Is Your House Killing You? Airthings Wave Plus Smart Air Quality Monitor Review!
Specifically useful for radon measurements, but with a host of other sensors too. Perfect for collecting data over the long term to see trends, or if remedial actions have had any effect. The device is limited in "smart" capabilities by the reliance on Bluetooth though.
Radon is apparently the leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking. It’s an invisible radioactive gas given off by the ground beneath our feet, and it seeps into our homes constantly. Testing for harmful radon levels in your home has in the past been a lengthy procedure, but Airthings introduced the first ever consumer-grade smart radon detector with the Wave device. The Wave Plus–retailing at $269–is its newest model, with some additional sensors for even more data.
Certain parts of the world have significantly higher levels of radon, such as Cornwall in the UK. Older houses are more susceptible, and it’s strongest underground. Since I live in Cornwall, in a house built in the 1850s, half underground, I’m probably what you might class as high risk.
Join me as I take a closer look at the Airthings Wave Plus with a month of data–and at the end of this review, we’re giving away an Airthings Wave Plus to one lucky reader!
What Does the Wave Plus Measure?
The Wave Plus isn’t just for measuring radon levels, but that is the main feature that sets it apart from other indoor air quality (IAQ) monitors. It also measures:
- Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOCs). This is a generic term given to the total amount of nasty airborne chemicals, such as paint fumes, perfumes, air “fresheners”, and aerosols. These chemicals are known to have both short and long term effects on your health, so this is one to really pay attention to. Generally, anything that smells is going to release some kind of organic compound.
- Carbon Dioxide. I expect we all know what Carbon Dioxide is, but may not realize that exposure to high concentrations of it can cause drowsiness, dizziness, and the inability to concentrate.
- Humidity. Excessive humidity can cause mold growth; not enough can cause dry skin and static build-up!
- Temperature. Presumably, we all know that being too cold or too hot is bad for you.
- Air Pressure. I’m still not clear how pressure can affect my health, or how you could “fix” that, given it’s primarily related to how high you are above sea level, but regardless: this measures it.
The Wave Plus runs on two AA batteries, and Airthings claim up to 16 months of life before they need replacing.
Setting Up The Wave Plus
Once you’ve removed the battery tab and created an account, adding the Wave Plus to the Airthings app is a simple process. You may need 10-15 minutes for a firmware update, but that’s only once.
You’ll find a single screw is included in the box for mounting the Wave Plus to a wall, but it’s not required. If you have a bedside table or chest of drawers, that’s an ideal height to place the device. It’ll measure the same air you’re going to breathe in when asleep.
The Wave Plus takes seven days to calibrate sensors, and you shouldn’t move it during this time. If you were hoping to walk around the house and identify problem areas, that’s not possible. The Wave Plus must be placed in one location and left alone for at least a few weeks to gather any meaningful and reliable trend data. After this, you can change the location if you want, but you should change this in the app so the sensors are recalibrated.
The Data is Beautiful
The real strength of AirThings Wave Plus is the ability to gather data and display it in a beautiful, easy to understand manner. A big aspect of this is the color-coding. Both on the summary screen and individual trend graphs, sensor data is displayed according to predefined recommended levels.
I found this really helpful to see at-a-glance where issues were, and exactly when they were becoming problematic. Spoiler alert: it’s mostly at night when everything tends to accumulate to unhealthy levels.
There’s both a mobile app–which is necessary to get data from the Wave Plus–and a web dashboard, from which the screenshots above are taken. The web dashboard offers more customization, allowing you to drag and drop widgets and resize them; though the app shares exactly the same design style and data features. You wouldn’t miss much if you ignored the web dashboard and only used the app–I just prefer using a big screen. If you have more than one device, you’re also going to really appreciate the ability to drag and drop widgets from different devices to the same dashboard.
The Wave Plus also features a simple to use wave gesture on the device itself (yes, that’s where the name comes from!), which lights up to indicate current radon levels in one of three colors.
Unfortunately, mine was red the entire time I was testing it. There’s no further customization for what this rings of LEDs displays, so you can’t change it to indicate humidity, for instance.
Bluetooth, Not Wi-Fi
The one major limitation of the Airthings Wave Plus is that it operates over Bluetooth. As well as generally causing connection headaches for Android users (I expected no issues on iOS though, I should add), this seriously limits the device’s communication abilities. Specifically, the Airthings app will need to be open (or running the background), and you’ll need to be within range of the device, in order for any data to be uploaded.
Generally, I found this wasn’t an issue: I would check the levels when I woke up, and it will have been syncing periodically as my phone charged overnight.
But on a few occasions, I would power off my phone, then check the app a few days later, perhaps from somewhere else in the house, only to find I had no data for the last few days because it hadn’t synced at all. Even when I synced to my phone, it then seemed to then take another half hour or so for the web dashboard to refresh.
If you plan on buying monitoring multiple locations around your home or business, you may want to keep an eye on the Airthings Hub, which promises to connect the Wave Plus devices with “long-range communication” capabilities. It’s not available yet and no pricing is given, but this would suggest there’s a custom RF chip sitting in the Wave Plus waiting to be activated. This would solve the issue of data not being live, and give purpose to the various smart integrations.
IFTTT and Alexa Support (But It’s Not So Useful)
Although Airthings offers an Alexa skill and support for IFTTT recipes, they’re also hampered by the device’s reliance on Bluetooth. None of the data is actually live, so any alert systems or reports from Alexa will only be based on old data from whenever you previously synced with the device.
This also means the app can’t provide notifications or alerts when a particular measurement is high. There is the option for a radon alarm in the app, but again, it only works when data is synced. For me, the radon level was always too high, so I didn’t bother enabling it.
If the device was equipped with Wi-Fi, it would be able to provide real-time alerts, as some competing indoor air quality monitors do. Although I should stress, the Wave Plus is the only device on the market to actually measure radon levels.
If you’re at home already, constantly walking in and out of whatever you placed the Wave Plus, with your phone on you, and the app always running in the background, the integrations work perfectly. That’s a lot of “if”s though. Opting to not use Wi-Fi was likely a decision made to conserve power.
Should You Buy the Airthings Wave Plus?
If you’re worried about the air quality at home, or if you know your home has a specific issue and you want to see the effects of any remedial steps you’re taking, the Airthings Wave Plus offers a beautiful way to visualize the data. You can easily view trends over the short or long term, and identify problems quickly with clear color-coding.
The reliance on Bluetooth for uploading data via your phone is a serious limitation which means that the data isn’t live. This restricts the Wave Plus’ ability to offer alerts or notifications. A radon alarm feature is included, but only when Bluetooth communication has occurred, and it’s only for radon. Some air quality monitors will give you live notifications that a particular sensor is spiking so you can take immediate action or identify exactly what might have caused the issue.
The Airthings Wave Plus is aimed more at the long-term monitoring of permanent remedial actions than short term reactionary tactics like opening a window.
Another aspect I would have appreciated is actionable advice. The Wave Plus is great for seeing that humidity is constantly high, but doesn’t tell you what to actually do about it. Advice can be found on the Airthings site, but it would have been nice to have this condensed and included directly in the app. You’ll have to figure out remedial action yourself, do something about it, then check the app a week later to see if it had any long-term effect.
- Beautiful data displays for identifying long and short term trends.
- Mobile app and web dashboard.
- No actionable advice in the app or alerts.
- Bluetooth can be problematic, and the data isn’t live.
My Next Steps?
Radon levels are reported by Airthings in Bequerels per meter cubed. Anything up to 100 is considered “normal”, safe levels. 100-200 is getting into dangerous territory. Anything above 200 is recommended to seek expert advice.
The Wave Plus detected that radon levels in our bedroom averaged in the long term at around 500Bq/m3. They peaked at 1200.
I trust the measurements from the Wave Plus. I believe it to be accurate and was already aware of the elevated radon risk in Cornwall.
Yet, despite finding abnormally high levels of radon in my home, I’m still not convinced on the long term health effects. It’s the “safe” levels that I dispute. While there’s lots of evidence to show that very high level of radon exposure–such as that experienced by miners–is extremely dangerous, there appears to be little evidence that comparatively low levels are proportionally dangerous. The WHO recommended safe levels seem to have been extrapolated down in a linear fashion from the higher exposure results. Many scientists agree this simply isn’t how radioation exposure works.
A 1993 study into the relationship between radon levels in Cornwall and the occurrence of lung cancer related to radon exposure showed no correlation at all. That is: despite Cornwall residents being subjected to levels of radon five to ten times as high as other parts of the UK, they didn’t apparently develop more lung cancer.
You’ll find countless companies have popped up to offer their expert services in dealing with your new-found radon problem. Renovating your house to reduce the levels may cost many thousands of dollars. These companies also sponsor or provide “expert opinions” to newspaper articles, so be careful when doing your own research.
Personally, I just don’t think I need yet another thing to stress over.