Smart Building Solutions for Smoking and Vaping
Beyond particulate matter and other harmful emissions, many air quality monitors also detect smoke and vapor emissions. Because indoor smoking bans are now the standard across most businesses and facilities in the United States, detection is an important part of protecting health and safety while remaining code compliant. Yet, smart sensors must also be able to detect marijuana and nicotine thanks to the widespread prevalence of vaping.
What is a Smoke and Vape Sensor?
In lockstep with the steady rise in people using vaping devices and e-cigarettes, environmental sensors have evolved to include both smoke and vape detection. Though many different organizations employ some form of vape sensor, they’re particularly prevalent in schools and universities. Vape usage is on the rise among teens, according to research from the National Institute of Health (NIH). Beyond the legal issues associated with underage vaping, there is growing concern around short and long-term health consequences.
What’s more, vaporization is far more discreet than smoking tobacco or marijuana leaf. Vaporizers are typically battery-powered devices that heat a liquid into an odorless or semi-odorless vapor that can then be inhaled, such as nicotine, CBD, or THC. Common vape brands include JUUL, Vandy Vape, and SMOK (among many others). Recently, the U.S. government issued new regulations banning flavored vape products that target teens and children. These products are, however, still widely available.
How Smoke and Vape Detectors Solve a Growing Problem
Most smoke detectors are highly effective in detecting tobacco and marijuana smoke. They are installed in nearly all buildings. Alongside regulations that prohibit indoor smoking nearly everywhere, deterring and detecting smoking in prohibited areas—or confining it to designated outdoor smoking areas—is relatively easy to do.
Smokeless vapors are a different story. Traditional smoke detectors do not detect emissions from vaping devices, which has created a slew of new problems for operations professionals, building managers, school staff and employers. Because vaping is so difficult to detect, illicit indoor vaping is common, especially for K-12 schools.
To solve this problem, many building and facilities managers are deploying environmental sensors that detect both smoke and vape emissions. These monitoring devices can be deployed building-wide, even in places where security cameras would be inappropriate (restrooms and other private areas). Sensors with smoke and vape detection offer two distinct advantages:
- No need for a separate smoke detector. Look for sensors that detect cigarette, THC, and vape smoke.
- Detection for specific compounds, such as THC emitted from marijuana smoking.
Use cases and Benefits of Smoke and Vape Detectors
There’s a pressing need for comprehensive environmental sensors in a variety of business sectors. Here are some of the most common use cases.
- Commercial Buildings: In commercial environments, employees, building staff, and visitors are constantly coming and going. Environmental sensors give facility managers the ability to monitor compliance with no-smoking/no-vaping policies from a central location. They can identify, respond to, and document smoking and vaping violations as part of their broader security monitoring activities.
- Hospitals and Hotels: Sensors can be installed in individual hotel/motel rooms to detect smoke and vapor without intruding on guest privacy. This can help enforce violation fees and limit the lost revenue associated with cleaning/disinfection fees. For more sensitive environments, such as hospital units, environmental sensors can send alerts to facility managers to quickly address the issue limit exposure for patients and staff. In both environments, sensors can be configured to send quiet alarms in case of tampering.
- Schools and Universities: Unfortunately, monitoring student vaping requires constant vigilance. However, smoke and vape sensors can be highly effective in combating underage vaping in places like classrooms, locker rooms, and bathrooms. Modern sensors are designed to be more discreet and tamper-proof.
Key Features to Look for in Smoke and Vape Detection Solutions
Smoke and vape sensors have evolved in recent years. To help maximize detection and monitoring capabilities while minimizing cost of ownership, look for the following features when considering environmental sensors for your own buildings:
- Multiple Built-In Sensors: This is the best way to get the most value for your money. Leading environmental sensors can detect smoke, vapor, sound, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), all in a single piece of hardware. Often called “smart sensors.”
- Integrated Cloud-Based Platform: Detection is one thing. Management, monitoring, and incident response is another. Look for a sensor that can integrate directly to your existing security infrastructure and remote management solution.
- Discreet Tampering Alarm: As mentioned, tampering is a common problem facing building, facilities, and security staff. To prevent tampering and associated unit loss.incremental replacement costs, look for sensors that detect tampering and send discreet alerts to the appropriate incident response team.
- Flexible Notifications and User Settings: Instead of on-device configuration for notifications and alerts, which can be time-consuming, look for sensors that can be managed and configured remotely. User settings ought to be fully customizable, including remote management of the groups and specific users responsible for receiving and responding to alerts sent by mobile app, text message, email, and other methods.
- Privacy Standards: Because smoke and vape sensors are often installed in bathrooms, break rooms, and other private or semi-private areas, each device should be designed to observe and maintain privacy. That means no audio or video recording in sensitive spaces, primarily.
Smoke and Vape Detection FAQs
- What is a Vape Index?
Some sensors, such as the Verkada SV11 Environmental Sensor, use what’s called a Vape Index. This is a composite 0-100 score derived from multiple onboard sensors that, when surpassed, strongly indicates the presence of smoking or vaping activity at a particular location. While this index is primarily used to indicated suspected vaping or smoking, it can also register smoke from cooking, burning fuel or wildfires.
- What can trigger false positives for vape detectors?
Even though vape detectors are quite accurate, there are some fine particles and fumes from cleaning products and aerosols that can mimic the chemical signature of vapors and smoke. In addition, other particulates, such as cooking emissions, vehicle exhaust, and wildfires can affect the Vape Index score, possibly triggering false positives. This is why we recommend that the Vape Index only be used in indoor spaces where vaping is most likely to occur, and where false positives are unlikely (such as restrooms, classrooms, hotel rooms, and so on).
- Will vaping set off a smoke alarm?
It can, though this is very unlikely. It depends on the type of smoke alarm. Ionization alarms, for example, are very sensitive to small smoke particles in the air. Optical alarms beam infrared light to detect smoke particles. Finally, heat alarms respond to temperature, rather than the presence of smoke particles.
The latter category is the least likely to be falsely triggered by vaping. Optical and ionization alarms are more likely to be set off by vaping. However, this only happens when a large amount of vapor is emitted very close to the device. Still, it’s important to understand that false fire alarms do occur, which can be incredibly disruptive and costly.
- What happens when a vape detector goes off?
Most vape sensors are designed to trip a silent alarm that is sent to a predefined list of people or groups tasked with incident response. These alerts can be sent by text, desktop or mobile app notification, email, and even phone call.
- Can vape detectors detect THC oil or marijuana smoke?
Yes. Because smoking and vaping is not limited to tobacco products, modern smoke and vape detectors can also pick up the presence of THC vapor or marijuana smoke. The detection process is the same (Vape Index).
Evolving Solutions to Monitor Vaping
While smoke detection remains relatively straightforward, the world of vaping is evolving rapidly. This is thanks to the proliferation of products and devices created by the recent surge in demand. For buildings, businesses, and institutions for which vape detection is a priority, environmental sensors are a valuable tool to ensure safety and compliance.
Check out the Guide to Vaping & Smoking Detection.