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.
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.
Looking for more tips on CO detectors and where to place them? This guide at safety.com is a good resource.
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.
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.
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.
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 sensors, such as Phyn Plus, 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.
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.
Editor’s Note: This article was revised on 06 February 2019.
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.