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Interview of Oyvind Birkenes
Written by the Landlord Today team
Oyvind Birkenes, CEO of Airthings

Tell us about Airthings, why it was established, the products and what problem they were coming to solve?

Airthings was established in 2008 by three CERN scientists with the goal being to educate on the prevalence of radon and offer accurate, user-friendly radon detectors to the masses, making them as common as smoke detectors. We have evolved and expanded since then to become the market leaders in the indoor air quality space. 

What is the connection between indoor air safety and outdoor air quality? How do you take this into account when offering indoor air quality solutions and products? 

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No matter if it’s indoors or outdoors, air quality matters as a whole. Typically people are more aware of air pollution outdoors, but the reality is that we spend 90% of our time indoors, and concentrations of damaging pollutants are between two to five times higher indoors than outdoors. Over recent decades, many chemicals have become more prevalent in our homes due to increased use of synthetic building materials, air-tight properties, pesticides, and household cleaners. Buildings are becoming more airtight and without proper ventilation, we can be exposed to these pollutants over long periods of time, which can lead to serious health problems.

Indoor Air Quality has been highlighted recently by the changes in legislation with The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act. How do Airthings help landlords to become compliant?

The Homes Act essentially makes landlords responsible for issues that arise from their property being unfit for human habitation. As you mention, there are indoor air quality components included in those areas that landlords need to pay attention to. These are mould and damp growth, and radon, airborne chemicals (VOCs) and temperature levels. Airthings, as the market leader in indoor air quality, are the only provider to monitor for all of these. We even have one product – The House Kit (RRP: £269) – that is perfect for each property…so it’s easy to be compliant.

A smart indoor air quality and radon system, like Airthings', allows landlords to remotely monitor the air quality effortlessly, making sure they can prevent a problem before it occurs. They can log into the Airthings Dashboard from anywhere at any time to see up to date readings. They can even set up notifications and act before the air quality causes damage—keeping their tenants and properties safe.

What are the main pollutants that we should be concerned about when it comes to indoor air quality? What are their causes?

The most common pollutants in our homes that impact our health are radon, airborne chemicals (VOCs), CO₂, and mould spores. Conditions like humidity and temperature also contribute to the quality of the air in our homes.

These can variously affect our health – whether that be serious issues such as lung cancer or asthma (which Radon and mould respectively can cause), or exacerbating issues such as allergies. The quality of your indoor climate is also directly related to risks around virus transmission – obviously highly relevant given the global situation.

There are often other factors affecting our health indoors that are overlooked, such as humidity, air pressure and weather, what part do they play in terms of what we are breathing indoors? 

Humidity is often an underestimated factor, yet both high levels or low levels of humidity can have negative effects on our health. High humidity in our homes can cause mould growth. Mould exposure causes health problems, particularly for people with asthma or allergies. In fact, people are 40% more likely to have asthma when living in a damp or mouldy home. On the other hand, there is strong evidence that dry air provides a clear pathway for airborne viruses to spread. That is why ensuring indoor humidity levels between 30-60% is important to protect our health.

We are already an indoor culture and with the onset of Covid-19 indoor living has reached new heights. What risks does this present for increased pollution exposure? And what can people do to best protect their health while indoors?

Looking at our data, we clearly see how the air in the homes of our users deteriorated when global lockdowns started in mid-March. With closed windows and more time spent inside, our exposure to indoor pollutants such as radon, airborne chemicals and CO₂ increases considerably, which can lead to various adverse effects on our health, as well as decision making capabilities.

By simply monitoring the air quality in your home, you can make small changes to your habits and take the right actions to reduce the effects of these air pollutants.

In terms of indoor air quality monitoring, what is the ideal level of understanding for exposure?

To improve the quality of the air you breathe it’s important to have the correct information about your indoor air quality. Airthings products collect the necessary data and provide insights to allow you to fix the problem. 

With Airthings you can monitor your home health, as well as preventing issues like mould before they occur – after all…when you can see the mould it’s already too late.

How do you see the future of indoor air quality/smart home technology/connected devices in homes and offices in general?

There has never been a better time to take control of the air you breathe. In the midst of a global pandemic, people are becoming more aware of air quality and how monitoring CO₂ levels or humidity can help us minimise the spread of airborne viruses such as COVID-19 in schools, offices and commercial buildings. 

Sensor technology allows us to gather indoor air quality data which we can use to improve energy efficiency in buildings, optimise and reduce energy consumption based on need rather than calendar, and make sure the air is as healthy as can be for the people inside a building.

Monitoring the air quality in your home and learning what’s in the air you breathe will give you peace of mind and can help you take action to minimise pollutants to keep your family, employees, students and visitors healthy. 

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