AmyWilliams | |
Pollution, Technology, Smartphone, App, Off-grid, Air Quality, Monitoring
Smartphone Apps plot “toxic areas” on maps, so you can avoid them.

One of the many appeals about living off-grid is breathing in that fresh clean air.

It’s safe to say the air quality in any city isn’t exactly top notch! High levels of pollution have been linked to serious health conditions such as asthma and emphysema. A report in the Guardian has found that in heavily polluted cities exercising can do more harm than good because of the high levels of particulate matter in the air. But for many people going off-grid and leaving city life behind tomorrow isn’t exactly feasible.

So until then, monitoring the air quality in your home and as you’re out and about in your everyday life is a good way to go. Not only will it make you more aware of the air you breathe, it will also help you take preventative measures to improve it. Whether this be through taking a different route on your way back from work, opening the windows or switching on the ventilation when you’re cooking.

If you have tried any of the technologies discussed below, please comment and give us your feedback – we’d love to know how you’re getting on with them!

Only want to monitor your air quality at home?

Sources of particulate matter include burning wood and oil, smoking tobacco products, pesticides and even some household cleaners. The indoor air quality monitor Speck detects fine particulate matter in the air and informs you about the changes you can make to improve your air quality. The 4 inch by 3 inch model comes with a touch screen and only needs to be plugged in for you to start receiving feedback straight away. The toggle feature allows you to look back over the past 12 hours of data to see how your actions, like cooking or cleaning with certain products, influences your personal air quality. Not only this, but the Speck has enough memory to collect up to two years’ worth of data without any need to connect online.

Free Speck software or the mobile app lets you upload data to your computer, tablet or smartphone to monitor the data collected. The SpeckSensor app also allows you to compare your personal air quality to the government’s air quality index stations. If you want to check out the outdoor air quality in your area, you will need to be within 40 km of a regulated particulate matter station. Currently, this service is only available for customers in the US and parts of Canada and Mexico.

This Speck model currently can’t be used outdoors, however the development of an outdoor friendly model is currently in progress. Although, this is a pricey option at $200 per unit, the Speck is easy to use with a range of features.

If you want something for on the go – try these!

Atmotube is a portable air pollution monitor which detects volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide, as well as the temperature and humidity which can also affect air quality. This small robust device is titanium coated for longevity and sends data to your smartphone via Bluetooth. Weighing in at just 40 g (1.4 ounces) this device can be clipped on to clothing or bags, with the airflow mesh allowing the air to pass through its sensors.

Air Quality, Technology, Monitoring, Pollution, Smog, off-grid, app, smartphones
The LA skyline shrouded in smog – new mobile technology can notify you when air quality becomes low

The free app which can be downloaded from the Google Play App store or ITunes has a global air quality map which is free to access by absolutely everyone. So even if you don’t own an Atmotube, you can still benefit from the data collected from these devices. But only Atmotube owners can view their air quality history and get notifications to their phone if they are in a location with low air quality. Shipping worldwide, this nifty little device retails at $89.

The Flow Device is another small scale air quality monitor, being only the size of a pack of chewing gum. The aluminium shell houses a set of sensors that detect dust, exhaust fumes, temperature and humidity, amongst others. A set of LED lights on the device indicates the air quality in the immediate location. Whilst data is sent to a mobile app which displays it on a map. This then flags high pollution zones so you know where to avoid when you’re out and about. Coming with a dock and cable the device can be charged at home whilst monitoring your indoor air quality too. Designed by Paris based company PlumeLabs, beta testing of the Flow Device is set to begin in London over the next few months. Prices are yet to be confirmed.

If you don’t want to carry your own device, then the BreezoMeter may be worth checking out. This free app is now available in 28 countries including the US, Australia and the UK. Set up in Israel in 2014, the BreezoMeter gathers air quality and weather measurements from a wide range of sources – including 7,000 official air quality monitoring stations worldwide. This data produces real-time air quality maps and gives you notifications on changes in the outdoor air quality.

Tech-savvy and fancy building your own air quality monitor, well you can!
Smog, Pollution, Air Quality, monitoring, urban, off-grid, new technology, apps, smartphone,
You don’t have to go to extremes – apps available on your smartphone can give you air quality in real time, allowing you to avoid polluted areas – and wearing a mask!

This article at electronicsforu.com outlines how you can make your own air pollution meter and connect it to your smartphone. The set up uses the Blynk platform which displays readings from your homemade meter that is connected to an Arduino board. Of course you’ll need to buy the components in order to do that. This set up requires an Arduino board costing $20 from the online Arduino store (other websites sell boards that claim to be Arduino but are actually replicas). A Nova particulate matter sensor SDS011 is also used, which retails from $36 on Amazon. You will also require a Gas sensor model MQ-135, which range in price on Amazon from $2.45 to $16. A temperature and humidity sensor model DHT11 is also needed, once again ranging in price from $4.79 to $10.99 on Amazon.

Other projects elsewhere in the world have got volunteers to build their own air quality monitors. Greenpeace Bulgaria set up their own Dustcounter project in 2016, getting members of the local community to build their own air quality counters. Designed to be easy to assemble even for the not so technically minded (that’s me then), the schematics for building your own Dustcounter can be found here. (Google Translate will be needed because the instructions are in Bulgarian!) The charity is hoping to bring out the Dustcounter 2.0 later in 2017 after successful monitoring trials.

Alternatively, if there are any teachers out there who want to bring hands on practical sensor building to the classroom, this step by step guide and lesson plan outlines everything you will need. Making children and young people aware of air quality is an important issue that should be brought into the classroom environment.

Buy our book - OFF THE GRID - a tour of American off-grid places and people written by Nick Rosen, editor of the off-grid.net web site

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