HUMANS OF THE U: NAIMA DAHIR

Originally post on @theU on March 9, 2019.

“I grew up in a family that never discussed environmental issues or sustainability. That was not something known to us. My parents have been through a lot—war and things like that—so sustainability and environmental justice hasn’t been a focus. We weren’t privileged enough to know about those issues or to have the resources or knowledge to know how our actions related to climate change.

When I first started college and learned about environmental racism, such as the water crisis in Flint, MI., I was taken aback at how these environmental injustices are happening in communities of color that don’t have the resources to fight back against things that are affecting them. It became personal to me as a person of color, who comes from a community that has a large refugee community with a low socioeconomic status.

I’m a big believer that we need to make sure we take care of our environment and our world. The earth has resources that are finite and can’t sustain us the way we have been using them.

When I found out the U offered free bus and TRAX passes I was excited. I use TRAX to get to and from school every day. I also use the bus sometimes as well when I need to get to places outside of campus. It’s easier than driving and I’m able to do homework, read and get things done.

But more important, I am reducing my carbon footprint and that was important to me. It makes me feel empowered just to be able to do something as easy as taking TRAX to help the planet. It’s the little things we do in our communities that really add up at the end of the day.”

— Naima Dahir, junior, International Studies and Environmental & Sustainability Studies

HUMANS OF THE U: DEBOLINA BANERJEE

Originally posted on @theU on March 1, 2019.

“Having lived in India, Hong Kong and now Utah, public transportation has always been a huge part of my life. I’ve seen the difference infrastructure makes from country to country and the impacts it has on people’s travel behaviors. Coming from a highly dense megalopolis where the sheer number of people heightens traffic congestion so much so, it’s almost a relief to access public transportation. Utah’s a welcome change with its TRAX lines, protected bike lanes and other numerous public and active transit systems.

Coming from India, I cannot help but compare the poor driving conditions coupled with high fuel prices and other affordability issues, forces people to take the public transit. While here in the U.S. improved roadways, affordable car loans and low fuel prices encourage higher vehicle ownership and driving behaviors.

The two main reasons to take public transport in India are extreme traffic congestion and a huge percentage of daily workers who cannot afford their own vehicles. Public transport is a necessity not a choice. This high demand coupled with the government’s inability to supply cheap public transit also highlights the reality, the public transportation fleet needs upgrading and is not always an enjoyable ride. Whereas, in Utah, the bus and train fleet are modernized which guarantees a comfortable ride.

Being a user of public transit all my life, I see the numerous potentials here in Utah. What’s lacking here is the ‘necessity’ factor. People feel more in control of their schedule with driving. Ways to make mass transit more convenient could be; increasing the frequency of bus and TRAX, expanded routes to cover more neighborhoods, installing all-weather bus stop shelters and better integrating active transportation facilities with existing public transit, like bike racks at TRAX stops and building ‘floating’ bus stops.

While not my field of study in City and Metropolitan Planning, I know my colleagues are working on long-lasting solutions. They are thinking of unique ways to make the system so convenient that people want to ride a bus or train.

I’ve never owned a car. And I don’t think I’ll need to while I’m part of the U community. Thanks in large part to the TRAX and UTA benefit, my daily commute is taken care of.”

—Debolina Banerjee, doctoral student, Department of City and Metropolitan Planning and research assistant, Center for Ecological Planning + Design, LEED AP

Banerjee is just one member of the U whose commuting behavior is complex. Transportation mode choices depend on multiple factors, including weather, time of day, cost, proximity and convenience. Many commute trips involve more than one mode of transportation. Source: U. Office of Sustainability

HUMANS OF THE U: LISA MCMURTREY

Originally posted on @theU on Feb. 22, 2019.

“I started taking public transit around the time of the Olympics—so since 2002. It’s a 60-minute commute and then I have a five-minute walk to the Burn Center at University of Utah Hospital.

I care about the environment. I want to be a better steward of what we have been given. I started taking public transit because I wanted to do my part and save money on gasoline. I personally don’t like to drive. I enjoy being chauffeured and taking public transit can be relaxing and is cost effective. I don’t have to deal with traffic, inclement weather or other transportation difficulties.

I encourage people to use public transportation, knowing that it does take a certain mindset. If you can find a route that is fairly efficient and you’re using the time effectively, then it can work for anyone. I’m fortunate because it does work for me. I probably only drive to work two-to-three times a year. I don’t even have a parking pass.

I work sometimes on my commute, but in actuality, I use that time for self-care. I’m reading, listening to music, podcasts, a meditation app, taking a nap or just clearing my head during that time.

I think the type of work that I do requires self-care, but in general, I like to build in a balance of work and relaxation into my daily life. Using public transportation helps me achieve that balance.”

—Lisa McMurtrey, Clinical Nurse Coordinator, University of Utah Hospital Burn Outpatient Clinic

COMMIT TO BETTER AIR YEAR-ROUND

Originally posted on @theU on February 25, 2019.

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Sustainability Office

It’s the final week of the Clear the Air Challenge. As we approach the end of the competition, the University of Utah is a contender to take the top spot. That means you should log your trips now so we can triumph over both Fidelity Investments and UTA. If you walked to get lunch, log that walking trip. If you drove to a movie with a friend, log your carpool activity. If you worked from home on a snow day or brought lunch, enter a skipped trip. You can log trips all the way back to Feb. 1.

But in all seriousness, with cleaner air, we all win. The efforts of participants in the Clear the Air Challenge contribute to better air for all. Transportation choices do matter, particularly when considering the type of pollutants that collect here in the Salt Lake Valley: wintertime fine particulate matter and summer ozone. Our cars contribute to both.

We need cleaner air all year—not just in the month of February. Consider making alternative transportation part of your everyday life. Here are some ideas for all transportation methods:

Use your commute to stay in shape

Your daily commute can improve your health. Getting exercise by biking or walking can help to increase blood flow, release endorphins and reduce overall stress. Even logging 30 minutes of walking a day can help to improve mental health and energy. Join the STRAVA University of Utah Commuters club and challenge others to the longest ride, the biggest climb and more.

Make use of your UCard transit pass

Our UCards can be used to ride UTA buses, TRAX and FrontRunner. This generous benefit, managed by our Commuter Services department, is an incredible deal. Consider this: A monthly UTA pass costs $83.75 and that doesn’t even include access to FrontRunner. Use our transit access to commute to campus, go out on the town, or ride to Salt Lake’s sports venues, many of which are located within about half a mile of a TRAX line.

Ride Campus Shuttles

Our university has approximately 30 shuttle buses, 15 of which run on natural gas. According to Commuter Services, the campus shuttles help reduce the number of single-occupant vehicles driving around campus. These shuttles service thousands of members of the U community every week, so join them for the ride.

Drive smarter

Using our own vehicles can be convenient and there are some parts of our metro area that are public transit deserts. However, even those that need access to their vehicles can reduce their contribution to air pollution. Drivers can carpool, combine trips to reduce miles traveled and avoid idling while waiting in parking lots or at stoplights. Those looking to purchase a new car can also look into electric vehicles as a way to cut emissions.

Throughout February, take action on air quality by tracking your commute behaviors with the Clear the Air Challenge, a statewide competition that aims to reduce emissions from vehicles by promoting alternative transit options. Join the U team at travelwisetracker.com/s/university-of-utah.

THE U’S IMPACT ON AIR QUALITY

Orginally posted on @theU on February 19, 2019.

By Myron Willson, Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer

The inversion season is upon us. This can be a time to point fingers at other polluters, but it should also be a time to recognize our own contributions to the murky haze and examine what steps we are taking to reduce emissions, including those emissions created by our actions at work and school.

So, what is our own university doing to reduce emissions? The university (health sciences and lower campus) is often likened to a small city with the total population of faculty, staff and students exceeding 60,000. This means that we have a fairly significant potential for creating emissions.

Fortunately, in addition to supporting faculty who are conducting research on various aspects of air quality and its impacts, the university is also proactively identifying areas for emissions reductions. In 2014, leadership authorized the first universitywide emissions review resulting in a report that provided recommendations for infrastructure and operational changes. Some areas identified:

  • Efficiency improvements and controls for large natural gas-powered boilers for building heat and hot water
  • Emergency diesel generator replacement
  • Phasing out dirty gas-powered landscaping equipment and replacing with electric options
  • Reducing and controlling chemicals and solvents used in laboratories, shops, etc.
  • Increasing sustainable commuting (including bicycles, public transit and car sharing)

As resources have allowed, many of these recommendations have already been implemented. Numerous changes have been driven by the dedicated staff in facilities’ Sustainability and Energy Management OfficePlanning Design and ConstructionCommuter Services, as well as the Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety Office.  At this point, nearly 50 percent of the recommendations have been or are being addressed.

  • Many equipment upgrades have been completed at the central heating plant and operation has been optimized for efficient fuel use.
  • The landscaping team is investing in the electrification of equipment and has implemented a moratorium on gas-fired equipment on yellow and red AQ days.
  • The “Better-Buildings Challenge” has been fully funded and will result in a 20 percent reduction of energy use per square foot by 2020.
  • Based on feedback from the Sustainability Office, the Clear the Air Challenge has shifted from July to February to include students among other campus commuters.
  • A full-time active transportation manager position has been established along with funding for infrastructure changes to support non-vehicular transport.

These actions are netting results. Even as the campus has grown (both in numbers of students and building square footage) total emissions have nearly leveled out or decreased. Close to 50 percent of our faculty, staff and students come to campus each day in something other than a single-occupant vehicle (making us very competitive with other Pac-12 institutions according to the latest reports).

Recent building projects on campus, such as Gardner Commons, have been designed to produce minimal emissions as the systems for heating and cooling are electric. Almost no on-site emissions are created. In addition, as the university continues to increase its purchase of renewable electricity (geothermal and solar), emissions due to the operations of buildings like Gardner Commons will be nearly zero.

Going forward, new federal and state requirements for business and institutions related to air quality are likely to become more restrictive. University leadership has asked staff to review the 2015 Air Quality Task Force Report, provide recommendations for further reductions and lead the way in reducing emissions. Stay tuned for an update.

These are all reasons for optimism. So, on days when our air isn’t fit to breathe and we make a conscious choice to reduce our own emissions, we can rest assured that the university is doing its part too.

Throughout February, take action on air quality by tracking your commute behaviors with the Clear the Air Challenge, a statewide competition that aims to reduce emissions from vehicles by promoting alternative transit options. Join the U team at travelwisetracker.com/s/university-of-utah.

Invert the Inversion

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, campus engagement, Sustainability Office

It is hard to ignore Salt Lake Valley’s poor air quality this winter unless you’ve figured out how to shut your eyes and mouth and plug your nose (or you haven’t gone outside at all). Views of our mountains, the Wasatch and Oquirrh ranges, are at times completely obscured by the smog surrounding us. That tickle in the throat could be a virus or it could be a reaction to inhaling the pollution hovering over the city. Neither are good options.

But wait, there is good news. We can reduce the particulate matter choking our healthy air by making different choices—particularly when getting from point A to point B. For the month of February, join the university’s Clear the Air Challenge team and help invert the inversion. Improve air quality (and be eligible from some cool opportunity drawing prizes from GREENbikeCotopaxi the Campus Bike Shop and more).

Now in its 10th year of friendly competition, Utah’s Clear the Air Challenge encourages people to take fewer trips, and the U is the reigning champion. Did you know that mobile sources, including our cars, are responsible for nearly half of the fine particulate matter on our wintertime poor air quality days? By using TravelWise strategies—including walking, biking, riding transit, carpooling and more—we can cut transportation-related emissions. Through collective action, by changing the way we travel we can make a big difference.

In 2018, the challenge saved an estimated 386 tons of CO2 or the equivalent of the emissions from nearly 45 million smartphones charged. By logging your alternative transportation trips on the online dashboard or through the brand new mobile app, you can track your contribution to emissions saved, plus see your dollars saved and calories burned in comparison to driving alone.

Automate your commute trips

For the first time in its history, the Clear the Air Challenge now connects with two different apps. The first app, Commute Tracker by RideAmigos is specifically designed to work with the challenge to log a user’s commute data. Find a step-by-step guide to connecting the app with your Clear the Air Challenge account on the university’s sustainability website.

The second app is Strava, a free fitness app particularly popular with cyclists and runners. Strava connects with any GPS-enabled device and tracks and analyzes personal health information. Ginger Cannon, active transportation manager for the U, said, “I use Strava because I can track every activity I do, including my active commute to work. Strava can also help connect you to a virtual community of like-minded people–for example, there is a commuter group you can join to meet others who bike or walk to the university.”

Who can participate?

The Clear the Air Challenge is for everyone. Sincerely. Even friends and family are welcome to join the University of Utah team. There are so many different ways to engage in reducing emissions from transportation. Obvious options include riding transit and shuttles, bicycling, and walking—even if it is just walking to a nearby meeting instead of driving.  Even those who need to drive have options, including skipping trips by bringing lunch from home and trip chaining by doing multiple errands in a row to avoid vehicle cold starts.

Together we can clear the air. Join the team and let’s get started.

The university’s Clear the Air Challenge participation is managed by the Sustainability Office, with support from ASUU, Commuter Services, University of Utah Health, Real Estate Administration and University Marketing & Communications. The Clear the Air Challenge is a partnership between TravelWise, UCAIR and the Salt Lake Chamber.

PROTECTING OUR WINTERS

Originally posted on @theU on Monday, January 7, 2018.

By Abby Ghent, sports and sustainability student ambassador, Athletics and the Sustainability Office

Mind-blowing fact: According to The Washington Post, if you were born after February 1985, you haven’t experienced a month where the Earth’s average monthly temperature was below average. Rising temperatures, as well as a bunch of other compounding factors, are impacting our snowfall and our snowpack.

Join us on campus Jan. 9 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. outside the Union to learn more about more ways to cut down on your carbon footprint and possibly win free lift tickets.

As someone within that demographic, who’s an ex-professional and avid skier with friends who are still pros, this fact is frightening. I understand the severity of climate change in relation to professional skiers’ jobs—their livelihood depends on that snowpack. Many of us are concerned there won’t be enough snow to hold downhill ski races in the not-so-far-away future.

I eagerly await each fall and wish to delay each spring. However, these ideas, “I want to keep skiing! I don’t want it to be summer yet!” are selfish. Wanting there to be enough snowpack to thoroughly support our water needs, however, is not. I don’t think we emphasize just how much we rely on the snow in our mountains for non-recreational usage.

Snowmelt is important for many things such as providing for personal water use, dampening (no pun intended) the chance of wildfires, supporting ecological systems and many industrial uses. In the Western U.S., 80 percent of the water runoff from snowpack in the mountains is used for agriculture, according to researchers.

The lack of snow in our mountains creates a significant positive feedback loop. A warming climate leads to less snow, which leads to less water in the ground, which leads to more fires, which leads to more loose dirt or fine particles that are lifted by stronger winds (due to more high/low pressure systems because of our warming climate), which are carried further into the mountains landing on what little snow we have, creating a lower albedo, which in turn melts the snow faster and on it goes. Just one long run-on sentence.

The bus from Snowbird to Alta.

So, what can we do about it? There are many things that can be done but I want to focus on one thing: transportation. Here in Utah, we can see how much nastiness gets trapped in the air, and much of that comes from our cars, buses and trucks. In 2010, the amount of CO2 produced by on-road transportation (this doesn’t even include off-road vehicles and equipment) was the second largest contributor after commercial/industrial buildings (U.S. Department of Energy, 2010).

“But I have to drive to work! But I need to get to the ski area somehow!” Yes, all valid reasons to use some sort of transportation, but do we all need to take our own personal vehicles separately to many of the same places? I think we can do better. Public transit is an option, both around town and to the ski resorts. We know that taking the bus to ski areas can be more difficult than it sounds depending on your starting point, so don’t worry, there are other options. Carpooling can be convenient—ride to the ski areas or park-and-ride lots together and save on parking, gas, emissions and time.

We want you to pledge to look for carpooling and public transportation options first to get to your final destination this winter and forever.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Abby Ghent is a former U.S. Ski Team and University of Utah Ski Team member. She grew up in the mountains of Colorado, calling Vail her home mountain. She moved to Utah three years ago to race for the U and is currently studying environmental and sustainability studies, international studies and music.

U PEDALS TO GOLD

The university created this GIS tool to track improvements to our bicycle infrastructure.

Follow @commUTEr_servs and @GingerCannonU on Twitter for updates on campus mobility.

Orginally posted on @theU on November 19, 2018.

By Ginger Cannon, active transportation manager

The League of American Bicyclists has honored the University of Utah with a Gold Bicycle Friendly University (BFU) designation in recognition of the institution’s achievements to promote safe, accessible bicycling on campus. The standards for attaining any of the four levels of BFU awards—bronze, silver, gold and platinum—are very high and require deliberate, determined efforts to meet them. The U is one of only 24 universities in the nation to receive the Gold BFU award, which is valid through the year 2021.

“More than 3.8 million students now attend Bicycle Friendly Universities in 46 states and Washington, DC,” says BFU Director Amelia Neptune. “From large to small, urban to rural, these educational institutions are creating a powerful community of college campuses that model and support the use of bicycles for improving health, sustainability and transportation options.”

The university advanced from silver to gold designation by demonstrating progress in categories known as the 5 E’s—Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement and Evaluation. The University Bicycle Master Plan provides recommendations for improvements in each category. The Active Transportation Manager works with a leadership advisory group to set priorities and implement plan recommendations.

Significant capital funding has been committed to the addition of bikeways – whether on surrounding roadways or campus pathways – to provide safe and direct routes for bicyclists. Currently the U area supports 8 miles of signed bike routes, with the majority of interior pathways shared for bicycle travel.

“We’ve moved the dial in achieving Gold BFU designation and know that there is still more to be done to accommodate and grow our campus bicycling community.  We are committed to following the vision of our bicycle master plan and incorporating more high quality routes to the campus network,” says Robin Burr, Chief Design and Construction Officer. “In order to encourage alternative modes of transportation, we need to add facilities like secure parking, showers and lockers for our daily commuters.”

Bicycles are zero emissions vehicles that help the university reach its carbon neutral and sustainability goals. Active transportation represents 13 percent of all commute trips to the U, and the highest percentage of people using a bicycle for transportation are students. A majority of commuters are just 8 miles or less from their campus destination – a reasonable biking distance no matter your skill level.

When universities invest in bicycling, great things happen: people adopt healthy habits, save money on healthcare and transportation costs, decrease the university’s greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to a fun and vibrant campus culture.

WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE CAN HURT YOU

 

 

Originally published on @theU on October 15, 2018.
 
By Vince Horiuchi, public relations associate, College of Engineering
 

What if you could see nasty microscopic air pollutants in your home?

PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering

PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering
University of Utah School of Computing assistant professor Jason Wiese (left) and computing doctoral student Jimmy Moore conducted a study to determine if homeowners change the way they live if they could visualize the air quality in their house. They provided participants with air pollution sensors, a Google Home speaker and a tablet to measure and chart the air quality in their homes.

Engineers from the University of Utah’s School of Computing conducted a study to determine if homeowners change the way they live if they could visualize the air quality in their house. It turns out, their behavior changes a lot.

Their study was published this month in the Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies. The paper was also presented Oct. 9 in Singapore during the “ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing.” The paper can be viewed and downloaded here.

“The idea behind this study was to help people understand something about this invisible air quality in their home,” says University of Utah School of Computing assistant professor Jason Wiese, who was a lead author of the paper along with U School of Computing doctoral student Jimmy Moore and School of Computing associate professor Miriah Meyer.

During the day, the air pollution inside your home can be worse than outside due to activities such as vacuuming, cooking, dusting or running the clothes dryer. The results can cause health problems, especially for the young and elderly with asthma.

University of Utah engineers from both the School of Computing and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering built a series of portable air quality monitors with Wi-Fi and connected them to a university server. Three sensors were placed in each of six homes in Salt Lake and Utah counties from four to 11 months in 2017 and 2018. Two were placed in different, high-traffic areas of the house such as the kitchen or a bedroom and one outside on or near the porch. Each minute, each sensor automatically measured the air for PM 2.5 (a measurement of tiny particles or droplets in the air that are 2.5 microns or less in width) and sent the data to the server. The data could then be viewed by the homeowner on an Amazon tablet that displayed the air pollution measurements in each room as a line graph over a 24-hour period. Participants in the study could see up to 30 days of air pollution data. To help identify when there might be spikes in the air pollution, homeowners were given a voice-activated Google Home speaker so they could tell the server to label a particular moment in time when the air quality was being measured, such as when a person was cooking or vacuuming. Participants also were sent an SMS text message warning them whenever the indoor air quality changed rapidly.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Wiese
Participants were given an Amazon table that displayed the air pollution data in an easy-to-understand line chart so they could see when and why the air quality worsened. Homeowners also could label points in time when the pollution would spike, such as when they were cooking or vacuuming.

During the study, researchers discovered some interesting trends from their system of sensors, which they called MAAV (Measure Air quality, Annotate data streams and Visualize real-time PM2.5 levels). One homeowner discovered that the air pollution in her home spiked when she cooked with olive oil. So that motivated her to find other oils that produced less smoke at the same cooking temperature.

Another homeowner would vacuum and clean the house just before a friend with allergies dropped by, to try to clean the air of dust. But what she found out through the MAAV system is that she actually made the air much worse because she kicked up more pollutants with her vacuuming and dusting. Realizing this, she started cleaning the house much earlier before the friend would visit.

Participants would open windows more when the air was bad or compare measurements between rooms and avoid those rooms with more pollution.

“Without this kind of system, you have no idea about how bad the air is in your home,” Wiese says. “There are a whole range of things you can’t see and can’t detect. That means you have to collect the data with the sensor and show it to the individual in an accessible, useful way.”

Researchers also learned that circumstances that made the air pollution worse differed in each home. Vacuuming in the home, for example, would have different effects on the air quality. They also learned that if homeowners could visualize the air quality in their home, they always stayed on top of labeling and looking at the data.

Wiese says no known manufacturers make air quality systems for the home that allow residents to visualize and label the air quality in this way, but he hopes their research can spur more innovation.

The study involved engineering in collaboration with other University of Utah scientists, including biomedical informatics and clinical asthma researchers. It was funded as part of a larger National Institutes of Health program known as Pediatric Research using Integrated Sensor Monitoring Systems (PRISMS), launched in 2015 to develop sensor-based health monitoring systems for measuring environmental, physiological and behavioral factors in pediatric studies of asthma and other chronic diseases.

Research reported in this publication was funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U54EB021973. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

 

 

Clear The Air

By Vince Horiuchi, public relations associate, College of Engineering

Air conditioning and heating systems are not only great for keeping a home cool or warm, but they also help clean the air of harmful pollutants.

While home thermostats control HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems based on temperature, engineers from the University of Utah have studied the effects of controlling them based on a home’s indoor air quality. They have discovered that programming your air conditioner and furnace to turn on and off based on the indoor air quality as well as the temperature doesn’t waste a lot of additional energy but keeps the air much cleaner.

Their findings, published in a paper titled Smart Home Air Filtering System: A Randomized Controlled Trial for Performance Evaluation, were presented on Sept. 26 at this year’s “IEEE/ACM Conference on Connected Health: Applications, Systems and Engineering Technologies” in Washington D.C. The lead authors of the paper are University of Utah electrical and computer engineering professor Neal Patwari and U electrical and computer engineering doctoral graduate, Kyeong T. Min.

PHOTO CREDIT: University of Utah Professor Neal Patwari
This graph shows that when a home heating and air conditioning system turns on and off based on temperature alone (normal), the air quality in the home can result in the dirtiest air based on 2.5 particulate matter. Meanwhile leaving the heating and air conditioning on all the time (On) results in the cleanest air at the expense of using the most energy. The SmartAir plot shows that a system that turns on and off based on both temperature and air quality can result in a home with much cleaner air but without a much higher cost in energy.

The researchers, led by Patwari, purchased a series of off-the-shelf portable air pollution sensors and connected them wirelessly to Raspberry Pis, small and inexpensive computers for hobbyists. With specialized software developed by the engineers, the computers were programmed to automatically turn on the air conditioning system whenever the particulate matter in the air reached a certain point and turn off the system when the particulate matter dipped below a certain measurement.

For the study, 12 sensors were deployed in four homes in 2017. In each house, two of the sensors were inside rooms, and one was placed outside under a covered porch. Starting at midnight each night, each home would randomly operate the sensors under one of three conditions: “Normal,” in which the HVAC systems turned on and off normally based on temperature only; “Always On,” in which the air system operated continuously all day, and; “SmartAir,” in which the system turned on and off the HVAC fan based on the pollution measurement in the house as well as the thermostat’s temperature setting.

Based on five months of data, the study revealed that operating with the “SmartAir” setting in which it turned on and off based on temperature and air quality cleaned the air almost as well as if the HVAC fan was operating all day, but it used 58 percent less energy. Meanwhile, when the heating and cooling system operates normally without regards to the air quality, the air was 31 percent dirtier than with the “SmartAir” setting.

“For someone with asthma, an exacerbation can be triggered by poor air in the home, particularly for children,” Patwari says. “This kind of monitoring system could allow them to live more comfortably and with fewer asthma symptoms and fewer trips to the emergency room.”

Because of ordinary activities in the home such as cooking, vacuuming and running the clothes dryer, air quality inside a home can at certain times of the day be much worse than outside. Constant exposure to indoor air pollutants can lead to short-term health effects such as irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, as well as headaches, dizziness, and fatigue, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Long-term exposure could also lead to respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer and could be fatal for some. Yet there are no known home or commercial HVAC systems that are controlled by air quality sensors.

Patwari’s study involves engineering in collaboration with other University of Utah scientists, including biomedical informatics and clinical asthma researchers. It was funded as part a larger National Institutes of Health program known as Pediatric Research using Integrated Sensor Monitoring Systems (PRISMS), launched in 2015 to develop sensor-based health monitoring systems for measuring environmental, physiological and behavioral factors in pediatric studies of asthma and other chronic diseases.

Research reported in this publication was funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U54EB021973. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.