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Measuring and analyzing indoor air quality and temperature before and after home retrofit projects for substandard housing units in North Fair Oaks, California

North Fair Oaks, California

Featured image for the project, Measuring and analyzing indoor air quality and temperature before and after home retrofit projects for substandard housing units in North Fair Oaks, California

The amount of time we spend indoors has increased in recent years. Even before the global pandemic, an increase in the number of heat waves and wildfires in California has increased the number of hours people spend indoors. Substandard housing often has an increased level of pollutants and poor ventilation. Poor indoor air quality has been linked to negative health outcomes and an increased energy burden for residents, who are often underserved individuals and families. We propose to pilot the use of indoor air quality sensors locally to measure pollutant levels, temperature and humidity. This will enable us to identify candidate homes for weatherization projects to improve the ability of residents to adapt to increasing heat waves and pollution from wildfires.

North Fair Oaks (NFO) is an unincorporated community of 16,000 people bordering Redwood City, Menlo Park and Atherton, California. Compared with San Mateo County (SMC) as a whole, residents of NFO have lower median household incomes, higher unemployment rates, and lower education attainment. NFO has a higher proportion of residents who are Hispanic, foreign-born, and Spanish-speaking, and reports a lower English-language proficiency than other communities in SMC. North Fair Oaks also has high rates of asthma and other pulmonary illness and is home to populations that are particularly vulnerable to the compounding effects of heat waves and air pollution. Additionally, many families are paying a relatively high proportion of their annual income for energy bills, and many apartments and houses have substandard roofing, insulation, and ventilation.

The proposed pilot project will be led by El Concilio of San Mateo County, a community organization committed to increasing education, employment, and access to quality of life services for underserved communities of San Mateo County. Collaborative partners will include North Fair Oaks Community Council, Siena Youth Center, and Stanford University. Working together, these organizations have already received a SMC Office of Sustainability Community Resilience Grant. They used the award for the development of Climate Ready North Fair Oaks, a community-based collaborative that has brought together representatives from key local stakeholder groups in the public, private, and social sectors to build their collective capacity for community-based research and community-led solutions to the cumulative impacts from climate change. Through the use of grant funds, the organizations have convened local representatives, developed a youth curriculum, and completed a preliminary risk assessment in North Fair Oaks.


The scope of the project will include research design and initial data analysis to measure indoor air quality parameters, humidity, and temperature using in-home instrumentation before and after home retrofit projects. (Home retrofit projects are conducted in collaboration with, but are outside the scope of, this project.) The project team will identify parameters and develop methods for in-home air quality data collection and analysis based on the best available science and practices.

El Concilio of San Mateo County will also engage and collaborate with organizations with whom they have existing relationships and proven track records for project coordination and implementation: North Fair Oaks Community Council, Stanford University, and Siena Youth Center. These organizations currently work together through Climate Ready North Fair Oaks.


Anticipated Outputs:

  • Identification or development of standardized research methods and analysis tools to be used with data collected from indoor air sensors
  • Template for data analysis using the parameters available, including design and sharing of a spreadsheet with formulas for visualizing air quality and temperature data compared with specific home retrofits.
  • Single-page summary of data, outcomes, and knowledge for community members, available in Spanish and English
  • Training and capacity building for community members in data collection and analysis
  • Summary of best practices and methods to share with other community-based organizations pursuing similar projects involving indoor air quality improvements and home retrofits. Can be shared on citizen science outlets such as Public Lab and
  • Material and lessons learned, to be packaged for community at large and community organizations.



In the near term, approximately 20 homes in North Fair Oaks will have demonstrable proof of changes in indoor air quality. Because the project is conducted simultaneously with home retrofits, residents will also have quantitative data demonstrating improved energy efficiency and changes in utility bills. The air sensors will be used serially in homes in NFO, creating a dataset that can be used to track individual and community changes in indoor air quality and thermal comfort levels. Aggregated datasets can also track community trends for energy-use and health outcomes. NFO residents will learn to instrument their homes, as well as how to access and understand relevant measurements and data. This project and its methods can be shared with other community-based organizations working to improve indoor air quality, home retrofits, and climate resilience. In the future, quantitative documentation can be used in conjunction with local observations to leverage changes in local and regional advocacy, funding opportunities, and policy recommendations.


Anticipated Timeline

The project is planned for approximately 12-14 months.

October 2020: Find scientific partner

November 2020: Purchase sensors for use in 20 homes concurrently. (Grant funding has been applied for. The AirFlow 2 has been identified as one instrument that could be used to identify particulate matter and VOCs in homes.)

January 2021: Place sensors in 20 homes

February 2021: Home retrofit projects take place

March 2021: Take a second set of measurements in the 20 homes with new retrofits.

April 2021-August 2021: Data analysis and template creation

Sept-Oct 2021: Training for staff from El Concilio of San Mateo County in instrumentation methods and data analysis

Project Team

Community Leadership

Ortsensia Lopez, Executive Director, El Concilio of San Mateo County

Ortensia Lopez Ortensia Lopez is a nationally recognized leader in creating coalitions, collaboratives, and partnerships that have resulted in innovative initiatives that have empowered and ensured participation for low-income communities. She has been working in the non-profit sector for over forty-one years in executive management positions serving as a change agent for disenfranchised communities. Ortensia is the Executive Director of El Concilio San Mateo County, a nonprofit that increases education, employment, and access to quality of life services to underserved communities in San Mateo County. She is an integral member of the community and brings cultural context and trust to these relationships in addition to collaboration, coordination, and continuity.


Academic Collaboration

Derek Ouyang, Lecturer at Stanford’s Future Bay Initiative

Derek OuyangDerek Ouyang is a lecturer at Stanford’s Future Bay Initiative, which is a Research-Education-Practice Partnership committed to co-production of actionable intelligence with our local Bay Area communities, in order to shape a more equitable, resilient, and sustainable urban future. With former students, Derek has created socio-geographic maps of North Fair Oaks including map layers such as outdoor air pollution, industrial manufacturing buildings, central air conditioning units, community demographics and health concerns. Derek and his current students will support El Concilio SMC in the current project on indoor air quality monitoring as part of a longer-term project to help NFO prepare for the local impacts of climate change.


Thriving Earth Exchange Community Science Fellow

Karen Grosskreutz, Thriving Earth Exchange Community Science Fellow

Karen GrosskreutzKaren Grosskreutz is a Ph.D. student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. In 2019, she completed a M.Sc. in Sustainable Resource Management from the Technical University of Munich in Germany. Her career goals include co-producing actionable science for climate adaptation and resilience by supporting community-based monitoring and local governance. Karen will assist in scoping the air quality monitoring project, selecting a scientific partner, and helping to facilitate the project as it moves toward a solution.

Scientist Wanted

The ideal scientific partner will have previous experience monitoring indoor air quality, including knowledge about various point sources such as gas stoves and VOCs in building materials, as well as applied knowledge about in-home instrumentation. They will take a leading role in designing the research, analyzing the data, and training community members and students to continue the project.

Desired skills and qualifications:

  • Experience with indoor air quality analysis and urban sustainability
  • Ability to design a template for data analysis usable by community members (e.g. Excel workbook)
  • Knowledge of point-source pollution indoors (e.g. VOCs, furniture, gas stoves, etc.)
  • Familiarity with EPA regulations for air quality indoors
  • Strong listening and collaboration skills
  • Willingness to connect science to local concerns
  • Desire to work collaboratively with community members, local organizations, agencies & institutions
  • Experience and/or desire to participate in community education, outreach and engagement
  • Relaxed, easy-going personality with a good sense of humor

Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact that they can contribute to as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage.

Interested in volunteering? Apply now!