Monitoring Indoor Air Quality at Home
Do you know what’s in your home’s air?
This is Part 1 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
The journey to monitoring our home’s indoor air quality followed a similar path as Airthings’ own journey into the market. After purchasing our home in 2015 and having a radon mitigation system installed, we did not follow up on further radon monitoring due to a lack of options in the marketplace. The vast majority of homeowners do the same: test radon at time of sale and never again. At the time, monitoring was either a 48 hour test performed by a professional for $200, or a carbon test that you mailed away. Life got busy, we started a family and business, and no follow up radon monitoring occurred.
Enter Airthings. Airthings was started to provide a solution to the lack of home radon monitoring options, as I mentioned above. They began to show up on our radar in 2018, as they launched the Wave Plus monitor (the model we now own) and were making appearances on smart home forums and sites. My husband began suggesting we look into buying one, but adoption took a while as reviews and info were limited. Most of the content was from smart home techies who understood the app and “smarts” of the device, but nothing applicable to use cases or indoor air quality. In 2020, we purchased our first 2 Airthings Wave Plus to monitor radon, but quickly learned about much more.
What air quality parameters are monitored?
From what I can tell, Airthings offers the widest monitoring of parameters in the residential space, both in a single device and across its product line up. Current residential models are listed below:
View Plus: Radon, PM2.5, CO2, Humidity, Temperature, VOCs, Pressure
Wave Plus: Radon, CO2, Humidity, Temperature, VOCs, Pressure
Wave Radon: Radon, Humidity, Temperature
Wave Mini: Mold Risk, Humidity, Temperature, VOCs
Home: Portable radon monitor
What is unique about this monitor?
Airthings’ unique standouts in the home IAQ monitoring space are the inclusion of radon and a full-range of product offerings.
Set up and what is included
As I have personal experience with the Wave Plus and View Plus, this section will be focused on those 2 models. However, setup and contents of product packaging are likely similar across the lineup. Wave Plus comes with the device, batteries, and a magnetic back plate for attaching to a wall or ceiling. View Plus includes the device, a back plate, 3M Command strips for hanging the device, batteries, a USB C power cable, and USB C power block. View Plus also has a rubberized bottom to minimize movement when placed on a table or counter.
Like most IoT devices, set up is super simple and completed through an app. Begin by installing the Airthings app from the Apple or Android app store, and creating an account. Next, power on the Airthings device by pulling out the battery tab (or plugging in the View Plus). Follow the in-app instructions to complete set up. The sensors will calibrate over the next 7 days, which will be displayed in the app.
Smart home integration?
Currently, Airthings is its own ecosystem available via the app or visual indicators on the device. For those DIY smart home enthusiasts, the prosumers, there are ways to get the data from Airthings into systems such as Home Assistant and Home Kit via an API which can be set up on the dashboard available on Airthings’ website. We previously populated the IAQ readings from our Wave Plus devices into our Home Assistant dashboard. We have since removed this display as we still had to manually update the data. This was before we purchased the View Plus, so updating to Home Assistant may be possible to automate when a hub or View Plus is used. We now have some info from the View Plus displaying in Apple’s HomeKit. Note, the View Plus is not currently certified to work with Home Kit. This is still a developing space, and currently any automations would require above average DIY tech skills to implement. I expect smart home integration may become simpler via future updates to software and hardware.
Monitoring air quality: real time & historic
Monitoring is delivered several ways. The first is on the device itself. The Wave models flash a green, yellow, or red ring when you wave your hand in front of the device. This provides a general idea of overall air quality, though if the ring flashes yellow or red, you will need to view the app to see which air quality parameter is out of range and by how much. The View Plus also provides the green, yellow, red color indication when you wave your hand in front, but adds a screen that displays live readings. You can select which parameters are displayed on the screen within the device settings on the app.
For me the app has been my most frequent interaction. I can launch the app and get an update on my current air quality readings, or see my historic trends over the past 48 hours, week, month, or year. Earlier this year, Airthings added “My Pollen Levels” which displays local pollen counts and types, based on your location.
For an even greater level of detail and additional functionality, a web dashboard is available on Airthings’ website. Most homeowners will likely to stick to the app, but for data and IAQ geeks, the web dashboard will provide great insight. The dashboard also displays your home’s outdoor AQI score and primary pollutant based on location.
Real life use & experience
Overall, Airthings has been reliable and informative. Constantly monitoring our home’s indoor air quality allows us to see how it trends over time, how weather events impact indoor air quality (radon spikes after heavy rains), and even catch when filtration or exhaust equipment needs attention. While we started out only interested in monitoring radon, the additional monitoring provided by the Wave Plus opened our eyes to CO2 spikes (bad) and low VOC levels (good). This led us to add an ERV to ventilate our bedroom, my home office, and our family area in the terrace level.
A few areas where Airthings devices fall short are battery-only models, reliance on bluetooth, and limited integration or automation. Having the option to be battery powered can be beneficial for many as it allows placement of the monitor in any location. While we utilize this feature in our bedroom with the monitor placed high on the wall like a CO or smoke detector, I prefer to have the option of plugging in the device when convenient. I have found we must replace the batteries in Wave Plus every 4-6 months. Even before the charge gets low, we often see sharp drifts in our readings. For this reason, I’d prefer if the devices could be powered by battery OR plug. This has been addressed in the newest flagship product, View Plus, which can be powered by battery or plugged in. The View Plus also addressed the issue of flakey bluetooth connection. The other models use bluetooth to update monitoring data to the app, which requires you to be relatively near the device to connect. There have been many times when using the app that I am in range of one Wave Plus, but not the other. The use of bluetooth is probably a move to save energy in most models, which is likely why both WiFi and an option to plug in are included on the View Plus. Simpler integration and automation would greatly expand the usability and benefit of Airthings monitors. Imagine if high readings on your Airthings device could trigger an air purifier or ERV to turn on until levels return to normal. Until then, we must react to and learn from the info provided by our Airthings devices.
Final thoughts & verdict
-Some models monitor radon
-Measures the widest range of common indoor home air quality issues
-Easily see overall air quality with green, yellow, or red light, or display readout
-View historical data on app or web dashboard
-Wide variety of models for differing air quality concerns and budgets
-Home Assistant integration
-Battery power is only option for some models
-Bluetooth connection can be flakey
-Must add hub or $300 View Plus model for data to update reliably or when remote
-No built-in automation to turn on an exhaust fan, ERV/HRV, or air purifier when levels are out of range.
In summary, Airthings has a wide product offering to meet most budgets and monitoring needs. It would be hard to go wrong in purchasing one of their products, they pack a lot of value. For those who live in radon prone areas such as Atlanta, purchasing one of Airthings’ models with radon monitoring would be diligent. If you’re unsure of your area’s radon risk, check the EPA’s map here.
Read the prior blog about how Airthings has helped our family monitor radon.