Artur Gołdyn will tell you why measuring air quality is very important to your health and daily activities. He will also tell you how you can measure crucial parameters with the tools you can simply do by yourself.

With one simple device connected to your PC or Raspberry, you can display air quality measurements taken at your desk, on your computer screen, tablet, smart TV, or whatever device you want in your home or work network.

This raises awareness of all your friend and family members in a high-tech way, which gives you solid data about your closest environment.

The death toll of polish air

City of Wrocław covered in smoke.

Residential and business buildings hidden within smoggy air.

Air quality problems are commonplace in Poland, mainly in the heating season.

Smog may greatly limit visibility. It causes more frequent respiratory infections, even in very small quantities. It increases the problem of asthma, allergies, and even leads to the greater occurrence of malignant cancers and autoimmune diseases.

Most of the problem comes from coal-burning furnaces which are often very old and require people to manually load fuel. While inefficient, it’s still quite cheap, because the furnaces are already there. Modern buildings are generally equipped with convenient and clean heating and are well-insulated. On the other hand, in older buildings heating systems are not that great, and people living there either cannot afford to change them or are not willing to do that.

Meanwhile, 48,000 people in Poland are estimated to die each year due to poor air quality.  Sometimes the problem affects fit men, with no history of diseases and otherwise healthy lifestyles. And that’s a huge issue, as 90% to 95% of all cancers can be avoided.

How to burn wood and coal with less smoke?

What makes matters worse, dust emissions are amplified by the wrong methods of burning solid fuels, such as coal and wood.

And it takes only a simple change of technique to make burning much cleaner!

Even with existing infrastructure less smoke can be emitted, and more heat obtained.

Most operators burn their fuels bottom-up, that is they place small pieces of wood in the furnace first, and then cover it with larger wood, or coals. That leads to inefficiencies, as the toxic and flammable gases (such as hydrocarbons) are generated above the hot flames, and they escape into the chimney, leading to soot buildup in the chimney, and high quantities of smoke outside.

The proper technique of burning wood is demonstrated in the following video

First big pieces of wood are placed on the bottom of the fireplace, then they are covered with smaller ones, and at the top, some cardboard is placed. This generates a high temperature in the top section of the fireplace. The same principle can be applied to coals – if you place them on the bottom of the furnace, cover with smaller pieces of fuel, and set fire above that, resulting tars and gases are burned much more efficiently, provided that the oxygen is there.

More information in polish language:

Unfortunately, the change of burning technique is not a recipe to completely fix pollution. It may greatly reduce, but not totally eliminate smoke emitted from furnaces. Retort burners are even more efficient solution. They burn solid fuels, such as coals or wood pellets in very small pieces, automatically pushing small amounts of fuel every few minutes. The fuel is pushed from the bottom of the burner, and the air is added to the top with a mechanical ventilator. All gases from evaporation and pyrolysis get burned in the flame above, leaving almost no tar and very little smoke. Retort burner furnace with a big heat exchanger is typically more than 90% efficient. Modern retort furnaces also have a settling chamber between the stages of the heat exchanger, which causes bigger particles of dust to stay in the furnace, and not go to the chimney.

Example burner video:

Retort burners still require operators to add new coal or pellets every few days.

In the long run, the cheapest source of residential heat is a heat pump, which uses relatively small amount of electricity to heat the house. A heat pump works like a freezer or air conditioning, just in reverse.

For a lower capital cost, simpler installation, but unfortunately more cost of fuel, people can also use gas burners. They are as clean and as convenient as heat pumps.

What is the worst part of air pollution?

The most important ingredient of air pollution is suspended dust, which really is just smoke. It comes from burning coal and wood in old furnaces, and from diesel engines.

Suspended dust contains not only soot (carbon particles) but also tar (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – PAHs – which are highly carcinogenic and mutagenic, as well as teratogenic. Terrible, isn’t it?

PAHs are much more harmful than carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides or ozone, which have a more acute mode of toxicity (kill quickly in big concentrations).

Luckily the air can be filtered, to greatly reduce the smoke content. For personal protection, there is a variety of air purifiers for rooms, air filters for HVAC systems, and personal breathing masks available.

Me wearing a HEPA breathing mask.

Me wearing a HEPA breathing mask.

HEPA air filter before and after use.

Beurer LR-300 HEPA filter before using, and after 5 months of autumn and winter.

Xiaomi Air Purifier 2

Xiaomi Air Purifier 2

How to verify, that air purifiers are adequate?

Nova SDS-011 fine particles laser sensor attached to the USB port

Nova SDS-011 fine particles laser sensor attached to the USB port

We need to have a PC installed, with Nova SDS-011 sensor attached to the USB port.

And some software from my GitHub account.

Measuring and storing data.

Dust concentration is being measured by a sensor and sent to PC via virtual serial port (for example COM4 in Windows, or /dev/ttyUSB0 in the Linux operating system). Each second average recording of both PM10 and PM2.5 is being sent by a sensor, interpreted with a script, and persisted in a text file.

Sharing air quality data in the network.

Users’ browsers are allowed to download data, with a Node.js API.

The Hapi.js framework is used, which allows serving multiple clients at once. Data is added to file all the time so that the results are kept fresh. To improve performance, a few seconds lag is allowed, using Hapi.js caching mechanisms.

       cache: {
           expiresIn: 15 * 1000,
           generateTimeout: 4000,
           staleIn: 5 * 1000,
           staleTimeout: 2000

Data is being shared via API, calculating average measurements for hourly, quarterly and minute periods of time. Angular is used as a frontend and connects to backend by proxy.

JSON is being downloaded.

   "day" : "2018-07-24",
   "unit" : {"pm10":"mcg/m3","pm2_5":"mcg/m3"},
   "minuteAverages": [

Displaying results with Angular

Frontend framework such as Angular allows connecting to Node.js API via Proxy server.

Example proxy.conf.js file, also allowing registration of user IP addresses by Node.

const PROXY_CONFIG = {
  "/api": {
       "target": "http://localhost:4343/",
       "secure": false,
       "bypass": function (req, res, proxyOptions) {
           req.headers["X-Forwarded-For"] = req.ip;
module.exports = PROXY_CONFIG;

The application then displays results as a chart.

Suspended dust concentration chart displayed

Suspended dust concentration chart displayed

Think globally, act locally

While dirty air might be rampant in your country, and you probably cannot change the level of consciousness, economic prosperity, or political approach of your fellow citizens, you can still protect yourself.

Buying air purifiers for your home and workplace, wearing a mask while running, cycling or commuting, and monitoring the air in your home or business is your best bet for improved health and well-being.

Don’t wait for the winter, yet another year with dirty air is not a good thing.