Panasonic’s Cosmos Helps a Home—and Its Occupants—to Breathe

By: Novid Parsi, Utopia Contributing Editor

The new healthy home system doesn’t just monitor indoor air. It does something about it.

The new Cosmos healthy home system from Panasonic includes not only IAQ sensors but also a wireless device that communicates with those sensors and, based on what they’re finding, tells the air vents and filters when to turn on or off. Photo courtesy Panasonic

About three years ago, Russell Pope and his colleagues at Panasonic noticed an interesting trend in the indoor air quality (IAQ) market. While there were plenty of sensors available that monitored a home’s IAQ, there wasn’t a product that could tell homeowners what to do about the poor air those sensors identified.

What was the point of IAQ monitors if they didn’t help improve the air they monitored?

“We had discussions with builders about IAQ,” recalls Pope, research and development manager with Panasonic. “They liked the idea of IAQ sensors but didn’t like that nothing happened based on them.”

So Panasonic created a product to fill that gap. Its new healthy home system, Cosmos, includes not only IAQ sensors but also a wireless device that communicates with those sensors and, based on what they’re finding, tells the air vents and filters when to turn on or off. Through that ongoing communication with its sensors, Cosmos circulates the home’s air, expels poor air from the inside, and brings in fresh air from the outside. Meanwhile, homeowners can track and control Cosmos via an app.

Placed at critical spots around the home, such as the kitchen and bedrooms, the Cosmos sensors monitor the air nonstop. When they identify pollutants, the sensors’ light changes from blue to orange—a visual indicator that Cosmos is getting to work. At that point, Cosmos turns on a WhisperGreen Select ventilation fan or a WhisperFresh Select fresh-air supply fan. Cosmos can also connect to a home’s HVAC system, turning on its fan when needed.

COSMOS HELPS HOMES BREATHE

A home has to be able to bring in fresh air, especially when it’s an energy-efficient dwelling, Pope says. Tight construction improves a house’s energy efficiency, but it also keeps the air and any pollutants trapped inside. Cosmos helps a home breathe in and out. 

For example, while homeowners asleep in their bedroom are unaware of the quality of air they’re breathing, Cosmos takes note of the room’s rising pollutants and responds. It supplies air from outside, turns on the exhaust fan in the adjacent bathroom, or even moves clean air to the bedroom from another part of the house, like the living room.

The most important IAQ device, Pope says, is the kitchen’s range hood, WhisperHood. Homeowners typically turn on their range fan when they’re cooking on the stove, but they’re much less likely to do that when they have something in the oven. “But you need to because a lot of pollutants are generated during baking,” he says. When the kitchen’s Cosmos sensor notices pollutants on the rise, it automatically turns on the hood to exhaust the air.

The automatic aspect of Cosmos takes the IAQ onus off of homeowners, yet they do have a hand in how the system works. Homeowners can customize what Pope calls “scenes”: various scenarios defined by the user or installer to let Cosmos know when to turn the fans on and off. One scene might be a dinner party; another could be a large family gathering. When that scene takes place, the homeowner lets the Cosmos app know so that the system can adjust the IAQ for a larger number of people than usual.

‘Builders liked the idea of indoor air quality sensors but didn’t like that nothing happened based on them.’ 
—Russell Pope, research and development manager, Panasonic

Constantly monitoring the IAQ, Cosmos delivers more than a clean-air feeling; it also can have a big impact on health. A Cosmos sensor spots rising carbon dioxide and humidity. It identifies fine particulate matter, or the tiny particles or droplets that come from cooking vapors and other sources and then enter the lungs. 

And it keeps a vigilant watch on volatile organic compounds (VOCs), or gases emitted from solids and liquids. VOCs such as formaldehyde and ammonia come off everything from furnishings to carpets to aerosol sprays to dry-cleaned garments. VOCs can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, but they can also damage the liver, kidney, and central nervous system. And VOCs can be up to 10 times higher indoors than outdoors, according to the EPA.

Released in beta almost two years ago, Cosmos officially launched this fall. To introduce Cosmos to the market, Panasonic first partnered with builders likely to be interested in the new product based on their participation in programs such as the EPA’s Indoor airPLUS or Energy Star. This year, Thrive Builders’ eco-luxury model home, Ultimate Z.E.N. Home, and Woodside Homes’ healthy concept home, Chowa, incorporated Cosmos, which increases a home’s construction cost by less than 1 percent, Pope says.

So far, builders have had a common response to Panasonic’s new offering, Pope says: “The timing is impeccable because of people’s heightened IAQ concerns with the Covid-19 pandemic.”