Investigation of Indoor Air Quality in Student Residences

Get Involved!

We are launching a new study to investigate indoor air quality in U of Alberta student residences

Would like to participate? Registration link at the bottom of the page. We are accepting new registrants!

Interested? Registration link at the bottom of the page. We are accepting new registrants!

Introduction and Background

How much time did you spend indoors yesterday? Humans spend more than 90% of the time indoors, and this percentage is likely near 100% for a hardworking student like you! Indoor air quality (IAQ) is just so important for our health, wellbeing, and even productivity!

There are many unique sources of air pollutants indoors: cooking, cleaning, humidifiers, and more! Everyone’s lifestyle is different, likely giving rise to different levels of air pollutants in individual dormitories and residences.

All that said, there are surprisingly few case studies of IAQ in student residences across Canada and the globe. Providing detailed information in each individual residence is challenging because we cannot setup many research-grade instruments at the same time. Those instruments each comes with the size of a BBQ grill and costs the price of a car!

That’s why our group is proposing to use low-cost air quality sensors like the one on the picture. The low cost ($100), small size (smaller than your lunch box), quietness, and low power requirement (uses a standard USB cable) make it a good fit to study IAQ in student dorms.

Sensor placed inside a wooden housing. This sensor measures particulate matter and CO2 while sending data through the internet.

Our Objective

  • To continuously monitor IAQ parameters (particulate matter, carbon dioxide (CO2), temperature, and relative humidity) in student residences during the 21-22 school year.
  • To find factors and reasons affecting indoor air quality.
  • To make recommendations to Residence Services and Energy Management and Sustainable Operation if improvement is needed.

What are we measuring?

Temperature and relative humidity – These are important parameters for a comfortable living area.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) – While CO2 is known as a greenhouse gas in the outside atmosphere, it serves as an important indicator for air exchange rate indoors. CO2 is released from our breathe. Cumulation of CO2 usually indicate poor ventilation.

Particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) – These are small dust particles suspended in the air. They are known to cause health issues in both the outside and indoor air. In particular, PM2.5 is so important that most of the governments lists it as a standard measure of air quality. PM is a major research topic in our group, if you are interested in learning more.

How are we measuring?

Measurements will be made by a low-cost sensor built by our group. It contains sensor bits to detect all the above parameters, and a little computer (microprocessor) is communicating with and collecting data from all the sensor bits. In the picture, we show a prototype that uses ESP8266 NodeMCU, a type of microprocess that can talk with the internet directly. Data will be sent to and securely stored in an online database.

The inside of the sensor. We love the DIY spirit!

Your Involvement

We will ask you to install a small sensor at your residence for a few month. We are not planning to ask you to take any actions during this period of time, though, we will ask you to take a good care of the sensor. We will also send you a link for a month questionnaire with a few questions to identify factors that can affect IAQ. The questionnaires should take about 5 min each. As a token of appreciation, each participant will receive a gift card at the end of the study.

We are hoping to hand you with a sensor, a USB charger, and a smart plug as shown in the picture below. The smart plug will allow the research team to turn off and on the sensors remotely (for reboot and other troubleshooting). You can also monitor the air quality in your residence through a link we sent you (second picture below).

An example setup. The sensor is connected to a standard USB charger powered by a smart plug. The smart plug allows the research team to reboot the sensor remotely.

We will send you a link to a ThingSpeak channel, from which you can monitor the air pollutant levels yourself.

How to get started?

To participate, you must be living in a on-campus U of A residence and have a plan to stay for a least a few more months.

To participate, please fill out this registration questionnaire. The research team will reach back shortly for eligible participants. Thank you for your interest!

Registration Link

Disclaimer and Acknowledgement

This project has been approved by Research Ethics Office of the University of Alberta. Ethics ID#: Pro00112541
For any questions, please directly reach out to the PI Ran Zhao.

This study is supported by the University of Alberta Campus Sustainability Grant Program.