Preventing environmental hazards with connected home tech

Smart home tech, such as the Nest Protect Smoke + CO Alarm shown here, can enable real-time detection and alerts for smoke and carbon monoxide events in the home. Image: Nest.
Smart home tech, such as the Nest Protect Smoke + CO Alarm shown here, can enable real-time detection and alerts for smoke and carbon monoxide events in the home. Image: Nest.

Americans spend an average of 90% of their time inside, where pollutants can be up to five times more concentrated than they are outside, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These pollutants, such as mold or carbon monoxide (CO), pose health risks ranging from minor irritation to heart disease or can even lead to death. In light of such serious dangers, a commonly overlooked benefit to smart home technology is its ability to help homeowners combat environmental hazards.

Although 63% of consumers in a report by August Home and Xfinity Home cited family safety as a motivating factor to adopt smart home tech, those surveyed expressed the most interest in products designed to protect against intruders—like smart cameras, doorbells, and locks—rather than products designed to prevent health hazards that can pose a less obvious safety risk.

But it’s possible that some homeowners simply remain unaware of indoor environmental issues and the smart home products that can aid in prevention. Science and technology continue to advance, and in a few years we may see a huge leap forward in this particular function of connected home devices. Yet even now, concerned consumers can choose from a number of possibilities. Below, we explore some of the environmental hazards commonly found in homes and how smart home technology can help guard against them.

Carbon monoxide

Any device that consumes fuel produces CO during its combustion process. In your home, that could be a gas stove, a water heater, furnace, other non-electric appliances, and more. While low levels of carbon monoxide are non-toxic, it’s easy for this invisible, odorless gas to go undetected even in large amounts—and then it can be lethal.

SafeWise recommends installing carbon monoxide detectors near every bedroom in your home, as well as in your kitchen and basement (where you might have more appliances that rely on combustion and thus produce more carbon monoxide). Smart CO detectors can sync with your home automation apps to enable remote monitoring and to generate real-time alerts.

Fires and smoke

The National Fire Protection Association reports that U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 358,500 home structure fires every year. Cooking and heating equipment as well as electrical equipment are among the leading causes of home fires.

By connecting small appliances through a smart plug, the attached device can be turned off and on remotely from your smartphone. The iDevices Switch shown here works through the iDevices Connected app, Amazon Alexa digital assistant, Apple HomeKit, and other systems. Image: Digitized House Media.
By connecting small appliances through a smart plug, the attached device can be turned off and on remotely from your smartphone. The iDevices Switch shown here works through the iDevices Connected app, Amazon Alexa digital assistant, Apple HomeKit, and other systems. Image: Digitized House Media.

If you ever stress over whether you left the iron on at home, you might want to install smart plugs. These devices enable you to check the status of plugs and switch them off remotely, so anything plugged into those outlets gets turned off too—thus helping to prevent electrical fires. But in addition to smart plugs, smart smoke detectors provide an additional layer of protection. Like smart CO detectors, smoke detectors can alert you of danger even when you’re not home, and they can be controlled through your phone.

Mold

While otherwise healthy people may find themselves sensitive to mold, developing symptoms coughs and nasal congestion, anyone with a compromised immune system will be at a higher risk for serious lung infections resulting from mold.

A smart water sensor from Belkin International and Uponor, Phyn Plus is a sophisticated water monitor designed to immediately alert the homeowner and automatically shut off the home water supply in the event of a leak. Image: Pyhn.
A smart water sensor from Belkin International and Uponor, Phyn Plus is a sophisticated water monitor designed to immediately alert the homeowner and automatically shut off the home water supply in the event of a leak. Image: Pyhn.

Unfortunately, mold can be hard to detect before it reaches dangerous levels. Often it grows out of sight wherever there is excessive moisture in your home. A smart water sensor can help detect the issue early on by notifying homeowners of unnoticed pipe leaks happening behind the walls, or flooding in the basement. Some of these smart sensor accessories can automatically turn off the water as soon as a leak is detected.

In the bath, installing a smart exhaust fan timer switch can be an effective defense against mold formation by running the fan for a prescribed interval with a single tap, or by automatically coming on if a high humidity event is detected.

Radon

Studies show a link between radon exposure and lung cancer. Because radon is a common, naturally occurring radioactive gas, the EPA recommends that all homeowners test radon levels in their home. Smart radon detectors are less common than other smart devices designed to protect against environmental hazards, such as smoke detectors, but at least one company has released a smart radon detector that syncs with smartphones.

As the general public grows more aware of the potential of smart technology to safeguard not only against home invasions but also against environmental health hazards, the field will continue to progress in that direction. Consumers want to protect their families, and preserving their health is a natural extension of that concern.

More about this topic:

YzOak smart plugs and light sockets, powerhouses in small packages
First Alert Onelink Safe and Sound smoke alarm brings speaker and Amazon Alexa to ceilings
Roost begins shipments of Smart Smoke Alarm
Smart water futures gain steam at CES 2018
Digitized House Magazine

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Kelsey Down
About Kelsey Down 2 Articles
Kelsey Down is a freelance writer based in Salt Lake City who specializes in technology, home, and parenting—and the areas where all those subjects intersect. Her work has been featured in Realtor Magazine, TechSpective, Working Mother, and other publications. Follow her on Twitter @kladown23.