Fresh air has always been one of the hallmarks of the Mountain West. The Rockies, Tetons, Wasatch, and other Western ranges are bastions of clear mountain air. And for a long time, we took it for granted.
2020 is a different story.
California is on fire. Oregon is on fire. Utah is on fire. Colorado is on fire. And air quality across the west has been notably degraded for the past several months. Ash is floating in the air, smoke is darkening the skies, and people are staying inside to avoid irritated lungs.
There’s also a respiratory pandemic sweeping the world.
People are thinking about air quality a lot more lately, especially here in the Mountain West. And if you’re thinking about air quality, you may want to actually monitor the air you’re breathing.
That’s where Airthings comes in. With a suite of products that measure what’s in your air, you can take a quick look at your phone to see what you’re breathing. And in 2020, that’s very reassuring.
Airthings was kind enough to send us a Wave Mini air quality monitor and Hub online system to check out. Here’s what we thought.
Airthings Wave Mini Unboxing
Airthings has their packaging absolutely dialed. Getting the Hub and the Wave Mini out of their boxes and set up took a matter of seconds.
After I plugged the Hub into the wall and my router (that’s really all you have to do), I set up the Wave Mini.
A magnetic battery cover (genius!) and easily adjustable stand are super convenient. Seriously, it doesn’t get easier than this. It was set up and ready to go in seconds.
Then I downloaded the Airthings app and used Bluetooth to get it all set up.
Again, this process was remarkably easy. Setting up a new Airthings account requires an email address and a password, and that’s about it. Then I added and named the sensor and it was ready to start doing its thing.
The Wave Mini requires a seven-day calibration period to get a handle on the air quality levels in your home. Fortunately, the app will tell you when you’re still in the calibration period so you don’t have to wonder if you’re getting accurate readings. You get an email when it’s calibrated, too, which is a nice reminder.
After that, you’re ready to see what’s going on with the air in your house.
What the Wave Mini Measures
A quick look at the app shows your four measures from the Wave Mini: volatile organic compounds (VOCs), humidity, temperature, and mold risk.
Volatile organic compounds, according to the EPA, can have both short- and long-term health effects. The higher the concentration of these compounds in your air, the more likely you are to experience
- eye, nose, and throat irritation;
- headaches, loss of coordination, and nausea;
- liver, kidney, and nervous damage;
- allergic skin reactions; and
- a variety of other symptoms.
Of course, you’ll need a lot of exposure to some pretty nasty VOCs to experience most of those symptoms. But eye, nose, and throat irritation isn’t all that uncommon. Especially if you’re also dealing with smoky skies outside.
The Wave Mini measures in parts per billion (PPB) and displays three different colors in the app:
- Green for less than 250 PPB.
- Yellow for 250–1,999 PPB.
- Red for 2,000 or more PPB.
If you’re seeing yellow or red, it’s time to start looking for sources for air contaminants in your house.
Or, if you’re in the West, sealing up your windows and doors so pollutants from wildfires aren’t getting in.
Temperature and Humidity
These are self-explanatory. You’ll see colors based on these readings, too:
- Blue for temperatures under 64º.
- Green for temperatures between 65º and 77º.
- Red for temperatures above 77º.
Humidity levels are a bit more complex:
- Red for less than 25% humidity.
- Yellow for 25–29% humidity.
- Green for 30–59% humidity.
- Yellow for 60–69% humidity.
- Red for 70% or more humidity.
The Wave Mini tells you how likely you are to get mold in your house. Mold, like VOCs, is associated with respiratory health problems.
You’ll see a score from 0–10, along with a color code, displayed in the Airthings app. If your risk is above 0, there’s a chance that mold could grow near the sensor. If you’re above 3, chances are better. If you see a number 5, you should be worried.
It’s best to place the sensor near where mold might grow, which Airthings says are places that are cool and not very well ventilated. Outdoor-facing walls, basements, and behind furniture are all good places to keep an eye out.
Like the VOC indicator, if you’re seeing a lot of yellow or red, it’s time to start making changes.
Using the Wave Mini, Hub, and Airthings App
If setup of the Wave Mini is easy (and it absolutely is), using it is even easier. After the initial calibration period, all you have to do is open the app to get an air quality reading. You can even see your average air quality and how it’s changed over the past two days, week, month, or year.
It’s nice that you can just wave your hand in front of the Wave Mini to get a quick view of your air quality: there’s a light that will glow green, yellow, or red, depending on current measurements.
The Hub connects your home network of Airthings devices to the cloud, so you can get access to readings no matter where you are. Without it, you can only get Wave Mini readings when you’re within Bluetooth range of the device.
The Hub isn’t all that exciting on its own, but once you’ve set it up, you can get updated VOC, temperature, humidity, and mold risk readings no matter where you are. If you have other Airthings devices, you can get their readings as well, giving you either more data (the Wave and Wave Plus also measure radon) or readings from around your house from multiple sensors.
A Note on Notifications
One big missing feature is the ability to get notifications when certain thresholds are reached. It would be nice to get a notification when the humidity goes above a certain number or when VOCs reach yellow levels. As of now, though, you have to set that up with IFTTT.
Once Airthings gets that figured out, this app will be just about perfect.
The Airthings Online Dashboard
The Dashboard is where Airthings really shines. In addition to showing you the readings from your in-home devices, it also shows you the outdoor air quality index for your area as well as the primary compounds that are in the air.
You can also customize your default view to show you all the information you want without having to click around. You can also see multiple measures at once and compare them over time.
You can see the online dashboard from any browser on any device, and it provides an even more comprehensive view than the app.
An Easy Way to Keep an Eye on Your Air
Watching the air quality in my own house fluctuate via the Airthings app (and even more so with the dashboard) has been fascinating. I haven’t yet noticed a pattern in when my air quality readings go down, but I have a suspicion that it has to do with wildfires and wind direction.
Even without a clear pattern, though, I’ve seen that the air quality in my house—while generally good—could use a bit of improvement at times. It’ll take a while for me to figure out the sources of VOCs in my house and what to do about them.
But just having the sensor around and occasionally taking a look at the app and the online dashboard has made me think more about the air that I’m breathing, which is a good thing to keep in mind.
The Wave Mini retails for $80, which is a fair price for what it does. The hub is another $80, and with those two, you can see VOCs and mold risk from anywhere. Adding a Wave, which measures radon, is $200. The Wave Plus, which combines the radon sensor with VOCs and carbon dioxide, is $230.
The best deal is probably the House Kit, which includes a Wave, a Wave Mini, and a Hub, for $300.
Could you get by without spending any money and just breathing whatever’s in your house? Sure, you could. But now you don’t have to.