The Birth of NOUVAIR: There Must Be a Better Solution
My name is Sungman and I am the inventor of Nouvair - a simple solution for the cooking smoke and odor problems in your home. In this post, I hope to welcome you to our blog and to the Nouvair community. Please follow along as I overcome my fear of writing, in the hopes of adequately sharing with you: the story of our company, the importance of our mission, and why it matters for your everyday life. Are you ready?
Our story begins on a freezing winter night in Philadelphia. Our good friends, Han and Jen, had invited my family and me to their home for dinner. My wife, and our 3 year old daughter, Angela, and I arrived at their high-rise apartment excited to eat and share a meal with our friends. Yet, as soon as we exited the elevator we were immediately struck by a smell of burnt meat. It became clear that someone on Han and Jen’s floor had burnt something in their kitchen. The closer we got to Han’s door, the more pungent the smell became. Finally, as Han opened his door, the bitter smell of burnt food and a whoosh of smoke hit our faces.
“Come on in!” said Han with tears welling in his eyes. Behind him, Jen was flapping a piece of cardboard at the fire alarm on the ceiling. Their three year old daughter Anna, was sticking her nose out the crack of their window to catch some fresh air. Unwillingly, my family and I entered the apartment.
The source of the smell was a New York steak that was grilling on their stove. In fact, our friends had made every effort to avoid the smell and the smoke, but nothing was powerful enough. They had a range hood that was turned on the whole time, but it could only suck in a portion of the smoke, and even that was blown right back into the house, on top of their microwave. It didn’t take long for Han to ask, “Would it be okay for us to change our plans and dine out at a steakhouse instead?” It also didn’t take too long for me to respond, “Yes that sounds great.”
As we decided to brave the cold night, instead of teary eyes and coughing in the apartment, I began to notice a pattern in my life. The truth is, this was not the first time that smoke and food odor had ruined my dining plans. One night in particular, my family and I had endeavored to try Korean BBQ in our own home. We attempted to use a portable burner on our dining table, and it was a DISASTER. The smoke filled the entire house, and the grease particles dissipated into the air and stuck onto every tangible object. For two days, we suffered with the pesky smell of burnt fat. After that instance, we banned Korean BBQ in our home. Two weeks later, a similar experience led us to ban grilling steak on the stovetop. This led me to think, there has to be a better solution than banning every food item from our kitchen.
The curious guy I am, I came home that night and started researching a few questions. I am not going to summarize the answers I found, because the title of the following articles will provide some hints, and we will further delve into these topics in future blog posts. (To make sure not to miss them follow us on our social media and/or join our email list to get updates.) The following should give you an idea of what I found:
1. Is there any health effect from inhaling the smoke from cooking? This question continued to haunt me as Angela’s cough persisted throughout the night.
2. Why are range hoods NOT effective? Despite being as loud as an engine, it didn’t seem as though my range hood at home really did anything.
3. Is there a better alternative to range hoods? While a lot of the people shared that they had experienced similar problems, no one seemed to know of a viable solution. I thought that there must be something else and/or someone must be working to solve this problem.
Despite the answers to questions 1 and 2, I could not find anything that I thought was a viable alternative to range hoods. So, I continued digging into other applications and existing technologies related to smoke filtration. In order to truly understand what I found, it helps to have some background knowledge on chemistry and physics of smoke and odor, which will be provided in greater detail in a future blog post. In summary, I did find that it is totally possible to make something that was much more effective, energy efficient, quieter, and affordable than almost all range hoods in the market!
As a result of my findings, Nouvair became a small passion project that I worked on on the side. For suction, I bought hair dryers and vacuum cleaners and took them apart. I purchased PVC pipes from Home Depot, and a variety of filters and components from Amazon. Then, I assembled the very first prototype with a duct tape. As can be seen below, it looked nothing like our current version of Nouvair (Check out our current design at www.nouvair.com).
In fact, it wasn’t even called Nouvair; it was called Pife. The name was chosen because the PVC pipes and had an ‘f’ shape, so replaced the second p with an ‘f’. Lame, I know. We scrapped the name after several negative feedback about its connotations.
The first test happened in secret, because grilling bacon in the morning was also banned in my home. On a Saturday morning, I cooked a pan of 4 bacon strips before my wife woke up. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked beautifully! When my wife got out of bed that morning, she walked out of the room, washed her face, sat down on the couch, and took her few more minutes to finally ask me, "Hm... what did we eat last night? it kind of smells like bacon." Last time I cooked bacon in the morning, she jumped out of bed, opened all the windows, and turned on the fan before announcing the 'Bacon Ban of 2016'. That’s when I became 100% confident that this product can really be useful for a lot of people, if I put more time and effort into its development.
From then on, the side project became more like a side job. I started meeting with engineers, experts in air filtration and ventilation, professors at UPenn (I was attending the Wharton MBA program). I dedicated a lot of time studying ways to improve my first prototype. As I did, I also became increasingly interested in the problems that Nouvair was trying to solve. Particularly, I was drawn to the problem of the indoor air pollution from cooking. It was shocking enough to learn that in the U.S., during the typical winter week when windows are usually shut, 55-70% of homes with gas stoves were exceeding the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)’s definition of clean air. Moreover, a quarter of those homes have air quality that is WORSE than the WORST recorded smog event in London (source: New York Times). However, what was even more troubling for me, was how this issue was affecting people in developing countries. Consider below facts from the WHO (World Health Organization),
Around 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal.
Over 4 million people die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels.
More than 50% of premature deaths due to pneumonia among children under 5 are caused by the particulate matter (soot) inhaled from household air pollution.
It has always been a dream of mine to create something that helps people live happier and healthier lives. What wakes me up and excites me every morning, is my belief that Nouvair brings me one step closer to doing so. With this product, we have the opportunity to play a hand in solving this significant, but commonly overlooked, problem around the world. This is another motivating factor for creating this blog- to increase the awareness of the indoor air pollution from cooking for all. Within the next few months, I am also planning to launch a crowdfunding campaign to not only fund the development of Nouavir, but also to allow people to directly support non-profit organizations relevant to this cause.
Stay in Touch
With that mission in mind, please continue to engage and stay in touch with us. If you have any question, feedback, comment, or just a line of encouragement, please drop me a comment in the section below. I will try my best to respond to every comment.
Reasons to get rid of cooking smoke
How to get rid of pesky kitchen odors
Health effects from cooking at home
Indoor air pollution from kitchen appliance
Why our range hoods are so ineffective
In addition, I will update you on the progress of the development of Nouvair and everything that we will do toward achieving our vision and goal as a business and as a member of the society.