How clean is the air when the family has lunch during renovations? (Photo: Jennifer Jolly)
The air pollution inside my house could kill me. This is what I learned after testing several new high quality indoor air quality monitors. Are you in the same boat – er, room?
Research shows 96% of homes have at least one type of indoor air quality problem. Everything from cooking to drying your hair can cause problems.
According to the EPA, most of us spend 90% of our time indoors, exposed to air five times more polluted than outdoors. This can trigger allergies and asthma, affect child development, disrupt sleep and more.
"Most people have no idea how polluted air is indoors, let alone inside," says Vasileios Nasis, Ph.D. and founder of Netronix Inc. "It sounds alarmist – to say that the quality of the indoor air can kill you or become seriously ill – and people tend to not believe it, but it's happening, and people have the power to stop it."
"Most people have no idea how much air is polluted outside, let alone inside."
Vasileios Nasis, Ph.D. and founder of Netronix Inc.
Nasis expects his company's $ 699 gadget called Airthinx It will be just the correction that people need. Not only to learn more about the air you breathe every day, but also how to do something about it.
“For outdoor air quality, government policy needs to change. But you can control the indoor air quality in your own space and change it on a personal level right away, ”says Dr. Nasis by telephone.
Breathing fresh air is big business
The Air Quality Monitoring Market expected to exceed more than $ 7 billion by 2024.
This was one of the biggest new areas of personal health appliances I've seen since the flood of activity trackers. Monitoring the air we breathe may become the next big trend in health technology after the Fitbit or Impossible hamburger?
"Yeah, except I don't think it's a trend" Shelly miller, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder tells me. "These new low-cost sensors are a critical development in improving public health, and I think they are here to stay."
Plugged into a power outlet like a night light, sitting on a shelf like a book, or plugged into a wall like a thermostat, these Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled devices monitor indoor air quality 24/7. Many of them also display a type of traffic light on the device itself that glows green (good), yellow (caution) and red (alert).
Putting them to the test
There is no better testing ground than my own new home (for me). It is an 1888 Victorian who is in the pocket of some of the worst outdoor air qualities in the whole country.
We are a few blocks from Oakland Harbor, in an industrial area between major highways. Traffic from diesel trucks, massive cargo ships, trains, wastewater treatment and recycling plants – all of that – belching invisible particles non-stop in the air and eventually into our lungs. Add to that the bustle of 131 years of gray dust renovating this old house, and there's no telling what we'll find in our air.
Awair Glow C connected to the kitchen. (Photo: Jennifer Jolly)
Great for starters
Awair Glow C is only slightly larger than average night light – which is good because you can also use it as night light – and plugs directly into a power outlet. It monitors the basics, including humidity and temperature, and provides a reading of various chemicals floating in the air. It uses these readings to provide a high-level overview of a home's air quality and can drive a fan or air purifier plugged into the outlet on the front of the device.
Overall, it is the least sophisticated but simpler for the general consumer. He told us that we need to keep an eye on humidity levels or risk growing mold and growing mites.
Plume Labs Flow is a portable air quality sensor that monitors airborne chemical levels and particles indoors and out, which is really interesting to see how life in an armpit with little outdoor air pollution affects the environment. indoor air. It also tracks changes over time and sends alerts when things get worse.
The Awair Glow C mobile app shows good overall air quality but warns of increased humidity. (Photo: Jennifer Jolly)
The Plume app is intuitive and quickly shows levels of chemicals and nitrogen dioxide – abundant in vehicle exhaust and even frying smoke, and a likely culprit in everything from bad sleep to headaches. It also alerts us to high humidity, just as we discover a leak in the roof just above the kitchen area where these devices are connected.
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The professional-grade Airthinx IAQ air quality monitor shows a red light signaling poor quality during the recent renovations of the author's home in West Oakland, California (Photo: Jennifer Jolly)
But if you are really serious …
If you think of Awair Glow C as a car that takes you to a clean air destination in the most basic way possible, the Airthinx IAQ is more like a fighter jet.
Yes, the Airthinx unit monitors the basics like temperature, humidity and chemicals, but it also does much more by sniffing out the smallest particles that float through space. These microscopic spots are called particulate matter and, depending on their size, may remain floating for weeks. This includes things like dust, fungi, pollen and even bacteria. Levels of particulate matter in the air can change dramatically within hours, signaling an increase in fungal growth or outside winds pushing pollutants into open windows.
The gadget feeds all this information into a cloud-based dashboard, accessible from anywhere, with up-to-date air quality reports. The problem is that it's so detailed that I have no idea how to interpret the data on my own.
"Ah, you seem to have the perfect breathlessness storm this week," says Nasis as I call back to translate Airthinx's readings for me.
True, the ongoing renovation now includes finding this leak in the roof, drilling holes in ceilings and walls, installing tiles, painting, and so on. A lot of. dust.
“Every day around 6pm, there are a lot of particles and high VOCs that can make you feel dizzy. Specifically on Monday, around 6 pm, it was also very bad with a high formaldehyde content. Maybe something plastic was burning or someone sprayed an aerosol?
This is when the real investigation begins. We are preparing and painting our walls, which may be to blame. Our contractor also removed the old foam insulation from a toilet next to our kitchen last week. During the 1970s, urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) was the main item of any home, and since the last time this home was remodeled, it's also a likely source of disgusting air.
But my husband was cooking on our gas stove at those specific times too. According to the EPA, gas ranges and ranges are a common cause of poor air quality.
We've adjusted the hood and fan and added two new gadgets to the analysis mix – the Blue Pure 211+ ($ 299.99) and Molekule ($ 799) air monitoring purifiers. (Watch out for criticism.)
The air quality is already better, but I wouldn't have found out without Dr. Nasis's help.
The Airthinx IAQ laptop panel is too complicated for me to find out quickly on my own. (Photo: Jennifer Jolly)
Bad air, now what?
Knowing your air quality is bad is one thing, but understanding why it is bad and how to correct it may require some serious detective skills and, in some cases, more than a basic understanding of the role of various pollutants in your space. . This is the biggest weakness in all these consumer air quality monitors so far.
"This information is really complicated," says Miller, "everyone should have good customer service, because most people need it." She said that of the devices she tested, Airthinx has the best overall support. "With all these devices, I always check to see if they have a good user interface, how responsive they are to support, and whether they have independent third-party studies to show how accurate they are."
The night we almost died
Even as studies linking poor air quality to tens of thousands of deaths continue to accumulate, most of us don't think about air quality until it gets really bad. Or almost kills us.
This was what happened two winters ago when my family experienced a series of strange illnesses that culminated with my husband in the emergency room after a debilitating one-week migraine. The whole family experienced headaches, nausea, drowsiness, and body aches, and we soon found out why: the 100-year-old gravity crumbling furnace in our rental home had been throwing toxic gases into our space for months. (Our former owner apparently forgot – her words, not mine – to fix this for at least a year.)
When gas company teams came to inspect the entire system late at night, after I felt especially sick and thought I smelled "gas" in the air, the technician told us that the levels of carbon dioxide (CO) and carbon monoxide ( CO2) were so high, especially in our rooms, that our family "arrived by morning". Our carbon monoxide detector had not fired and it seems that all the air quality monitors I reviewed could now …