Sometimes you ask yourself questions about your surroundings. You read stuff online and you wonder about the air quality in your home. However, after a cursory search on Amazon, you realize they are lots of devices out there and they all mention weird acronyms that mean nothing to you. They must be good at what they do, but before using them you need to understand what they report and how to act on that information.
This is where a solution like the Wave Plus from Airthings comes to the rescue. This round piece of plastic houses many little sensors to do what other devices do, report numbers on the various pollutants of your indoor air. But it does so much more than this. It not only reports very accurate numbers, but it also provided graphs to see how your air quality varies with hours, days, weeks and even months. For each type of pollutant, Airthings provides ample documentation that is easy to read and helps you quickly learn about the effects of pollutants and gases inside your home.
And for the developers amongst you, they even go a step further… More about this later.
Compared to the vast majority of air quality monitors out there, Airthings has one of the nicest, most minimalist design out there. After all, it’s designed in Norway and for once, not assembled in China but in Tunisia!
The unit is quite simple, no buttons whatsoever, only a single motion detector so that if you pass your hand in front of the unit, a LED ring lights up and gives you a red, yellow or green alert. This tells you without looking at numbers the air quality measured by the unit. The unit has a magnetic backplate so if you want to install it on the wall, you can use the provided screw and do so with the backplate. The unit then magnetically attached itself to the plate. This way you can easily take it out to change the batteries.
The batteries should normally last you between 1 and 1.5 years. And if you use some of the Eneloop Pro batteries, you might be able to push this even further!
In 2020, you must have an app. This is plainly simple, you need to be able to take a look at the numbers from your phone and if possible have some kind of history. Even more with an air quality monitor, you need to be able to see trends, averages, and act on that information.
Airthings does provide a mobile app which you need to use to set up the Wave Plus. Once you got through the wizard and have your new Wave Plus setup, it needs 7 days to breathe and provide accurate readings. From the specifications, it seems this is because of the VOCs and CO2 sensors, they need time to set and provide accurate numbers.
After the 7 days are passed, you can now refer to the numbers and start changing your behaviour.
The app shows you your list of devices and the battery level of each of them. The main page of a device gives you a clear view of all six measurements. They even have a little circle that shows up yellow or red to point to the measurement that is concerning.
If you tap one of the measurements, you are greeted with the average value based on the timeframe selected below (48h, week, month or year). Swipping allows you go move between measurements.
Talking about the measurements, the Wave Plus provided 6 measurements. This makes the Wave Plus one of the products on the market with the most measurements. And the only one with a radon detector.
The complete list includes radon, total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs), CO2, humidity, temperature and air pressure.
The impressive thing here is the radon detection, usually you need to get some of those little black pucks, leave them be for 6 to 12 months and then send then to a laboratory for analysis. Using the Wave Plus you have an accurate reading with ~10% after 7 days and ~5% after two months. Here again if you want the most accurate numbers, you need more than a few days, but given that radon-level changes not only with airflow but also seasons and behaviour (like having the windows opened during summer and closed during winter), you should refer to this number on the long run.
The only sensor missing from this impressive list would be the PM10 and PM2.5. Particulate Matter of a 10 microns or less, or 2.5 microns or less is not being measured by the Wave Plus. This pollutant can be breathed and it can travel deep inside your lungs and cause all kinds of irritation, trigger allergies and asthma in certain individuals. Think of this as small dust particles travelling in the air. The PM10 is what causes the beige/brown haze you often in photos from China or India. Although less present here, there are days when the outside number rises to levels that requires you to think about it.
I do wish the next generation of the Wave Plus incorporate a PM10 and PM2.5 sensor, as with it, and the other existing sensor, it would cover 100% of what most of the air quality monitors can monitor.
- Six sensors: Radon, CO2, TVOCs, humidity, temperature and air pressure
- Samples air quality at 5-minute intervals
- Mobile app with graphs and online dashboard
- Physical LED circle for quick check
- Batteries last 1.5 years
- Can be installed on wall or ceiling
As with many things in my life, I have an episode where my partner had trouble breathing during the lockdown. We never were at home for such an extended period of time and this caused her to start having trouble breathing.
We have central air and even an air exchanger, but never really got numbers from the air quality in our home. Our home is almost 10 years old and was built using the Novoclimat standard, a government approved guideline that makes sure houses are better insulated than usual and thus have basically no unwanted air leaks. This is great for saving on heating and cooling bills, but it has the adverse effect that if we don’t actively circulate the air, it stays stale and significantly drop in quality.
We Were Very Bad…
In the past, we used to put the central AC on during 30˚C and plus days, but rarely the air exchanger. Or if we did, we wanted to cool the house as quickly as possible so we set it to recirculate the air. This is a very bad idea, as all of the VOCs and the CO2, and even the radon, stays inside and moves around.
This was during summer. During winter, we also did not have such a great track record either. We, of course, being in Québec with our -30˚C, have to heat our house. Which we do at or around 22˚C during the winter, and have the air exchanger running on auto with around 35-40% relative humidity. This is good, but we often time do not set the air exchanger to circulate air from the outside. Can’t wait to see how bad we are once winter invites itself…
Numbers You Can Act On!
Now that I have a Wave Plus, I can get accurate numbers and act on them to correct the situation. Having the AC running without the air exchanger basically raised the CO2 and TVOCs levels very high, in the yellow section after about one hour and if left to its own device with us 5 in the house, it rapidly reaches the red zone. Turning on the air exchanger fixes the problems and brings back all the levels to green. Phew!
You know what also fixes all the problems? Opening the windows! Especially on a windy day, you can quickly get your air cleaned by opening the windows for a few minutes. All the levels with drops significantly.
The Enemy That is Radon
Radon is one of the worst air pollutants out there. It’s odourless, does not seem to harm anyone until it’s too late. And the end result of living in an area with too much radon can be lung cancer. So yes, you need to look into this. Seriously.
Airthings provides anonymized information regarding all of the Wave Plus devices out there and gathers the results on a Radon Map. This can quickly tell you if others have low or high levels of radon in their houses and if you should take a closer look at this. A friend of mine (👋 Angelo!) lives in a High Risk area and got his house tested. I live in a Medium Risk area and thanks to the Wave Plus I can see that my levels (at least for now) are quite low. Having poor ventilation raises the numbers and even when measured on the second floor of my house, the number also rises. This means that the radon can easily circulate even to the bedrooms with the AC ON, but without proper air exchange practices.
I have also set up those little black pucks to do long-term (6-12 month evaluation) and I’ll post back the results which I’ll be able to compare with what the Airthings reports in 6-9 months.
Data, Data, Data!
The mobile app gives you a great glimpse at the current situation and offers some graphs to see the last 48h, weeks or months. But if you like to see graphs and data, head over to the Airthings dashboard!
This thing is AMAZING! Just look at these graphs, you can see the data captured by the Wave Plus over the last few months.
This is great to see how the numbers fluctuate, but I wished we could add events which would add a vertical line to the graphs. For example, “opened windows”, or “turn on AC” because I don’t always remember what happened before a spike or a drop. You can frantically refresh the app 30 minutes or 1 hour after you did such event, but I would love to see how my actions affect the air quality in a more interactive way.
Using Bluetooth 5.0 allows the Wave Plus to communicate with your phone and using Wi-Fi, it can communicate with the remote server to upload data. The Mobile App however, requires you to be on the same home network to refresh the data. If you want to retrieve the data from outside your home, you will need to purchase the Airthings Hub.
You can also add cool automation when pairing your Airthings Wave Plus with Alexa, Google Assistant or leverage IFTTT to get alerts. Or even better, pair this with a WeMo Smart Plug and you can even start a fan, dehumidifier or other device to automatically take care of risky levels without raising from your couch! :) You can even use any Philips Hue product to get a visual, and colourful, notification when the specified level has risen.
Very cool stuff!
Developers, Developers, Developers!
Airthings is sharing lots of code on their Github page. You can even set up a Raspberry Pi to regularly download the numbers from your Wave device. They have reader code for the Wave Mini, the Wave and the Wave Plus; as well as a Grafana exporter.
I will be sure to play with the waveplus-reader to extract the data. I could even probably build my own dashboard and add support for events… 🤔
After testing the Airthings Wave Plus for many, many weeks, I can say with confidence that this device is very, very impressive! It offers a glimpse into an area of your life that you did not know could have such an impact on your well-being. Airthings provides in-app documentation to help you understand each of the metric, their impact and how to help with fixing a problematic situation.
The app is intuitive to use and offer nice graphs with your present and past numbers, but on the online dashboard is where all the juicy details are gathered. You can consult much more precise graphs and historical data. Given that the numbers are recorded every 5 minutes, you have ample data to learn about your situation.
I only wish that the Wave Plus would have a PM10 and PM2.5 sensor to really offer all of the sensors currently available on the market in its competitors. The Wave Plus does have the radon detection which is something quite unique, but in order to really know about allergens, dust and other things that can affect my air quality I would need to get another sensor.
The Wave Plus is the top-of-the-line air quality monitor by Airthings, it's on the lookup for 6 types of pollutants and even include radon detection. Simple enough for non-air quality experts, but at the same time powerful enough to really take control of your indoor air and a few perks for developers!
- Amazing Design
- Solid and simple mobile app
- Feature-rich Online Dashboard
- TVOCs, CO2 and Radon Detection are incredibly useful
- No PM2.5 or PM10 Detection
- No support for adding events on the timelines
- No out-of-network connectivity built-in
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