You know those white medical masks that you see nurses and doctors wear in hospitals? Back when I lived in Canada, I never saw anyone wear one in public. But here in Asia, they are pretty common. In Hong Kong, it’s generally an indication of people who are sick – doctors usually instruct their patients to wear one until they get better. But in mainland China, these masks are commonly used to combat air pollution, China’s biggest environmental problem.
Though China’s bigger cities (like Beijing and Shanghai) typically have the worst pollution, smaller cities can also experience days where the pollution is pretty bad. I’ve become far more appreciate of days where I can look up to a blue sky, as we only get to see this a few times per month.
Though there is little that we can do to control the air quality outside our home, there are ways to improve the air quality inside our home. Perhaps the most common method is by obtaining some sort of air purifier.
Unfortunately, while there are plenty of competing brands out there (such as Blue Air or Philips), they don’t come at a cheap price. A low-end air purifier will cost you 2000 RMB (about $320 USD), and you can easily spend thousands of RMB more if you want a higher-end model.
I recently stumbled upon an interview with Beijing-resident Thomas Talhelm, who invented this do-it-yourself air purifier as a significantly cheaper alternative. For only 200 RMB (about $30 USD), you can buy an air filter than he claims to be as effective as the more expensive brand name purifiers.
What makes Talhelm’s product so compelling is the fact that he has published the results of his tests and even listed step-by-step instructions on how to make one yourself. In the interview, Talhelm rightfully challenges the assumptions we as consumers make when purchasing air filters.
Unless we buy a particle counter, we have no way of assessing whether air purifiers actually work. And when we can’t assess the value of a product even after we use it, we’re likely to rely on the price to judge the quality. “If it’s more expensive, it must be better.” We see this all the time with wine, which is another product that many of us feel like we lack the expertise to judge.
-Thomas Talhelm, in an interview with ChengduLiving.com
He’s totally right. Though the place where my wife and I are currently living is fully equipped with two Philips air purifiers, I cannot conclusively say that the air in my house is any different than the air outside. If nothing else, running those filters offer us psychological comfort. But once my wife and I move to a new apartment, we will definitely think long and hard before dropping a couple thousand RMB on an air filter.
What do you think? I’m curious to know if there’s anyone else out there who has heard about these air filters and/or tried them out.