Monitoring Indoor Air Quality at Home
Do you know what’s in your home’s air?
This is Part 2 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
After learning much about our home’s air quality with the Aithings Wave Plus, I was curious to try out their competition over at Awair. Not only would this be a chance to compare the models on the air quality sensors they had in common, Awair added monitoring of PM2.5 which the Airthings Wave Plus lacks.
What air quality parameters are monitored?
Awair Element tracks 5 indoor air quality parameters: temperature, humidity, CO2, TVOCs, and PM2.5.
What is unique about this monitor?
Awair’s unique position is likely the first thing you notice about the monitor: its display. There is quite a bit of info packed neatly into the space, reducing your need of referring to the app. The face of the unit features a numerical score where 100 is best, a colored dot to the upper right of the score to indicate overall health (green, yellow, red), and 5 columns of dots to the left. Each column represents an air quality parameter, with a single dot per column being best.
Set up and what is included
Package contents and set up are minimal. Awair Element includes the device and power supply. To set up, simply connect the power cord to the device, connect the plug to an outlet, download the Awair app from either the Apple App store or Google Play store, and follow the in-app directions.
Smart home integration?
One of Awair’s strengths is integration across multiple smart home platforms via Awair +. Integrations include Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT, Ecobee & Sensi thermostats, and more. Setting up integrations is completed in the Awair app under the Awair + icon in the lower navigation bar. While Awair offers a decent range of integrations, it has limited ability for automations. Through the Sensi and Ecobee integrations, you can currently automate your HVAC recirculation fan to run when triggered due to CO2, VOCs, or PM2.5 levels. Additional options to control ventilation with an ERV or HRV would be a welcome addition. We discuss one such option with Broan’s Overture system next week.
Monitoring air quality: real time & historic
Viewing air quality trends with Awair is done via the app, there is no online dashboard. To access historic data, select the Trend icon along the bottom of the screen. The default view will be the current day’s trending overall Awair score. Across the top of the display, you will see icons for each of the 5 parameters monitored by Awair Element (temp, humidity, CO2, VOCs, PM2.5). Toggle between each icon to view the current day’s trend for each respective parameter. You can view past day’s trends by swiping right. To view a full week of data, position the phone in landscape mode. Swipe right to view additional past weeks. I am unsure the max length of time data is stored, but I am able to go back 11 months to when I first installed my Awair.
Real life use & experience
Life with the Awair has been fairly straightforward, as it should be. It blends into the background, constantly monitors our air, and sends notifications to our phones when a level is out of bounds. Since we have whole home dehumidification and ventilation, our typical air quality events only occur during cooking, even though we utilize the range hood. While cooking, both the VOCs and PM2.5 will rise, visible on the device display and a notification to our phones. Awair lets us know what is out of range along with the current level. Once levels return to normal, Awair will send tips to help identify what caused the spike. Note: notifications can be turned on/off completely, or by individual air quality parameter, in the app.
The Awair score displayed prominently on the device keeps you engaged and competitive. Who doesn’t strive for 100? Even our guests are now in on the game, and check the score during their visit. On a recent weekend, we had a dinner party of 6, followed by wine. As we chatted in the same room as Awair, the score dropped to the low 70s and the guests inquired why. We opened the app to see CO2 was slightly elevated (no surprise) and VOCs were highly elevated at over 5,000ppb. After speaking with Awair, it turns out our wine drinking and respiration was being picked up by the Awair.
Awair includes various features that provide insight into possible factors impacting your home’s indoor air quality. Notifications and tips are triggered based on your air quality issues, such as opening a window, running an exhaust fan, or using a dehumidifier. The app also includes outdoor air quality index (AQI) scores based on your location. This can help differentiate if indoor air quality is being negatively impacted by outside air quality issues or something inside the home. For example, nearby fires will elevate PM2.5 levels both inside and outside your home. Which leads me to Awair bringing my attention to fireworks. This past July 5th while enjoying my morning coffee and reviewing my various home apps, I noticed the PM2.5 reading was unusually high on the Awair. I checked the Outdoor section in the app and saw the air quality throughout our region and state were highly elevated, and was impacting our indoor air. This led me to Google and several great papers on the drastic effects of fireworks on air quality. Not a surprising lesson, but I was not aware just how far and wide the impacts spread. Thanks for the tipoff, Awair!
Final thoughts & verdict
-Easy to understand display
-0-100 score makes monitoring air quality quick and motivating
-Multiple smart home integrations with Awair +
-Notifications can alert you when levels are out of range
-Recent price increase
-Historic data only accessible via app
-No automation triggers for ventilation systems such as ERVs
A recent price increase, which took the device from $149 to $299 puts the Awair up against other units in the $300 range, including Airthings’ newest model, View Plus. While the previous price of $149 had become quite low compared to the market, and almost every business is adjusting prices due to inflation and shortages, it seems far. The growing awareness around IAQ is clearly not slowing Awair’s business as the unit is currently sold out everywhere and backordered on Awair’s own site with a 12 week lead time.
In summary, the Awair readily delivers air quality info to home occupants in an easy to understand format via its display and app. The 0-100 score prominently displayed adds gamification to an otherwise dull process. Awair Element is a good IAQ monitoring option for anyone who wants to better understand how their own activities impact the air they breathe inside their home, and how to mitigate future issues.