We’ll be hosting new workshops next week Friday, Saturday, and Sunday! (March 14-16) Spots are limited. RSVP a spot here:
Location: Cafe 1901, Chongwenmen
For the same cost of a purifier from the website (200 RMB), participants will learn about pollution and masks, build their own purifier, and test it on the spot with our trusty particle counter. We’ll also have extra filters and kits available.
And for people in Wudaokou, we will be announcing a new workshop in Wudaokou soon.
Fellow Beijinger and test-guru Dr. Saint Cyr just start a crowd-funding initiative to support independent tests of pollution masks:
With everyone’s support, he’ll send masks to be tested in a lab in California. Questions he’ll be answering:
1. Which masks are effective at catching particulate pollution?
2. Which masks perform well while people are actually moving?
3. Which masks work best for children and infants?
When he’s done, he’ll publish all of the results online. I’ve never seen good tests of movement, so I think that’s sorely needed. Plus, we all benefit from having good, independent tests available to guide our decisions.
I just donated. If you can spare a few dollars or RMB, help out! If not, at least spread the word on Facebook or Wechat!
Beijing-based Dr. Saint Cyr’s tests of air purifiers were one of my original inspirations for the whole DIY project, so I was happy to see that the DIY recently became a part of those tests:
These are the first independent tests of the DIY, and the results parallel mine. You could also include the tests by doctors at the University of Michigan as independent "proof of principle," although they used a different fan and filter. The commonality is that all of the tests have shown that a simple filter and a fan can reduce particulate pollution in the home.
Dr. Saint Cyr’s review isn’t all glowing. He rightly notes that the cannon is noisy, which I’ve also written about (decibel counts and comparisons here). Tests show the cannon is still very effective on the lower settings, so I recommend running the cannon on the somewhat quieter settings. And for people who are sensitive to noise, I recommend the quieter Original.
Saint Cyr writes that we’re still in the early rounds of our design, and I think that’s right. In fact, we’re working on a new model that keeps the high performance with less noise. I’ll be posting more data on that in the coming months.
So far, I’ve been testing air purifiers by taking a baseline measurement of particulate pollution in a room, and then turning on the purifier and testing whether the counts drop. I’ve used that method to test the DIY and more expensive machines.
However, I recently bought a second particle counter, so my collaborator Gus suggested another method: run one particle counter in the bedroom that has the purifier, and run another particle counter in a different room that does NOT have a purifier. The benefit of this method is that the control room represents the counterfactual—what would have happened if we hadn’t turned on the air purifier.
Thus, if a northwest wind hits Beijing and makes the outdoor air a lot cleaner, we can separate the effect of the outdoor air fluctuations from the effect of the purifier. In that situation, my old method would artificially raise our estimates of effectiveness. Changes in outdoor air can also artificially lower our estimates of effectiveness if the outdoor air gets dirtier after we turn on the purifier.
In previous tests, I corrected for this by averaging over multiple tests. I also analyzed the data after removing days in which outdoor air pollution fluctuated a lot (for example, I do that sort of analysis in the extra nerd notes here).
But it’s always nice to use different types of tests to make sure an effect is real, so Gus did this experiment. He set up one particle counter in his room and one in his kitchen:
He let the particle counters run for several hours, and then a timer turned on the Original DIY in his room. (The kitchen had no air purifier.) Here’s what happened:
The difference between the bedroom and the kitchen air quality can approximate the effect of the air purifier. It looks like Gus would have been breathing 16,000 PM .5 air in his bedroom if he hadn’t turned on his DIY purifier.
And it’s pretty clear that the kitchen air quality (where we don’t have a purifier running) is following outdoor air quality:
(Be aware that I’m overlaying these two lines on the same graph, but the Y-axes are different. This is NOT saying that indoor air is as bad as outdoor air. Indoor air is usually cleaner than outdoor air.)
Conclusion: Similar to earlier tests, the double particle counter test shows that the DIY purifier is removing particulate pollution from the air.
As always, I’m including more details for fellow data nerds below.
I’ve posted data before showing that outdoor air quality is strongly correlated with indoor particle counts (r = .71), but Chinese New Year gives nerds like me a great chance to see what happens when we get a momentary shock to air quality.
The media made a big deal about people cutting back on fireworks this year out of a concern for air quality, and that may be true, but you can still see a strong spike in PM 2.5 as Beijingers rang in the year of the horse:
Not all that surprising. But what’s more interesting is that you can see a corresponding increase in the particle counts in my collaborator Gus’s bedroom:
These indoor counts are without a purifier running, so they demonstrate how quickly outdoor air pollution can find its way indoors and how variable indoor air quality can be in a single room over time. Simply put: the worse the air is outside, the worse it is inside.
A couple of notes for fellow nerds:
1. The indoor particle counts are not precisely on the hours, so the apparent time lag between indoor and outdoor counts may be exaggerated.
2. The early spike in indoor PM 2.5 may be because people were moving around the house at that time, which affects the larger PM 2.5 more than the smaller PM .5.
Matt Myers attended our workshop in September, and he used it straight through December. On December 7th, he sent me a picture of the blackest HEPA (and pre-filter) I’ve ever seen. Yikes!
Time for a new filter! I’d be happy that black gunk is in the filter and not in my lungs.
joshuaw81 asked: Hi Thomas, just started one of your cannon kits earlier today and it's already turning gray. Already a fan of your work! Two quick questions for you: 1- I received a foam/fiber square that is white on one side and light green on the other. I'm assuming this is packaging, and not part of the filter? 2- Are these HEPA filters washable? Many thanks!
Good questions! We’re actually working on a pamphlet to go along with the cannon that will answer these two questions, so it’ll be clearer in the future! But here are the answers:
1. What’s the pre-filter for?
The pre-filter goes behind the HEPA filter, and it catches the larger dust particles so that the HEPA will last longer. We don’t include pre-filters on the Original DIY because the fan isn’t as strong as the Cannon.
2. Can I wash the HEPA?
Unfortunately, no. HEPAs are not washable. That’s one reason we try to keep our HEPAs as affordable as possible.
The recent Shanghai airpocalypse showed that air pollution is not just a Beijing problem. Now lots of people are concerned about the air in our sister city to the south. Around that time, Dave Dal Molin in Shanghai offered to help us find a place to host our first workshop outside of Beijing, and he came through with Mogoo Cafe:
We’ll have two workshops on Monday, January 13th at 7pm and 9pm. Spots are limited to 30 spaces. Reserve a spot here:
As always, our goal is more to educate than to make money, so the workshop costs the same price as ordering a kit online. For 200 RMB, you’ll get knowledge, your own air purifier, and a chance to test it on the spot with our particle counter.
The new Cannon kicks butt (scientific definition of kicking butt), but it’s noisier than the Original DIY. How noisy is it? As is my habit, I wanted to answer this question scientifically.
So I bought a decibel meter:
And I tested the Cannon, Original DIY, and the Blue Air 270E on their highest settings from 1.95 meters away. Here are the results:
The cannon is noisier than I’d like, but it’s similar to the Blue Air on the high setting. To give you an idea of how loud that is, this decibel chart says that’s between “conversation at home” and “conversation in restaurant.”
It’s still louder than I’d like, but fortunately I’ve found that the Cannon is still very effective on the lower settings:
So I recommend running the cannon on a lower setting if you find it noisy.
1. Cannon-owners can use the lower settings without sacrificing much performance.
2. For people who are particularly sensitive to noise, the Original may be a better choice.
3. For people who are VERY sensitive to noise, the Philips AC4072 is expensive (2,700 RMB), but it’s quite quiet on the low setting.
As always, I’m posting the data and methods below for fellow nerds.
I’ve wanted to know for a long time whether the DIY filter is as effective as the Ferrari filters. In an earlier post, I compared my data to the tests of Dr. Saint Cyr (whose excellent posts inspired me to look into filters in the first place). But I noted that the comparisons were far from perfect because:
1. The rooms were different.
2. The Cyr post did not specify how long the tests were (and that can make a big difference if you’re looking at times under an hour—see this time comparison).
3. The Cyr post did not describe the particle counter or particle size.
But now I finally have directly comparable data! That’s because two kind souls donated a Blue Air 203/270E (3,600 RMB) and a Philips AC4072 (2,700RMB). That means I could finally test the DIY against expensive brands in the same room, for the same amount of time, with the same particle counter.
To do that, Anna ran 11 overnight tests with the Blue Air and 9 tests with the Philips. As always, I calculated effectiveness as percent reduction in particulates from the room air. Anna tested the air before she turned on the air filter, and then set the particle counter to take hourly measurements of the air in her 15 m2 room. Anna used the highest setting on each filter. (As always, I’m putting the original data and more details about the methods for fellow nerds at the end of this post.)
And (drumroll!) here are the results:
The cannon came out on top. It removed more PM .5 than any other filter, and it tied the Philips and Blue Air on PM 2.5. Not bad for 450 RMB!
Yet all four filters were making the room air significantly cleaner. For particles 2.5 microns and above, all four removed over 90%. For particles .5 microns and bigger, all four removed over 80%. I’m not the first person to say: All you need to significantly reduce the particulate pollution in your home is a simple HEPA filter.
Based on the data, here’s how much you’re paying for each percentage of PM .5 reduction:
(And that’s not counting the cost of the exorbitantly priced replacement filters.)
Recently, a Chinese news article claimed air filter companies are making “falsely inflated profits.” That fits with this data showing that the cannon removes more particulates than the Blue Air, yet costs 1/10th per percentage of PM .5 reduction. Similarly, the original DIY removes 4% less PM 2.5 and 6% less PM .5 than the Blue Air on average, yet the Blue Air costs more than 16 times as much.
Conclusion: You can remove particulate pollution from the air in your home and pay far less than a Blue Air or Philips.
Now, as I’ve said before, particulates are not everything. There are also gases like radon and carbon monoxide (although I’m less concerned about those). People who suspect that their homes may have harmful gases (particularly people whose homes are being remodeled) can get home tests done for gases from Pure Living China. It’s not cheap, but I’d consider it if I had a baby at home.
As always, I’m posting the original data and detailed methods for fellow nerds.