Managing Your Indoor Air Quality in the Time of Wildfires

Wildfires across the western U.S. are affecting the quality of the air we breathe. Here's what you can do about it.

It’s Wildfire Season. Again.

Remember when San Francisco turned orange from surrounding wildfires? That wasn’t pretty. Eerie, creepy, sad, dangerous? Yes. Pretty? No.

Wildfire season appears to be something we’ll deal with every year, going forward. And while most of the immediate danger occurs to the west of the Front Range, we do have to recognize the invisible threat these wildfires pose to all of us: smoke and its potential effects on indoor air quality.

With climate change, wildfire season is here to stay - and it each year, it gets more severe, and smoke from various fires travels all across the nation. What can you do to protect you and your family from breathing in harmful smoke particles?

The month of August is National Wellness Month, and since it coincides with fire season in the west, it seems like a good time to discuss indoor air quality (IAQ) and its effect on your overall wellness. Taking that one step further, let’s consider the effects the smoke from those forest fires has on outdoor air quality, how it can make its way into your home, and the toll it can take on the quality of the air you and your family are breathing every day.

There’s Smoke Where There Isn’t Fire.

In the image at the top of this page, it’s clear that the glut of wildfires in the west is extreme, with more fires burning further and faster than ever before. What’s also obvious is the incredible amount of smoke coming from those fires – and wafting far inland across the continent, reaching Colorado and further east. So much so that places like Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland are experiencing hazy days. This is what’s known as a wildfire smoke event, and it can cause a public health crisis.

The fires may be far off to the west, but the smoke is making its way to the Front Range, polluting the outdoor air. How can you keep it from entering your home?

What this means is, the quality of the local air around Front Range communities is reduced – less healthy than the clean, mountain air we are used to. And, it’s going to affect your health and wellness. Microscopic smoke particles from wildfires can be harmful if breathed in. These particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system – and can cause health problems like burning eyes, runny nose, and respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis.

Fine particles also can aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases – and even are linked to premature deaths in people with these conditions. Children, the elderly, and people with heart problems and other underlying health conditions are especially at risk, according to researchers who spoke with USA Today.

Protecting IAQ from Wildfire Smoke.

How do you protect yourself and your family? You might think the answer is to just stay indoors, and that is part of it. Going indoors and closing all your windows and doors – essentially, eliminating exterior ventilation - will certainly help. But, while that will reduce your exposure to these particles, it won’t eliminate them – especially if your house is not set up to maximize the quality of your indoor air.

Staying indoors and keeping all your windows and doors closed is one of the easiest and best ways to protect yourself and your family from traveling wildlife smoke.

Particles this small can also make their way into your home through mechanical ventilation devices like kitchen or bathroom exhaust fans that vent to the outdoors; through home HVAC systems that have a fresh air intake; and through cracks and openings in your home’s thermal envelope, a process called “infiltration.”

The EPA provides guidelines for reducing your risk from wildfire smoke and maximizing indoor air quality. In addition, this Prepare for Fire Season Fact Sheet also offers greater detail on what you can do to be ready and this Fact Sheet offers information about the dangers of wildfire smoke exposure. Here are some additional steps that All American Heating can help you with, to make sure your home and family are properly prepared and protected for optimum indoor air quality in case of a wildfire nearby, or in case of smoke exposure from wildfires far away invades the area:

High efficiency air filters are one of the best ways to keep your indoor air clean while enduring an influx of wildfire smoke.
  • Invest in a portable air cleaner. These can usually be found at most home improvement or big box stores. Be sure to choose one that’s the right size for the room in which it will be operating.
  • Purchase N95 respirator masks. After living through a major pandemic, we all know what these are, and where to find them. Be sure you understand how to choose the right size mask and use it correctly.

  • Invest in a high-efficiency HVAC Filter. Choose one with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) 13 rating, or as high a rating as your system will allow. Your All American Heating technician can help you decide what’s right for your home and family.
  • Become familiar with how to adjust your home HVAC system or air conditioner to keep smoke out. This means learning whether your home system has a fresh air intake and understanding how to close it or set your system to recirculate. Also, make sure your filter is in good condition, and replace if necessary.
Find out if your home HVAC system has a fresh air intake and learn how to close it. This will help prevent wildfire smoke from entering the airflow in your home.
  • Don’t use an evaporative cooler in smoky conditions, as this will bring more smoke inside. Consider other cooling options like fans or window units.
  • Speaking of window units, find out how to close the outdoor damper to keep outside air from coming in. If you can’t close it, switch to using a fan instead.
  • Don’t use a portable air conditioner with a hose that vents outside – this will also bring in more smoke, and hurt more than it helps.
  • Avoid activities that add to the particle load in your home, like:
    • Smoking cigarettes
    • Using gas, propane, or wood-burning stoves and furnaces
    • Spraying aerosol products
    • Frying or broiling food
    • Burning candles or incense
    • Vacuuming, unless your vacuum has a HEPA filter
  • And finally, open windows and doors to air out your home whenever outdoor air quality improves, even temporarily.

We’re Here If You Need Us.

All American Heating is ready and waiting to help you prep your home and help improve your home's indoor air quality and make it ready for fire season every year.

All American Heating can also help with larger-scale improvements, like:

  • Installing energy-efficient heating and cooling systems.
  • Cleaning your ductwork annually to minimize air pollutants and particle build-up that can increase exposures to wildfire smoke and the toxins it contains during wildfire season.
  • Installing Aeroseal Duct Sealing from the Inside, which will eliminate those cracks and holes in your ductwork that allow smoke and other particles to infiltrate your home’s indoor air.

Ask your All American Heating Technician how we can help you find ways to create cleaner, healthier indoor air for your home and family, all year round.

In the meantime, stay aware and stay safe.

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