Monitoring Indoor Air Quality at Home

Do you know what’s in your home’s air?

This is the final part in a multi-part series for December 2021, reviewing a wide range of air quality monitors currently available for the residential market. The objective of these reviews is to help consumers understand the IAQ monitoring options available.  We will focus on real life experience, use cases, and consumer perspective, rather than on technical aspects that are readily available on other reviews and manufacturers’ websites.

Part 1: Airthings
Part 2: Awair Element
Part 3: Broan Overture system
Part 4: Low price entries from IKEA and Amazon

While we have been pleased with our air quality monitors from Airthings, Awair, and Broan, we have spent hundreds of dollars. Sure, there are many people with similar income and willingness to invest in home health as us, but if we hope for air quality awareness and action to reach mainstream, there must be lower priced options for the typical consumer to afford, or be comfortable spending. That is why I was eager to try these new low-priced entrants from Amazon and IKEA, probably the two largest affordable consumer brands in the world.  Simply having products available from these two companies raises consumer awareness, and signals that air quality is reaching a larger audience. 

After living with these affordable monitors, can they help bring better indoor air to more people?

What air quality parameters are monitored?

IKEA Air Quality Monitor

IKEA Vindriktning air quality monitor

IKEA Vindriktning:

IKEA’s air quality monitor measures PM2.5 only.

Amazon Smart Air Quality Monitor:

The Amazon air quality monitor measures temperature, humidity, PM2.5, CO, VOC, and assigns an overall IAQ score. Note, the Amazon device monitors carbon monoxide (CO), not carbon dioxide (CO2).

What is unique about this monitor?

IKEA Vindriktning:

As a bare bones device, the unique feature may be that it’s from IKEA and the $12 price point.

Amazon Smart Air Quality Monitor:

The Amazon monitor has a few unique offerings, being native on the Amazon Alexa platform, inclusion of CO monitoring (possible benefit for showing dangers of gas appliances), and the sub $70 price while monitoring multiple parameters.

Set up and what is included

IKEA Vindriktning:

IKEA’s entry comes only with the device itself.  You will need to purchase or provide a separate USB-C power supply. As IKEA’s device has no connectability, set up consists of simply plugging in the device. 

Amazon Smart Air Quality Monitor:

Amazon’s entry comes with the device, a micro-USB power supply, and quick-start guide. As expected from an Amazon smart home device, set up is fairly straightforward. Once you have plugged in the device, download the Amazon Alexa app, or open the app if you already have other Amazon devices.  The indicator light on the device will blink blue.  Select “Add a Device” and search for your new monitor, or scan the barcode on the back of the quick start guide if prompted.  I was prompted to scan the barcode when setting up both of my Amazon air quality monitors.

Smart home integration?

IKEA Vindriktning:

As the IKEA is a stand alone device with no connectability, there are no integrations.

Amazon Smart Air Quality Monitor:

While we have a few Amazon echo devices in our home, as well as utilizing Alexa on a few of our Sonos speakers and Ecobee thermostats, I have not used the Amazon Alexa app frequently.  We utilize Home Assistant and HomeKit for control and notifications of our home.  As such, I didn’t dive too deep into integrations on this device.  It is important to note, you do have to use the Amazon Alexa app for the air quality monitor, and having other Alexa powered devices improves the user experience with the smart air quality monitor. For example, when air quality is poor, the Echo Show in our kitchen will display and speak a verbal notification of the change in air quality.  Notifications from the app can also be sent to your phone.  You can also ask Alexa about your current air quality. With Amazon’s growing list of smart home devices, there are many possibilities for future integration and automation, if Amazon sees perceived consumer value in the device.

Monitoring air quality: real time & historic

IKEA Vindriktning:

Real time monitoring is only communicated by the indicator light on the device.  Green is 0-35, Yellow is 36-85, Red is 86+ (micrograms per cubic meter).  As the IKEA is a stand alone device with no connectability, there are no detailed levels or historic tracking.

Amazon Smart Air Quality Monitor:

Here is likely the strong point of Amazon’s Smart Air Quality Monitor, no shortage of realtime and historic data monitoring.  Like every other air quality monitor we have reviewed, Amazon’s has an indicator light which indicates overall air quality in green, yellow, or red. As with everything in Alexa’s sphere, voice plays a big part.  You can ask Alexa for your current air quality, or she can play an audible notification when air quality is poor. Notifications can also be displayed on Echo devices with screens, or on your phone.  You can view real-time and historic readings in the Amazon Alexa app.

Amazon air quality notification

Amazon air quality notification displayed on phone

Real life use & experience

IKEA Vindriktning:

I quickly ran into the limitations of IKEA’s air quality monitor.  After a few days of use, it remained constantly glowing green, indicating good air quality, or was it even reading?  Without a way to see current or historic readings there was no way to know. I dug deeper into the minimal info that came with the device, and noticed rather high thresholds for marginal or poor air quality. Any PM measurements under 36 micrograms per cubic meter would always reflect green/good.  Our home almost never reached levels that high, only smoke from frying had exceeded those levels on our other monitors.  For comparison, our other air monitors classify PM levels as marginal for anything above the following levels in micrograms per cubic meter: Broan Overture 19, Awair 15, Airthings 10. 

I set out to do a food test, the best kind! I grilled a couple Impossible patty melts on the panini press. That would be sure to produce smoke, and since it’s not under our range exhaust, we should get some high readings.  I placed the IKEA monitor close to the press, along with Airthings’ View Plus for readings on its display. The patty melts didn’t disappoint, flavor wise or lack of smoke.  Both air monitors quickly indicated rising PM levels, and with the Airthings’ display I was able to verify accuracy of the IKEA’s color change.  A PM reading of 255 on Airthings showed Red on the IKEA, and as levels came down 59 on Airthings showed Yellow on the IKEA. On the IKEA, 36-85 is yellow (marginal), 86+ is red (poor).

PM levels on IKEA vs Airthings Air Monitors.

PM levels on IKEA vs Airthings Air Monitors.

While I had to go to extremes to make the IKEA reflect anything other than good air quality, it appears this is most likely due to the high threshold required to indicate poor air quality levels. In my home setting the IKEA air monitor is pointless, but perhaps in a home that frequently opens windows, a home that doesn’t regularly clean (dust), or in an environment with wild fires or air pollution, this could prove helpful.  As the device is shelved right next to IKEA’s line of air purifiers, I believe IKEA may have introduced this solely as a way to increase the use and sale of filter replacements.  Perhaps they can adjust the PM levels to be more in line with other air quality monitors on the market, and integrate the monitor directly into future air purifier offerings. 

Amazon Smart Air Quality Monitor:

When Amazon announced the Smart Air Quality Monitor in November, I immediately pre-ordered 2 of the units.  Like many in the healthy home space, I was eager to experience Amazon’s implementation and curious about their inclusion of CO monitoring rather than the typical CO2. How did it go?

As I have not previously utilized the Amazon Alexa app which is required for this device, my experience may not reflect others’.  While initial setup of the device was smooth, finding the device later was not as friendly.  First, the Smart Air Quality Monitor is not classified as an Echo & Alexa device so it does not appear under that tab.  I understand that exclusion, but it would have been an intuitive place to find it.  Ultimately the device ended up under Groups.  With Amazon’s use of voice, most consumers will likely interact with the Smart Air Quality Monitor by speaking to an Alexa device or via the notifications received. Perhaps this is why Amazon didn’t make the device easier to use within the app.

Our home has CO alarms, but not any low level CO monitors, so I was excited about the potential of this unit reflecting low CO levels from gas appliances, particularly cooking. After a couple weeks living with the Amazon Smart Air Quality Monitor placed next to my gas range, the levels hovered between 2-4ppm and didn’t reflect any spikes during or after cooking with gas. A mixed bag of results as it did not reflect CO levels from gas cooking as I expected, but if the readings are correct, it indicates my exhaust works well. Further verification is needed, so I have ordered a professional CO monitor to compare against the Amazon.  I will follow up in a future blog post.

While the Amazon monitor did not appear to be sensitive to CO, it was frequently sensitive to VOC levels, annoyingly so. It is important to note the Amazon Smart Air Quality Monitor communicates VOCs as an “index” score from 0-100, rather than in parts per billion like other air quality monitors. This makes it difficult to compare the accuracy of the VOC readings.  The device was quite annoying with the frequency of its spoken notices on the Kitchen Show, stating “The air quality in your Kitchen recently changed to Poor”.  Sometimes it made sense, we were cooking and the elevated VOCs were also reflected in the other air quality monitors nearby.  But about half the time, the Amazon monitor was the only one showing elevated VOCs.  One hilarious example, I placed a cutting board full of freshly chopped bell pepper, eggplant, and tomato next to stove and the Amazon monitor quickly proclaimed air quality was poor and VOCs were a 97 on a 0-100 scale.  We were not even cooking yet, that’s when VOCs would truly elevate.  

Amazon smart air quality monitor reflecting poor air quality

Speaking of that 0-100 scale, Amazon also displays an overall Air Quality score of 0-100 similar to Awair, where 100 is the best air quality.  Whenever the Smart Air Quality Monitor would have a VOC incident, it would peg out the index scores, putting VOC in the upper 90s and dropping our overall Air Quality score into the low single digits. When there were true VOC events, the Awair would also reflect the VOCs, but not as harshly and the overall Awair score never dropped below 80. Because of these rogue VOC readings, and the fact the Amazon algorithm is scoring them so harshly, I would expect consumers to become numb to the air quality changes, tuning them out or even returning the device.  Amazon should definitely rework their scoring for VOCs and limit the impact a single parameter can have on the overall Air Quality score, then push them out via an update.

Comparing VOCs and overal IAQ scores on Amazon vs Awair

Final thoughts & verdict

The best way to view these devices may not be in the current product, but in what could be possible.  No doubt, the existence of these product will bring attention to new customers who will begin understanding their home’s air quality, which actions negatively impact IAQ, and ways to mitigate or improve.  That’s truly the goal.  The other side is what these large home goods retailers can learn about the space, and how they might improve the next generation of product, possibly integrating it into other products or creating automations. Imagine an IKEA air purifier with the air sensor built in to automatically turn the unit on/off.  Amazon could get into the home air purifier market, create an automation with its new smart thermostat, or build the air monitor into some echo devices.

If you’re dipping a toe in the home air quality space and choosing between these 2 budget entries, go with the Amazon Smart Air Quality Monitor.  For the extra $50ish, you get additional air parameters monitored, notifications, realtime and historic readings, a powerful app and integration, plus a power cord! 

If you’re willing to spend more cash, get the Airthings, Awair, or Broan monitors for greater insight and ability to improve your home’s air quality.