1. IKEA $50 VINDSTYRKA vs. $290 Dylos Air Quality Monitor

    Sun 17 September 2023

    This is a brief article in which I compare the IKEA VINDSTYRKA $50 air quality monitor (PM2.5) with a $290 air quality monitor made by Dylos to see if it's any good.


    If you care about indoor air quality, you may already own a CO2 to determine if it's time to ventilate your space a bit1.

    But a CO2 monitor doesn't tell you anything about the amount and size of particulate matter in the air.

    Of particular interest are very fine particles, in the "PM2.5" category. Those particles are 2.5 micrometers or smaller in diameter can embed themselves deep inside the lungs and cause health issues.

    Both air quality monitoring devices are specifically measuring PM2.5 particulate matter, so that's what we will focus on in this test.

    DYLOS DC1100 PRO

    I bought a Dylos DC1100 Pro in 2014 as I was quite interesting in the topic of air quality at that time. As I had to import the device, I believe I had to pay around 400 Euros for it but it's now for sale in the US for around $290.

    Dylos DC1100 Pro click on the image for a picture of the back

    I specifically chose this model because it has a serial port, which allows me to log data and maybe spot some trends. I was thinking about using this data to control my air circulation system in my home, but I never got around to building this.

    This device (without serial port) is also explored in-depth by Matthias Wandel, who many of you probably know from his 1.7M subscribers Youtube channel. Tip: he shows the inside of the device.

    Note that this video is from 10 years ago and I find it remarkable that the Dylos 1100 Pro is still sold - seemingly unmodified - over the years.


    Recently, I discovered that IKEA is now selling the VINDSTYRKA air quality monitor with support for Zigbee. The product is intended to be used with IKEAs range of air purifiers, to better finetune the behaviour of those devices.


    The device measures PM2.5 particulate matter and also monitors temperature and humidity. All data is exposed over Zigbee. I've not tested this myself but I wonder how long it would last on a battery bank as it's USB powered.

    Due to the low price tag, I decided to compare this $50 device (€40) with my Dylos. I think it's quite an interesting device because the Zigbee support allows you to integrate the device in home automation and log data, if you have a need for that.

    Data logging setup

    De Dylos device is a bit of a pain, because the measurement values are in particulates per square foot, so I had to find a proper conversion formula, which I found in this paper (page 17). The formula is:

    PM2.5 Dylos DC1100 (μg/m3) = (particles > 0.5 μm minus particles > 2.5 μm)/250.

    A Raspberry Pi 3B+ is running a Python script that reads the data from the serial port, converts it to PM2.5 values using the previous mentioned formula and transmits it into an InfluxDB + Grafana server.

    To log the VINDSTYRKA data, I used a Sonoff Zigbee receiver on a Raspberry Pi 4b+. I installed zigbee2mqtt as a docker container, Mosquitto MQTT server and Telegraf+MQTT-client to submit the data into InfluxDB, which sounds more convoluted than it actually was.

    Test method

    I just let both devices run for a few days in close proximity to each other in my living room. I kept a balcony door open 24/7. I also created a bit of smoke at some point just to observe how the devices would respond and how much they would deviate from each other. Nothing too scientific, to be frank.

    Test result

    I've plotted the data from the Dylos and the Ikea device in the same graph and I think the results are quite straightforward. The peak in the middle was my 'smoke test'.

    Original grafana graph click on the image for a larger version

    Updated grafana graph click on the image for a larger version

    After a few days I noticed a clear deviation between the VINDSTYRKA and the Dylos DC1100 Pro at certain time intervals. I have no real explanation for this deviation and I can't tell which device shows 'correct' data.

    If I try to follow the AQI PM2.5 values for my city, the VINDSTYRKA seems to under report and the Dylos seems to over-report PM2.5 particulate matter.


    Based on my test, I think the VINDSTYRKA is good enough, looking at how closely the measurements track the results of the Dylos.

    Update September 19th 2023 Based on the new graph data, it seems the Dylos and VINDSTYRKA are less in agreement over absolute PM2.5 values. I'm not sure what to make of it.

    As both devices still seem to agree on basic trend data, I would say that they still operate in the same ballpark.

    1. Maybe you are a home automation enthusiast and you've managed to automate this process. 

    Tagged as : Solar
  2. My Solar-Powered Blog Is Now on Lithium Iron Phosphate

    Fri 19 May 2023

    In my last blog post I discussed how a small solar project - to power this blog on a Raspberry Pi - escalated into a full-blown off-grid solar setup, large enough to power the computer I use at the moment to write this update1. In this update, I want to discuss my battery upgrade.

    For me, the huge lead acid battery (as pictured below) was always a relatively cheap temporary solution.

    solar contraption A 12 Volt 230 Ah lead-acid battery

    Lead-acid batteries are not ideal for solar setups for multiple reasons, but the most problematic issue is the slow charging speed. I only have a few hours of direct sunlight per day due to my particular situation and the battery just could not absorb sunlight fast enough.

    For the last 5-7 years, the go-to battery chemistry for solar is LiFePO4 or lithium iron phosphate as a replacement for lead-acid batteries. This battery chemistry is not as energy-dense as Lithium-ion, but the upside is price and safety. In particular, LiFePO4 cells aren't as volatile as Lithium-ion cells. They may start outgassing, but they don't start a fire.

    More importantly for my situation: LiFePO4 batteries can charge and discharge at much higer rates than lead-acid batteries2. It's possible to charge LiFePO4 cells with a C-rate of 1! This means that if a battery is rated for 100Ah (Ampere-hours) you can charge with a current of 100 Ampere! My solar setup will never come even close to that number, but at least it's good to have some headroom.

    lithium cell A single 3.2 volt 230Ah Lithium Iron Phosphate prismatic cell

    I did contemplate buying an off-the-shelf battery but I decided against it. You have no control over the brand and quality of the LiFePO4 cells they use and more importantly, what's the fun in that anyway?

    So I decided to order my own cells and build my own 12 Volt LiFePO4 battery consisting of four cells in series (4S) as my existing system is also based on 12 Volt. Other common configurations are 8S (24 Volt) and 16S (48 Volt3).

    box with 4 cells

    It turned out that I could just buy my cells locally in The Netherlands (instead of China) because of a company that specializes in batteries (no affiliate). As the price was right, I bought effectively 3 KWh for just shy of 500 Euros.

    I decided to buy B-grade cells as those are cheaper than A(utomotive)-grade cells. I might have gone for A-grade cells as not to risk anything if I would build a more serious battery bank for my whole home. Yet a lot of people report no significant differences between A-grade and B-grade LiFePO4 cells for solar battery banks so in the end, it's all about your particular apetite for risk.

    Just buying cells and putting them in series (in my case 4S) is not enough, a BMS or battery management system is needed, which you put in series with the battery on the negative terminal. I ordered a 100A Daly BMS from China which works fine. I'm even able to use Python to talk with the Daly BMS over bluetooth to extract data (voltages, current, State of Charge and so on).

    Daly BMS

    The BMS is critical because it protects the cells against deep discharge and overcharging. In addition, the BMS tries to keep the voltage of the cells as equal as possible, which is called 'balancing'. Charging stops entirely when just one of the cells reach their maximum voltage. If other cells have a much lower voltage, it means that they can still be charged but the one cell with the high voltage is blocking them from doing so. That's why cell balancing is critical if you want to use as much of the capacity as possible.

    The Daly BMS is quite bad at cell balancing so I've ordered a separate cell balancer for $18 to improve cell balancing (yet to be installed).

    my battery build

    ikea box

    Ikea sells a Kuggis 32cmx32cmx32cm storage box that seems to be perfect for my small battery. As it has two holes on the sides, I just routed the positive and negative cables through them.

    Now that I've put this battery in place I've seen a huge improvement regarding solar charge performance.

    Grafana Chart

    I've actually potentially created a new problem: my solar charge controller can only handle about 400 Watts of solar power at 12V and my setup is quite close to reaching this output. I may have undersized my solar charge controller and it has come back to bite me. For now, I'm going to just observe: if that peak of 400 Watts is only reached for a brief time - as it is right now - I don't think I'm going to upgrade my solar charge controller as that would not be worth it.

    As we are still in May, my best yield is 1.2 KWh per day. Although that's paltry as compared to regular residential solar setups, that 1.2 KWh is more than a third of my battery capacity and can run my computer setup for 10 hours, so for me it's good enough.

    It's funny to me that all of this started out with just a 60 Watt solar panel, a 20 Euro solar charge controller (non MPPT) and a few 12V 7Ah lead acid gel batteries in parallel.

    I think it's beyond amazing that you can now build a 15KWh battery bank complete with BMS for less than €3000. For that amount of money, you can't come even close to this kind of capacity.

    For context, it's also good to know that the longevity of LiFePO4 cells is amazing. A-grade cells are rated for 6000 cycles ( 16+ years at one cycle per day ) and my vendor rated B-grade cells at 4000 cycles (~11 years).

    Maybe my battery build may inspire you to explore building your own battery. LiFePO4 cells come in a whole range of capacities, I've seen small 22Ah cells or huge 304Ah cells so you can select something that fits your need and budget.

    If you're looking for more information: there are quite a few Youtubers that specialise in building large battery banks (48 Volt, 300Ah, ~15KWh) to power their homes and garages.

    Although Will Prowse reviewed LiFePO4 cells in the past, he currently focusses mostly on off-the-shelf products, like "rack-mount" batteries and inverter/chargers.

    I also like the off-grid-garage channel a lot, the channel as tested and explored quite a few products.

    Harrold Halewijn (Dutch) also has quite a few videos about solar setups in general and solar battery setups. He's really into automation, in combination with flexible (next-day) energy prices.

    Also in Dutch, a cool article about some people building their own large-scale home storage batteries (15KWh+)

    Another Dutch person build a solar power factory with a battery capacity of 128 KWh for professional energy production. Truely amazing.

    The Hacker News thread about this article.

    1. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=35596959#35597492 

    2. To fully charge a lead-acid battery, the charging process spends a lot of time in the contstant-voltage phase, the voltage is kept constant so as the battery charges further, the charging current goes down, so the charge process slows down. More info can be found here 

    3. It seems to me that most batteries build for home energy storage systems are standardising on 48 volt. 

    Tagged as : Solar
  3. I Made My Blog Solar-Powered, Then Things Escalated

    Mon 17 April 2023

    In 2020 I wondered if I could run my blog on solar power, being inspired by Low-tech Magazine, doing the same thing (but better)1. The answer was 'yes', but only through spring and summer.

    I live in an apartment complex in The Netherlands and my balcony is facing west. This means it only receives direct sunlight from 16:00 onward during spring and summer. Most of the time, the panels only get indirect sunlight and therefore generate just a tiny fraction of their rated performance. The key issue is not solar, but the west-facing balcony (it should ideally be facing south).

    solar panel original solar panel

    It's fair to say that my experiment isn't rational because of the sub-optimal solar conditions. Yet, I'm unreasonably obsessed by solar power and I wanted to make it work, even if it didn't make sense from an economic or environmental perspective2.

    When I wrote my blog about my solar-powered setup, I was already on my second iteration: I started out with just a 60 Watt panel and a cheap $20 solar controller3. That didn't even come close to being sufficient, so I upgraded the solar controller and bought a second panel rated for 150 Watt, which is pictured above. With the 60 Watt and 150 Watt panels in parallel, it was still not enough to keep the batteries charged in the fall and winter, due to the west-facing balcony.

    A Raspberry Pi 4B+ consumes around ~3.5 Watt of power continuously. Although that sounds like a very light load, if you run it for 24 hours, it's equivalent to using 84 Watts continuously for one hour. That's like running two 40 Watt fans for one hour, it's not insignificant and it doesn't even account for battery charging losses.

    So 210 Watt of solar (receiving mostly indirect sunlight) still could not power my Raspberry Pi through the winter under my circumstances. Yet, in the summer, I had plenty of power available and had no problems charging my iPad and other devices.

    As my solar setup could not keep the batteries charged from October onward, I decided to do something radical. I bought a 370 Watt4 solar panel (1690 x 1029 mm) and build a frame made of aluminium tubing5. Solar panels have become so cheap that the aluminium frame is more expensive than the panel.

    solar contraption

    Even this 370 Watt panel was not enough during the gloomy, cloudy winter days. So I bought a second panel and build a second tube frame. Only with a 740 Watt rated solar panel setup was I able to power my Raspberry Pi through the winter6.

    I didn't create this over-powered setup just to power the Raspberry Pi during the winter. I knew that solar performed much better during spring and summer and I wanted to capture as much of that energy as possible. The real goal was to go beyond powering the Pi and power my computer desk, which includes an Intel Mac Mini, two 1440p 27" displays and some other components (using around 100 Watt on average)7.

    I would not be able to power my desk 24/7 but I would be happy if I can work on solar power for a few hours every other day during spring and summer. I also wanted to light my house in the evening using this setup.

    The original solar setup was enough to power the Raspberry Pi and charge an iPad in the spring/summer. The solar charge controller could not handle the increased solar capacity and needed replacement. So I decided to build a new setup inspired by Will Prowse solar demo setups, which is pictured below:

    solar contraption the latest iteration of my solar setup

    First a brief disclaimer: I'm a hobbyist, not an expert (if you didn't notice already). I have no background in electrical systems. I've tried to make my setup safe, but I may have done things that are not recommended.

    My setup is a 12-volt system9. The drawback of a 12-volt system is the relatively large currents required to charge the battery and power the inverter. This requires thicker, more expensive cabling to prevent energy losses in the cabling8.

    Most components are self-explanatory, except for the shunt. This device precisely measures battery voltage and how much current is going in and out of the battery. The solar charge controller and the shunt are linked together in a bluetooth network, so the solar controller uses the precise voltage and current information from the shunt to regulate the battery charging process.

    The solar controller, inverter and shunt have VE.direct interfaces (Victron-specific) which I use to collect data. I'm using a Python VE.direct module to gather this data, which just works without any issues. My Python script dumps the data into InfluxDB and I use Grafana for graphs (see below). The script also updates the 'solar status' bar to the right (or bottom for mobile users).


    this image is updated periodically

    The LCD display is just for fun, and mostly to keep an eye on the battery charge state.

    solar contraption the 20x4 LCD screen

    The LCD screen is managed by the same python script that dumps the VE.direct data into Grafana. I focus on two metrics in particular. First of all the daily solar yield as a percentage: 100% means the load has been compensated by solar and anything higher means an energy 'profit'. In the bottom right we see the charger status (Bulk): if it's on 'Float' the battery is full. I tend to wait for the battery to recharge to a 'float' status before I use the inverter again.

    Let's talk about the battery. I've chosen to use a large used lead-acid battery even though Lithium (LiFePO4) batteries beat lead-acid in every metric.

    Update May 2023: I have since upgraded to Lithium Iron Phosphate, see this blogpost for more information.

    solar contraption A 12 Volt 230 Ah lead-acid battery10

    I bought the battery11 second-hand for €100 so that's not a significant investment for a battery. Although it's a bit worn-down and the capacity is reduced, it is still good enough for me to run my computer setup for 10 hours after a full charge12. In practice, I won't use the battery for more than four to five hours at a time because recharging can take multiple days and lead-acid batteries should ideally be fully recharged within 24 hours or their aging is accelerated.

    The lead-acid battery also serves another purpose: is a relatively cheap option for me to validate my setup. If it works as intended, I might opt to upgrade to lithium (LiFePO4) at some point.

    Until recently, switching between the grid and solar for my computer setup was quite cumbersome. I had to power down all equipment, connect to the inverter and power everything up again. That got old very quickly. Fortunately, I stumbled on an advertisement for a Victron Filax 2 and it turns out that it does exactly what I need.

    solar contraption

    The Filax 2 switches between two 230 Volt input sources without any interruption, like a UPS (Uninterruptible power supply). Now that I've installed this device, I can switch between solar and grid power without any interruption. Brand new, The Filax 2 costs €350 which was beyond what I wanted to spend, but the second-hand price was acceptable.

    My solar setup is not something that I can just turn on and forget about. I have to keep an eye on the battery, especially because lead-acid should ideally be recharged within 24 hours.

    happy case

    Happy case: the battery is full and my computer desk is 100% solar-powered

    It's now April 2023 and my setup seems promising. Peak output of the two 370 Watt solar panels facing west was 230 Watts. Only for a very short period, but it makes me confident for spring and summer. I could automate enabling and disabling the inverter, with a relay and some logic in Python, but for now I'm good with manually operating the inverter.

    You may have noticed that I've used a lot of Victron equipment13. Mostly because it seems high-quality and the data interfaces are documented and easy-to-use. The inverter was also chosen because of the low parasitic load (self-consumption) of around 6 watt. Victron equipment is not cheap. Buying Victron gear second-hand can save a lot of money.

    Speaking of cost, if I include all the cost I made, including previous solar projects and mistakes, I think I spend around €2000.

    That's all I have to say about my hobby solar project for now.

    Link to Hacker News thread about this article.

    1. Their attempt was quite serious and precise. They accounted for the energy used to produce the equipment. They went as far as dithering images to reduce bandwidth and thus energy usage. 

    2. The cost can never be reclaimed by the electricity savings. Also, the energy produced to make all the components would never be recovered due to my west-facing setup. 

    3. never buy those cheap non-MPPT solar charge controllers unless you really know what you are doing. You are better off with a MPPT controller which is much better at getting the most energy out of a solar panel. 

    4. Jinko half cut 120 cell 370 WP JKM370N-6TL3-B 

    5. I have absolutely no experience with designing and building aluminium tube frames. After you're done laughing at this contraption, if you have a better, more efficient design, I'm still interested. 

    6. I may have cheated once by recharging the battery from the grid just to protect it against accelerated aging due to being in a prolonged (partially) discharged state. 

    7. Suddenly you realise that making the background on all monitors black saves ~20 Watt. My blog should be dark-themed to reduce energy usage 😅 

    8. I've actually oversized the battery cabling for safety reasons. If a length of cable isn't rated for the current flowing through it, it becomes a resistor, generating heat, which can cause a fire so I want to be carefull. 

    9. If you ever intend to build some kind of solar setup yourself, consider a 24 Volt or ideally an 48 Volt system to reduce currents and thus save on cabling cost. 

    10. The + and - pole are temporary uncovered for this picture, but normally they are covered to prevent a short-circuit if anything would fall on the poles. 

    11. A sealed lead-acid battery like the one I'm using is safe and won't release any (explosive) gasses unless overcharged or abused. 

    12. The inverter uses a dynamic load algorithm to prevent deep discharge of the battery. Ideally a lead-acid battery should never be discharged beyond 50% of capacity and it seems to work perfectly. Dumb inverters, just discharge until 10.5 volt under load, which means the battery is almost depleted, causing rapid aging and significantly reduced life-span. 

    13. No, I'm not sponsored by Victron, I wish 😅💸 

    Tagged as : Solar

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