We were lucky enough to be offered a personal weather station from Netatmo to review. As a quirky concept, we didn’t know quite what to expect, but after a month of use, there’s lots to report.
What is it?
Personal weather stations are a new concept, and their appeal might not be immediately obvious to the average (or even eco) consumer. The system comprises of a base station that sits indoors that connects to your home WiFi connection. There is also a smaller station that is placed outdoors. Finally the last piece of the system is an Apple iPhone, iPad, or an Android phone or tablet. After downloading a free app from the app store, both weather stations (indoor and outdoor) start to collect data and store it in the ‘cloud’. This data can then be accessed on your phone or tablet for you to monitor at your leisure.
Getting up and running
In our test we placed the indoor base station in our spare bedroom which has a wide range in temperature throughout the day. The station was plugged into the wall and placed on a bookshelf.
The outdoor station requires 4 AAA batteries (supplied) and the instructions recommended positioning the device away from strong sunlight and the elements, under the eaves of a roof for example. With no accessible eaves, we placed it in the doorway of a makeshift shed-cum-greenhouse. During the winter months we were confident it would give a fair representation of the outdoor conditions. We may move it during the summer to somewhere slightly more suitable due to soaring temperature in a greenhouse, such as an outdoor table leg so it’s still concealed and protected from the elements, but it has to still be within range of your WiFi router to connect and feed back the data it collects.. The outdoor station comes with a handy velcro strap for securing the station against a post or similar. This is essential for securing the station in awkward locations and shows that the designers thought hard about how the system would be used which is certainly a plus point.
Using the app
We were using an Apple iPhone for our evaluation. The app was easy to download as a link is provided in the instructions to locate it in the app store. The app is free, too, which is always good. Once downloaded, the app searches your WiFi network for the indoor base station and stores it in the app. The app then starts to show the initial data gathered from setting up. We noticed about a 6 hour period was needed for the station to stabilise after unboxing (initially the indoor humidity was showing as close to 90%!). After that we left the stations to do their thing for a while gathering data while we went about our daily lives.
Data gathered by the weather stations
The indoor and outdoor stations gather different metrics and the app displays the two side by side on the main app screen. The indoor station gathers data on the temperature, humidity, air pressure, CO2 level, sound level and air quality. The outdoor module collected data on temperature (real and ‘feels like’), humidity, air pressure and air quality.
It was interesting to see how activities in the house affected the various parameters. If we were cooking or had the oven on for a significant amount of time, the CO2 in the house shot up to an alarming rate before falling again afterwards. We don’t have a thermostat so controlling the temperature in the house can sometimes be a pain. It was immediately noticeable from the app that when the temperature outside wasn’t as cold, the temperature indoors would get overly warm when the heating came on. We can now predict from the outdoor temperature how warm it will get in the house and alter the boiler output accordingly, which is definitely a positive aspect from an eco perspective, but can also be a financial benefit with the potential to help reduce energy bills and keep the house at a healthier temperature.
We have 4 cats in the house and it was interesting to see from the graph of sound levels that they are active during the night while we’re sleeping. I wonder what they get up to?! Families with kids could therefore find this aspect interesting or useful if misbehaving children are up to no good after their bedtime with a concealed sensor in their room!
The air quality in the house is an interesting output to keep an eye on too, and watching how the humidity in the house changes with time is very interesting as we sometimes have damp build-up caused by condensation like many properties. This information enables us to assess the causes such as drying clothes in the house etc and helps us to reduce moisture build up to keep the indoor atmosphere more healthy too.
On a more personal note, I am an avid astronomer, so knowing what the temperature is like outdoors before I begin to lug all my kit outside is easy a pie with the app. Having a ‘feel like’ temperature gauge is especially handy. I’m not sure how the outdoor module can measure this – perhaps linking into a weather database. Also, knowing the humidity levels outdoors is essential for keeping the optics of my telescope clear from moisture. I am much more informed before I set up so I am really happy about these features, and would strongly recommend the kit to anybody with a particular interest in astronomy for these reasons.
The app also provides a forecast for the week ahead (sunny, rainy, cloudy etc) and estimated temperature scales and precipitation levels. This isn’t obvious when using the app and is a bit hidden away on the bottom panel of the interface, so I haven’t really given this much use to be able to comment fully about how accurate it is.
Events / Notifications / Settings
The app allows you set up notifications of events such as when the temperature goes over a certain number of degrees or if the humidity goes up. You can tweak these settings to prevent excessive alerts and reminders too which I particularly like. For example, during a cold spell, the app would alert me when the outdoor station registered an temperature of 3 degrees C.
By turning the phone into landscape mode, you get a view of the data as a graph over time. By pinching and swiping the screen, you can also alter the time resolution and scroll from day to week or even further back through past results. You can also select what parameter to view (e.g. temp, humidity and so on). This is where you get a real feel for how your indoor and outdoor environments evolve through the day, week by week, or month by month.
More stations and API
The app allows you to sync with more than just the 2 weather stations. If you buy more, you can set them up in various places around the house. As mentioned earlier, we set up our outdoor sensor in the doorway of the greenhouse. Some users might be very interested in seeing how the humidity and temperature changes if they’re growing sensitive seedlings in a greenhouse and may want a more general outside station for normal weather monitoring. I’m not sure how many stations the app supports, but you can have quite a decent setup – monitoring just about every environment around your home!
There is even an API that developers can hook into to get access to the data and do something useful with it. As a developer myself, I have an idea of perhaps creating my own thermostat that can alter the boiler based on the temperature data gathered from the Netatmo. We’ll see if I can pull that one off.
You can also access all the data from a web browser when you set up an account on the Netatmo site.
Design & Cost
The design of the stations is very Apple-inspired. The stations are made of brushed aluminium and sturdy white plastic. The app is quite beautiful as far as apps go and is pretty easy to use. At a cost of around £150 (including delivery) for the whole system, it is quite pricey. However, it is the only product of its kind on the market that I can find so if you want to measure your environment there is no cheaper way.
I thought that the product was perhaps just a bit of a gimmick for eco-conscious people who like gadgets, but it is much more than that. Although it is expensive, I can honestly say I use it every day and it is immensely useful at times. One feature that I guess is missing from the outdoor sensor which you would expect from a ‘weather station’ is a wind speed detector. Along with the other outdoor measurements, this would be handy to know. I look forward to seeing how Netatmo develop the product further in the future. In the meantime, if you have £150 to spend and are genuinely interested in monitoring your environment for whatever reason, The Green Village heartily recommends the Netatmo personal weather station.