This guide is provided primarily for library patrons that have checked a Speck out and want to get started quickly with the basics but may have little in the way of documentation to guide them but it may be useful for anyone interested in personal air monitoring with the Speck. The flexibility of the Speck allows it to be used as a simple, standalone system or as a more sophisticated, integrated, Wi-Fi and smartphone connected monitoring system depending on your preferences. Links to information on the more technical aspects of the set-up and use of the Speck are provided as well.
Speck Fast Start
So, you just checked out a Speck from your local library and you are eager to set it up and get going quickly. Here is a great introductory video from Specksensor.com that takes less than 3 minutes to watch and will give all the basics you need to start. I highly suggest you view it to get the most useful information in the least amount of time.
Otherwise you can follow these easy steps:
Remove the Speck from the box along with the power cord and plug the small end of the USB cord into the small port on the side of the Speck, plug the large end of the USB cord into the USB wall adapter (if this is not already done), and plug the adapter into the wall outlet. Place the Speck on a hard, smooth, clean surface away from any breezes, direct sunlight and anything that could block the bottom intake vent or side fan exhaust. Voila!
Very shortly you should see a numerical reading and the screen should look like the one pictured below.
Note that you will not see the Wi-Fi symbol in the lower right corner of the screen until you set the monitor up on your Wi-Fi system but you may see a Register Me! reminder at the top of the screen before you register your monitor and which will disappear when you do register or after a while if you do not.
If you are unfamiliar with the Speck the numbers (fine particle level) may not mean much to you at first but the fine particle level rating, in text, beneath the numbers will always provide immediate, plain English feedback about your air quality. There are 6 assigned fine particle ratings that are direct text readouts that correspond to each colored rectangle on the vertical bar at the left of the Speck screen: Good (green), Moderate (lighter green), Slightly elevated (lightest green), Elevated (yellow), High (orange), and Very High (red). The white triangle on the vertical bar is a pointer that indicates the current fine particle level and rating and is a reflection of the more precise numerical readout which enables recognition and tracking of moment to moment air quality changes in real-time.
For more information and enlargement see Understanding Speck Readings
The numbers, the colors, and the plain English ratings are all ways the Speck shows the fine particles it “sees” in your air. It is the fine particle fraction, particles from 0.1 to 2.5μm in size, that is currently thought to be most associated with a number of adverse health effects and even premature death. The Speck recognizes particles from 0.5 to 3.0μm in size. A micrometer (μm), also called a micron, is one millionth of a meter and is sometimes compared with being 30 to 70 times smaller than the width of a hair, depending on the hair.
Of course, in general, these particles are too tiny to see but if you could see them in your environment, and watch yourself breathing them in with each of the roughly 20,000 breaths you breathe a day, you would be more concerned about how they can harm your health, and you would definitely be more likely to want to learn and do more to protect yourself and your family. Now you can because the Speck, which can “see” them for you, helps you to begin to identify sources of poor air quality in your home more confidently and also allows you to easily see the results of any changes made to improve it. Empower yourself to breathe cleaner air and breathe easier 20,000 times a day…that’s about 3000 gallons of cleaner air everyday! Imagine what that will do for your brain, body, and quality of life.
Now that you have your Speck up and running and have an idea about the good, the bad, and the ugly that can inhabit your air, and therefore your body breath by breath, let’s take a look at a few other bits of knowledge that will help you tweak your way to specktacular health.
About Speck Buttons
The historical data button, in the right upper corner of the screen, provides air quality data in the form of a graph that can be viewed for a 12 hour span or for the past hour. Tap this button once for the 12 hour graph and twice for the graph of data for the past hour as shown below. The dimmer button, just below the historical data button, is simply tapped once for each brightness level change or held down to turn the light off. This is useful when you sleep or otherwise do not want light interference but want to keep the monitor on so it can continue to record air quality levels on a continuous basis (data is saved on the monitor by default but may also be set-up to upload to your Speck account via Wi-Fi). Just tap the screen to turn the light back on when you want to view the screen again.
The Speck records the air quality data you see on-screen and saves it on-board. It can be downloaded from the monitor USB port (using the Chrome app for Speck) or it can be uploaded continuously to a personal Speck account if you set one up (links below).
About Speck Numbers
Now, a little about the numbers for those of you that are interested. The Speck has the option to display the current concentration of fine particles in either of two different scales that are easily switched by pressing briefly on the numerical display. When the Speck is first powered up it defaults to the count-based concentration scale which is denoted by a small c to the right of the number. This scale provides a measure of how many particles are detected per liter of air (ppL). In contrast, the second scale is based on the estimated weight (actually mass) of particles rather than the number of particles, and is reported in micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3). A small w will appear next to the current fine particulate level when this scale is active.
Which scale you choose to use depends on what you want to do with the information or which one you are more comfortable with – but each is only a tap away when you want to change it. For instance, when the monitor is connected to Wi-Fi and you can get an Outdoor rating from your local AirNow monitoring station at the top of the screen in text similar to the Speck rating just below the numerical fine particulate level. But neither the rating or fine particulate level are are directly comparable to the rating or AQI from AirNow because the AQI (Air Quality Index) is a unitless conversion product of the PM2.5 concentration averaged over 24 hours whereas the Speck provides real-time minute by minute (or less if chosen) non-averaged measurements and ratings. So what you see on the Speck is what is happening now and what you see on AirNow is the average of what has happened over the last 24 hours (for PM2.5), at any point in time. It is a little more complicated than this so you can read more about it at AirNow.gov if you would like to understand more. Keep in mind though, that people are not exposed to averages of pollution they are exposed to the high and low particle concentrations masked by those averages. People may be exposed to much higher actual concentrations, for a period of time or sporadically that will then be diluted by the lower concentrations averaged in. It is not until there are sustained low or high level exposures of PM2.5 that the AQI will begin to better represent the true nature and potential health effects of PM2.5 exposures and by then the high exposures have already occurred. This is another reason real-time personal air monitoring is so important; you can recognize air quality problems and act to correct them before they become a bigger problem.
However, comparing values and ratings between AirNow and Speck appropriately can provide some sense of the relative contribution of outside air quality to indoor air quality especially in close proximity and over a period of time. Just remember that if you want to compare the numerical reading (fine particle level), on your Speck with that of the AirNow monitoring station you will need to set the Speck to the w (μg/m3) scale.
Because the differences between the two charts make things a bit confusing as well, I have added PM2.5 concentration values to the AirNow chart and removed the Particle Count column from the Speck chart to make comparison somewhat easier, even though not directly comparable (see below). I think perhaps the idea is that being exposed to higher short-term real-time pollution is not as serious as being exposed to somewhat lower levels for extended periods as would be seen with 24hr averaging. The truth is no one really seems to know how to interpret such real-time values with regard to health effects. However, the common sense goal is to keep the values as low as possible and learn to associate events or products that unnecessarily increase levels that may be harmful or in some cases may increase levels to a degree without being harmful. You can enlarge the Speck Chart below if necessary.
The monitor on the right indicates that the outdoor AirNow Air Quality Index (AQI) is Moderate while the local fine particulate rating (i.e. in your living room) is Good. This means that so far any infiltration from outside is at a level low enough to keep your air quality in the GOOD range. But, keep in mind that your local outdoor particulate level can be very different from that at the AirNow station the further away the station is, and if there are activities or processes near your home that contribute to more localized pollution like burning land debris/ leaves or agricultural burning, sandblasting, fracking, or any of a host of other factors. Please be aware that burning leaves can have a profoundly deteriorating effect on your – and your neighbor’s – air quality and health. Just because it may be legal for you to burn in your area does not mean you should especially when there are other more kind and responsible options readily available. So please consider mulching, composting, or roadside pickup as healthy and considerate alternatives to burning.
Likewise, you may see differences in the fine particulate level in your home from room to room or from time to time in the same room depending on the activities taking place or products being used. These differences will help you to know the status of you air at any time and to determine what may be causing any significant deterioration of air quality, whether any adverse related health effects are triggered (i.e. asthma attack) during or after, and what can be done about it. Whether or not there are notable adverse effects evident, it is currently considered prudent to keep fine particle levels as low as possible since so much time is spent indoors which can lead to greater exposure time and some people are more sensitive to lower levels than others.
This is just the beginning. There is much more to learn about the Speck like uploading your data and downloading data, smartphone capabilities and tweaking settings, as well as your role in using Speck to keep the air clean in your personal space. Many more mini and in-depth topics will be covered soon. You can learn about the Wi-Fi setup, Speck account set-up, uploading and downloading your data, and smart phone apps at https://www.specksensor.com/support/software.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions or just want to share your Speck experience(s), you are just a click away.