cooking, put a filter over a window air conditioner unit or vacuum long before the kids get home, giving particles time to settle.