AirGradient DIY Indoor & Outdoor Air Quality Monitor

Countless times I have mentioned that we need to monitor indoor and outdoor air quality. This is an essential step in order to have a holistic approach to air pollution that surrounds us in both environments. Unfortunately, not everybody can afford to buy two monitors but thanks to the community and AirGradient there are two DIY solutions that can help us monitor the air quality quite accurately and of course, manage the air we breathe better.

AirGradient’s DIY solution is more appealing than the competition for many reasons. First of all, you can buy directly the DIY Kit with all the electronic components from them including the PCB. The PCB is the board where we will deploy all the sensors, WiFi module, and display. That is a huge benefit because you don’t have to search on the internet and purchase the components one by one. The well-designed PCB will also help us keep the monitor neat and small without unnecessary cables. Secondly, Air Gradient’s DIY AQ Monitor is very customizable allowing us to build an indoor monitor with an NDIR CO2 sensor but another one without a CO2 sensor or display for the outdoor environment. If you don’t want temperature/humidity sensors you can easily omit them too, but I highly recommend them. Moreover, there is software support as a community of passionate people have been improving the firmware constantly. Finally, the solution comes with a web dashboard where you can manage all the monitors and take advantage of the histograms and tools like the alerts.

Additionally, the devices which are connected to the cloud and the dashboard can broadcast the measurements back to a separate display (Viewport) which allows us to see the air quality indoors and outdoors like in the example below. Isn’t that very cool?

It has been a long time since I soldered something, so I was very happy to build the monitor. I built two monitors by following the fairly easy instruction here. There is also a video with the instructions here by Jeff Geerling.

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Outdoor Air Quality Monitors 2021Q4

What’s new? Well, lots of new Outdoor Air Quality Monitors have been released into the market for various purposes and different budgets. Air quality monitors for professional use in cities and industrial sites and homeowners who want to supervise the ambient air quality outside their houses/apartments.

This time, I have included the General Star Score from the AIRLAB Challenge 2021 for the monitors that took part. The Ethera NEMo Outdoor monitor scored the highest with 4.5 Stars out of 5.

uRADMonitor with the Smoggie and City models scored 4/5 and 3.5/5, respectably. Also the Kunak Air Pro which I will review soon scored 4/5. It is great to see that all these solutions deliver accurate results.

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3+1 Habits for Healthy Lungs

Our lungs are the first main organs to interact with the breathing air but remember almost all our organs will eventually receive something from the air we inhaled — ideally Oxygen. OK, let’s take a step back to remind ourselves of the composition of the air in our atmosphere. The composition of the atmospheric air is 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, 0.9% Argon, 0.04% Carbon Dioxide, and other trace gases and aerosols that in most cases are the pollutants that will deplete our health. You see, our modern lifestyle and the constant burning of fossil fuels (of any form including wood burning) has changed the balance and composition of the air in neighborhoods and cities. As a result, we end up with abnormal concentrations of pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, etc in the breathing air.

From an evolutionary perspective, our bodies are not designed to deal with the fine particles or the notorious toxic gases that are released into the atmosphere from our wrong investment in fossil fuels. With the exception of our gastrointestinal system which can discard unnecessary solids or liquid, our lungs cannot get rid of the air pollutants so they stuck and accumulate inside us. Some may be filtered by the liver.

Our noses or even our upper respiratory tracks can trap some coarse particulate matter, but there isn’t any mechanism to trap fine-PM or nanoparticles or gases, as a result, they end up reaching our lungs and the alveolar sacs where the exchange between oxygen and carbon dioxide occurs. The pollutants can pass that barrier or even they are stuck there resulting in inflammation responses and trust me we don’t want inflammation anywhere. I don’t want to dive too deep regarding what’s going on inside us when air pollution reaches our organs because it gets ugly.

What can we do to keep our lungs and the rest of our organs healthy and happy?

Avoid Ambient Air Pollution & Fix Your Indoor Air Quality

The first and obvious thing to do is to avoid air pollution. Some apps can help you find the best route in case you commute. However, sometimes it is hard to bypass polluted and busy roads. For this reason, we need to prevent pollution from being released into the atmosphere in the first place. How? By educating the rest. I know it is a hard task but it doesn’t have to be a chore. Just convince one close person and teach him or her how to do the same with another person close to them. If we have learned something from COVID-19 is how fast something can spread.

Indoor air quality is something we have to pay closer attention to. Sometimes we dismiss the fact that we spend a lot of time indoors and outdoor pollution slips inside or we create indoor air pollution. We had better demand better indoor quality in our workplaces as we spend a lot of time there too. Quantify the pollution with an indoor air quality monitor as it is the easiest way to take control of your air. Remember, no one is looking after your indoor air quality, except you!

Work Out

I love exercising, well no! Hear me out, I love the feeling of achievement each time I complete a physical workout because I know it benefits me on so many levels, including my lungs.

Full disclosure, I only exercise and recommend it to people when air quality is excellent and this is a condition that I have to follow 100% because when we exercise the demand for air increases, and our respiratory rates jump from about 15 times a minute to about 50 times a minute.

When we exercise we increase the capacity of air our lungs can hold and we increase the blood flow to our lungs, allowing the lungs to deliver more oxygen into the blood. Exercise reduces our blood pressure and improves our overall cardiac function so that our heart can pump more blood with each heartbeat. That means that our heart beats less time per minute, as a result, we extend its life span.

Don’t run next to busy streets! Indoors, make sure the air quality is excellent too.

Eat Healthy Food & Drink Healthy Beverages

We are what we eat, drink and breathe, so invest in healthy and vibrant food like seasonal fruit and veggies. Meat is also important but during a whole week dedicate one or two days to meatless meals. There are plenty of delicious, inexpensive, and climate-friendly recipes. I could recommend some so feel free to ask me. I don’t believe in strict diets but in well-balanced diets.

Unfortunately, the food and beverage industry is adding sugar and salt to make food and drinks more interesting for many decades, as a result, we are unable to distinguish the real flavor of a meal. My approach is to search for the taste of the plain food or drink. I can taste water, can you? Drink a cup of organic coffee or tea without sugar and try to find the notes of the different elements.

Our lungs need food and drinks rich in nutrients and antioxidants like vitamins, minerals, healthy fat, fiber, protein, and complex carbohydrates. These nutrients will reverse some of the damages and inflammation air pollution will cause to our lungs during our walk in the city center where traffic is awful. Did you know that the lungs are responsible for the transpiration of the “burned” calories out of our bodies in the form of carbon dioxide?

Meditate

Meditate once a day if you can, but don’t burn stuff! I have seen people burning incense or dry plants (sage) when they meditate in their effort to create a pleasant indoor environment but these practices release a lot of particulate matter and VOCs which end up inside them.

Meditation and some breathing techniques are designed to strengthen the lungs and the muscles around them. People who suffer from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other lung diseases may benefit from practicing them, according to some scientific studies but make sure to ask your doctor.

Breathe Helmet – Angel Investor

Introduction

I have teamed up with a great product designer Nathan Hassanali in our effort to offer clean air to the commuters that need to move around the cities where combustion engine vehicles are unfortunately still a priority over sustainable alternative methods.

The Problem – Air Pollution

One of the biggest challenges of the 21st century will be to mitigate the negative effects of transport – greenhouse gases, air pollution, and noise – while ensuring positive aspects of mobility. Meanwhile what can dwellers do to protect themselves from the toxic air that is present in the streets all around the world?

Although air pollution has decreased over the last two decades, it is still a major problem in many areas. ‘EURO standards’ for vehicles have not succeeded in reducing Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) emissions and “defected” vehicles (aka Dieslegate) still circulate without meeting the levels set out in the legislation. Recently, the World Health Organization updated the Air Quality Guidelines (2021 AQGs) which sets the bar for human health high because according to new methods for evidence synthesis and guideline development they found proof of health effects occurring at lower levels than previously understood.

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Review: IKEA VINDRIKTNING Air Quality Monitor

In 2021, IKEA made available an indoor air quality monitor, which is very very affordable. I bought one because I was curious to answer some basic questions like how did they manage to build and sell a particulate matter sensor that costs only 14€ or US$12 but also how smart and reliable is it in relation to other monitors.

IKEA is obsessed with naming all their products with Swedish words, so the AQ monitor VINDRIKTNING (which I can’t pronounce) translates as Wind Direction. Obviously, they don’t aim to create names memorable to people’s minds.

Let me share a story with you. Long before covid19 (2018 if I remember well) I and a company I worked for, decided to pitch IKEA into building an AQ monitor as I saw their interest in air quality because they designed some photocatalyst curtains that neutralized VOCs back then. Unfortunately, they turned us down, but I think we planted a seed into them. Long story short in 2021 they released the VINDRIKTNING.

Specifications

  • Particulate Matter Sensor Cubic Sensor PM1006K
  • 1 Green / 1 Yellow / 1 Red LED
  • USB-C connector
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What Is COP26 & What Does It Mean For Our Climate?

COP26 stands for Conference of the Parties, which are the countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The 2021 meeting will be the 26th meeting. Initially, it was due to take place in Glasgow in Scotland in November 2020, but it was postponed for a year because of the COVID19 pandemic.

During COP26 governments will demonstrate their commitment by showing how they will keep global temperature rises below 1.5ºC, deliver money promised to countries on the front-lines of the climate crisis, and shift away from fossil fuels.

So far and after the Paris Agreement little has been done in order to reduce greenhouse emissions. The pressure governments receive is even greater than before because the climate crisis is already unfolding in front of your eyes as more and more people demand actions.

Global Warming

Many people with a lack of understanding for the term global warming just believe that some seasons will be warmer, so what! The term global warming has indeed misled the population for many years as it doesn’t describe the real scenarios of the alteration of the climate on a global scale. Today, there are many terms available trying to describe and help people understand better the severeness of the issue.

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Op-ed: Wood-Burning Season is ON and the Zombies return!

Although some people claim that the wood-burning season doesn’t exist anymore because people never stop burning stuff (and this is true in some regions), the vast majority of the population can’t wait for cold weather to arrive in order to light the “cozy” wood stoves and unconsciously chock the village with toxic smoke.

Yes, wood-stoves even the ECO friendly or low-emissions or EPA certified or you name it, are huge polluters! They emit lots of particulate matter (commonly known as PM2.5) and a huge array of toxic chemicals that sometimes linger in the air for many days. Air pollution kills 13 people every minute worldwide and scientists at Harvard University found that dwellers who live in polluted areas are 15% more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who do not!

The atmospheric conditions and the geographical location of a village or city work in a complex way sometimes in favor of the dwellers but most of the time against the dwellers. When a city is surrounded by hills and mountains air pollution tends to stay there for a long time, like in Murcia, Spain. In that case, people’s lungs work as purifiers and trap all the pollutants, as a result, we have more hospital admissions and more chances to suffer severe health effects due to the air pollution which is deposed inside our bodies. The cost to maintain public health also increases.

By comparison, wood smoke from stoves and boilers carries the highest concentration across all pollutants. One eco-certified wood stove is rated at 3.1grams/h of particulate matter which is equal to six heavy-duty lorries which are rated at 0.5grams/h of particulate matter each.

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In & Out – Airthings & Airly

Countless times, I have said that it is very important to monitor our indoor air quality side by side with the outdoor air quality. A collaboration between Airthings and Airly brought the best of both worlds, ambient air quality and indoor air quality monitoring in one place. Unfortunately, this solution is available only to the business customers but we can always hope that the demand will drive the feature to the consumer clients as well.

Why in & out AQ monitoring is important?

Our indoor air quality depends on many factors like building material, furniture, and indoor activities (cooking in a home or printing documents in an office, the perfumes people wear, etc). All of these factors will determine indoor air quality from the inside but indoor air quality is subject to outdoor conditions too. Vehicle traffic, marine traffic (in case you live near a port), wood-burning, industrial activities in the area, and wildfires are some of the reasons that will affect indoor air quality as buildings need to breathe or ventilate if you want.

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Gamification works and IoT Air Quality Monitors need it

Long story short gamification works and should be adopted by IoT Air Quality Monitor and their Air Quality apps in order to achieve a behavior change.

What is gamification?

Gamification is adding game mechanics into non-game environments, like a website, a fitness app, or air quality apps to increase participation. The goal of gamification is to engage with users to inspire, collaborate, share, and interact.

Let’s take as an example Apple’s fitness app, those who wear an Apple Watch they know what I am talking about. Each month the application engages users by offering them a digital award, as a result, last month I had to burn actively 19.300 calories in order to win a shine yellow badge. On special days the app encourages you to complete a specific workout to win a special award like for the World Environment Day or Earth’s Day.

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Smoggie-PM Volunteers Update

Back in April, I and uRADMonitor shipped 5 Smoggie-PM to 5 volunteers in order to help them raise awareness but also to investigate what people breathe in other parts of the world, like in Belgium, Uganda, Azerbaijan, the USA, and Spain. Unfortunately, the US volunteer doesn’t respond to my emails and he hasn’t set the monitor up yet. I hope he is fine and covid-19 or any other possible problem hasn’t affected him.

In this article, I will analyze the data from two of the locations in order to determine the Air Quality (AQ) and get some conclusions that will help my volunteers. Here are some of the photos the volunteers have sent me.

It is always recommended to place the AQ monitors under the shade as sunlight can increase the internal temperature and consequentially the measurements of temperature and humidity will be incorrect.

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