How to Protect Your Home from Wildfire Smoke

First, why is everyone concerned with wildfire smoke? Smoke contains a toxic mix of gaseous pollutants (e.g., carbon monoxide), hazardous air pollutants (e.g., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), water vapor, and particle pollution. Particle pollution represents the main component of wildfire smoke and the principle public health threat.

The particles in smoke, often referred to as particulate matter (PM), are a mix of solid and liquid droplets suspended in the air. Some of the most concerning types of particles found in smoke contain toxic and cancer-causing substances including chemicals, heavy metals, and plastics. Many of these particles are quite dangerous to people because they are small enough to enter directly into the blood stream. They also cause all the stuff we normally associate with smoke: coughing, sneezing, irritated eyes, sore throats, and headaches. Those that suffer from asthma, lung disease, and other respiratory issues are especially sensitive to smoke, though everyone suffers a little. Dr. John Balmes, a pulmonologist and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco said that smoke from fires is ‘pretty much like tobacco smoke without the nicotine,’ which puts it all into a bit more perspective.

Letting that smoke into your home can be very dangerous, if not really annoying, and can have lasting negative effects on your health. Make sure your indoor air quality and health are protected.
Now that we understand what makes smoke dangerous, let’s talk about how you can protect yourself and home from wildfire smoke. Here are some helpful tips.

1. Stay inside.
When outdoor air quality gets bad, stay inside. While you’re inside keep the bad air out. We’ll talk more about that later. If you are wondering when you should stay inside, the EPA has a great tool call the Air Quality Index. They do a great job explaining current outdoor air quality conditions and what it might mean to you.
2. Know what’s in your air.
Get an indoor air quality monitor. There are many on the market, but we recommend Overture. Overture monitors for volatile organic compounds, carbon dioxide, moisture, and small particles in the air. The Overture app provides live data on your indoor air quality and will alert you when it gets worse.
3. Stop bad air from coming into your home.
Close your windows and doors. That might seem counter-productive, but, if your home has central air, the central air system’s filter can capture some of the bad stuff in the air. If your home does not have central air, you will need to filter the air. We’ll cover how to do that below. You should also consider sealing up leaky spots in your home. Those are often found around doors and windows but might be found other places. If you have a gap at the bottom of your door, consider placing a rolled-up, damp towel in front of the gap.
4. Remove bad air from your home.
Make sure you run your bath fans and range hood when you shower and cook. There is a lot of pollution that comes off of your range. If air quality is already bad, you’ll be making it worse by not running your range hood while cooking. If you don’t know when to turn on your ventilation equipment, or want to automate that task, Overture can help there too. Not only does it monitor indoor air quality, it can also make it better by engaging your home’s current ventilation systems. When it senses a rise in pollutants, it will engage your home’s ventilation systems such as bath fans, range hoods, and fresh air systems (sometimes called air exchangers). A fresh air system is a ventilator that brings fresh, filtered air into your home and exhausts dirty, stale air. Many fresh air systems have strong filters and have recirculating modes that can help scrub the air.
5. Filter the air in your home.
A quality air purifier, with a True HEPA filter, can capture 99.97% of pollutants in the air in your home. High quality purifiers, like ours, will also sense for pollutants and then automatically turn up the fan to rid the room of those pollutants and back down when they are gone. If you’re in a pinch, you can make temporary air purifier with a box fan and high-quality HVAC filters. One thing to be wary of is an air purifier that produces ozone. An air purifier that produces ozone is replacing one dangerous hazard with another.
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