Air quality monitor can detect radon in the home

Noel Campion puts the Airthings Wave Plus monitor to the test.

Air quality monitor can detect radon in the home

Radon gas is a colourless, odourless, and tasteless radioactive gas. Radon particles are tiny and if inhaled, can irradiate the lining of the lungs.

Exposure to radon gas accounts for over half the total radiation dose received by Irish people and it’s a known carcinogen that can cause lung cancer. It is estimated that every year, between 150 and 200 people die of lung cancer related to radon gas in Ireland.

So what is it? It’s a naturally occurring gas, which is formed by the radioactive decay of uranium found in rocks and soil. In open spaces, the gas doesn’t pose a threat because it gets dispersed by the air.

However, the real problem is when it gets trapped in confined spaces such as homes and workplaces. If you’re a smoker and live in a home with high levels of radon gas, you are ten times more at risk of lung cancer.

From early 2019, the reference level of radon in the workplace reduced from 400 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3) to 300 Bq/m3. Irish building regulations require the installation of radon preventive measures to minimise the level of radon in new homes. The acceptable level, or reference level, for homes and schools in Ireland is 200 (Bq/m3).

Ireland has a particularly high level of radon gas and you can check your area on epa.ie/radiation/radonmap.

My house is too old to have met any of the newer building regulations for radon gas, but based on the radon map, I live in an area with low exposure.

Nonetheless, when given the opportunity to review the Airthings Wave Plus, I was keen to see just what the radon levels were in my home.

Air quality monitor can detect radon in the home

The Wave Plus is self-sufficient and only requires a couple of AA batteries for power and so it can be placed anywhere in the home or office. It comes with a simple mounting kit too, but I placed it at different locations for a week or two at a time to get a full picture of what the air quality was like throughout the house.

The unit connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth, but not wifi and works with the free Airthings app. The app isn’t the only way to tell if the air quality in a room is good or not — wave your hand over the Wave Plus and it will provide visual feedback. You’ll see a green ring of light if the air quality is good, yellow if average, and red for poor. Fortunately, the worst I saw in my month or two of testing was orange.

This simple and quick check is fine but it doesn’t provide specific information about the individual sensors. For that, you’ll need to use the app.

In all, there are six sensors in the Wave Plus. These check for radon, TVOC (Volatile Organic Compounds), CO2 (Carbon Dioxide), humidity, temperature and air pressure. VOCs are a combination of gases and odours emitted from many different toxins and chemicals found in everyday products.

These can come from an array of everyday items including paints, varnishes, wax and cosmetics, cleaning chemicals and even cooking and human breath. Anything that burns gives off fumes including fires, scented candles, but even things like new furniture, craft products like paints, fabrics and dyes contain VOCs.

Common sense and a keen nose are important, so always ensure an area is well ventilated when using these products. However, we use a lot of household products that we get accustomed to and this is when our guard is down and devices like the Wave Plus come in handy.

The Airthings app displays all six sensor readings but each time you open the app, it has to connect to the Wave Plus to download the latest information. It’s a big pity that it doesn’t connect to wifi and support a cloud account to ensure the information is backed up regularly and then accessible from anywhere.

If a particular level rises above a certain threshold, an alarm will go off on the device. You can turn this off by waving over the Wave Plus or via the app.

The app is easy to read at a glance and by default, it will display the levels over the last 48 hours. From here you can also see a graph of the levels as they rise and fall. You can also see this by the week, month or year. Each sensor tab in the app will show you a coloured ring that mimics the actual lights on the devices itself showing you if your air is good, average or poor.

Thankfully, my radon levels had a monthly radon level average of 42 Bq/m3, which is reassuring.

VOCs are dangerous if you’re exposed for long periods. If you’re seeing spikes in VOCs then it’s worth investigating where they’re coming from. You can also use air purifiers and regularly open windows. The humidity sensor provides a good insight into how much moisture is in the air or conversely if the air is too dry. High levels of CO2 can cause headaches and drowsiness. I found more people equals higher levels of CO2. Opening a window is the best solution for this.

Available from Amazon £239 (€280).

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