Can Smart Homes Help Prevent Mold?


Many of us have heard about the harmful effects of mold. We have family members, friends, or colleagues who suffer from allergic or respiratory problems that are related to mold. Can smart home products help minimize mold and positively impact people’s health?

Mold spores are present in most indoor spaces. They are found in household dust. At low concentrations, these mold spores do not cause issues for most people. However, when combined with certain environmental conditions, those mold spores can grow. And when large quantities of mold spores are present, people are susceptible to the harmful effects of mold.

Some homeowners were recently surprised when Ecovent — a smart vent manufacturer — reached out to warn them that specific rooms in their home had the environmental conditions that are conducive to the growth of mold. These customers did not expect their smart vent manufacturer to do this. It was not a capability they purchased, or a capability that Ecovent promised to deliver. However, because these people had certain sensors in their home, and because the folks at Ecovent took advantage of data science, they were able to have this unexpected benefit.

Ecovent is a smart home product that provides room-by-room zoning for heating and air conditioning. Many people purchase Ecovent to address situations where some rooms are distinctly colder or warmer than others. It helps homeowners get their desired temperature in every room of their home. In order to provide this room-by-room zoning, Ecovent places temperature, humidity, and pressure sensors in each room. These sensors are the key to Ecovent being able to detect the environmental conditions that are conducive to mold growth.

After reaching out, one homeowner responded by saying “…thank you so much for reaching out… the diagnosis of the system makes sense to me…” Another responded by indicating “…I am not surprised… it is surprisingly nice to hear there is a report dealing with humidity.” Another responded by asking for help locating someone in Miami who provides mold remediation services.

This recent outreach was not the first time that Ecovent helped identify mold for its customers. In Ecovent’s early days, a system check on a new customer revealed that some vents were getting less air than others (because of pressure sensors in the vents). After investigation, they discovered duct issues that were causing cool air to escape inside the walls, leading to condensation to form in the walls and mold growth. Thankfully, the homeowner could address the issue before it became more serious. They wrote Ecovent to say “this journey may have saved my life… I’ve been through the black mold thing before, with guys in Hazmat suits and massive insurance claims, and now I’m looking at the same thing again — but I found it and have been able to mitigate it because of Ecovent.”

The smart device market is exploding. Many homes are adding smart thermostats, smart security systems, smart door bells, smart assistants, and more. Several of these smart devices are deploying sensors around the home. When we can leverage these sensors and apply data science, the outcome can be both unexpected and beneficial to the homeowner.

Conor O’Mahony is head of product at ConnectM Technologies. Contact us if you are interested in using the Aurai platform to apply data science to indoor climate and air quality sensors.

Is Energy Efficiency Slowly Killing my Family?


Energy efficiency is a good thing, right?  For as long as I can remember, I’ve associated energy efficiency with positive connotations.  I have felt a level of satisfaction when choosing an energy efficient appliance.  However, my latest explorations are causing me to question our singular focus on energy efficiency.

I recently joined a company who focuses on making indoor spaces healthier and more comfortable.  One of the best things about starting any new job is the learning curve.  I am always happiest when learning, and this subject matter is particularly interesting.  I am playing with all sorts of sensors: temperature, pressure, humidity, carbon dioxide, particulate matter (i.e. dust), volatile organic compounds (i.e. chemicals in the air), and more.  Its fascinating to actively monitor data for the indoor spaces where I spend time.  And this is where things are getting interesting.

You see, last year my family completed construction of our new home.  We built this home to modern construction standards.  We have a highly insulated home, with energy-efficient doors and windows.  We had a local energy authority come to our home to meticulously address any potential air gap.  And we are reaping the financial rewards for our energy-efficient masterpiece, with eye-opening savings on heating and cooling bills.

Fast forward to my current fun with sensors.  I am discovering that there are particulate matter and volatile organic compounds in the air in our home.  This is completely natural.  There are by-products from the combustion of fossil fuels for heating and cooking; there are off-gasses from building materials, carpeting and furnishings; there are volatile organic compounds from the use of cleaning products and cosmetics.  These particulate matter and volatile organic compounds are all around us.  However, I’m discovering that during winter time the opportunities for these particulate matter and volatile organic compounds to escape from my home are limited.  After all, it is not practical to open windows when the outside temperatures are so low.  So this air is circulating around my home, and the concentrations of harmful matter are only increasing over time.

I appreciate the energy efficiency of our home.  I appreciate the energy efficiency of our Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) unit.  The manufacturer of our HVAC unit, encouraged by public policy, has invested significant amounts to create the most energy-efficient unit they can.  Of course, it is more energy efficient for them not to pull in outside air during heating and cooling cycles.  If they do pull in outside air, their units will have to do more heating in winter and more cooling in summer because of the temperature difference of the outside air.  Therefore, these manufacturers focus on essentially recycling my indoor air.  They do filter the air, before it enters the HVAC unit, but how effective is this filtering?

This is particularly concerning when you consider how much time we spend indoors.  We spend a considerable amount of time in our homes, and when we're not at home we are in workplaces, or schools, or threaders, or stores, or other indoor spaces.  In fact, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA estimates that an average American spends 87% of their time indoors.  Furthermore, EPA studies show that indoor air pollution levels are typically between two and five times greater than outdoor pollution levels.  Yes, you read that correctly… our indoor air is between two and five times more polluted than our outdoor air.

I have learnt that commercial indoor spaces often handle this better than residential indoor spaces.  Many commercial spaces actively pull outdoor air into their heating, cooling, and air conditioning systems.  However, many residential systems, at least in part driven by a desire to be as energy efficient as possible, simply recycle existing indoor air, making our homes less and less healthy during seasons when opening windows is not practical.

The ConnectM Aurai cloud platform makes it easy to perform advanced data science and machine learning on readings from a wide variety of indoor climate and air quality sensors.