Hacklab Indoor Air Quality Project

Recently a fellow member of Hacklab.to bought a couple of bench-top fume extractors for the lab.  People solder things constantly here, and the fumes from the solder rosin can cause some really unpleasant health effects.  Respiratory irritation, asthma, skin diseases and chemical hypersensitivity are possible side-effects of rosin fume exposure.  I solder at Hacklab a lot, so reducing my fume exposure even a little has palpable health benefits.

The concern over solder fumes at the lab got me thinking; what about other aspects of indoor air quality?  The lab is relatively small – about 630 square feet, and we do a lot with that space.  On a Tuesday night open house the space regularly has 20 or more people producing fumes through cooking, soldering, lasering and 3D-printing.  All of those people respirate and perspire, consume oxygen, exhale CO2 and produce small quantities of airborne volatile organic compounds (VOC’s).  Dust, pollen and other allergens collect in the lab as well.  And since we are in Toronto we have to deal with smog coming in from outside.  All things considered, the air in the lab can get downright nasty.

I decided to build an indoor air quality station with sensors that can give me data about various aspects of Hacklab’s atmosphere.  This project is partly practical, but mostly for fun; I want to learn to make neat things with sensors that can do cool and useful things.

The most obvious choices for the project platform are Arduino, Raspberry Pi and Beagle Bone.  Arduino is an easy choice here; they’re a bit cheaper than the alternatives, there are lots of helpful people at the Hacklab who have experience programming for Arduino, and I also happen to have an Arduino Uno sitting in my bin at the lab just waiting for a project.  In the future I can always redesign it around another platform if I want more functionality out of it.

Sensors are the main consideration after the platform.  I want sensors which will give me a wide variety of statistics on the air in the lab.  Some of the things I might be interested in measuring are:

  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) concentration.
  • Oxygen concentration.
  • Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) concentration, particularly benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene, and ammonia, just to name a few of the most common and potentially harmful VOC’s.
  • Smoke and Ultra Fine Particle (UFP) concentration.
  • Temperature.
  • Humidity.

I’m currently researching sensors for all of these things, so I’ll post an update on sensor selection when I have a better idea of what I can add to the project.  There might be other things I want to measure too – if you think I might have missed something, leave a comment!

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