Stop Wildfire Smoke from Infiltrating Your Home
Wildfires are nothing new for the Southwestern parts of the U.S., but the smoke from the still-burning wildfires in Quebec and Northern Ontario have wreaked havoc on air quality in the heavily populated New England, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast states. As smoke and soot blankets cities, towns, and the countryside, outdoor air becomes extremely unhealthy to breathe; ultimately forcing folks indoors – especially those with chronic respiratory diseases. Across Canada and the U.S., life has been disrupted, with delayed flights, closed schools, and many people heading to hospitals with respiratory issues.
What made for an interestingly beautiful (or frightful, depending on one’s perspective) orange glow in the New York City skyline in early June 2023 ultimately created the worst air pollution the city had ever experienced. As the Air Quality Index in New York quickly rose from ‘unhealthy’ to ‘very unhealthy’ and, finally, to ‘hazardous,’ smoke was also being carried by wind to much of the Midwest and Eastern U.S., pushing the Air Quality Index to unhealthy levels.
While not so common in the Midwest and Eastern U.S., the scene described above is an unfortunate way of life in some parts of the world. We’ve all seen terrifying images of what seems like unending wildfire devastation in Australia, Canada, California, the Southwest, and more over the past few years, and now we’re seeing that smoke from wildfires can affect anyone and everyone.
Effects of Wildfire Smoke
The biggest health threat from smoke comes from the fine, microscopic particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and can cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and runny noses to more serious chronic heart disease, lung disease, and even stroke. It’s important to limit your exposure to smoke; especially if you are at an increased risk for particle-related health issues.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), some of the smoke from the outdoors can infiltrate homes, schools, and commercial buildings, and make it unhealthy to breathe indoor air as well. Outdoor air, including fine particles from wildfire smoke, can enter homes through open windows and doors, or through small openings, joints, and cracks around closed windows and doors. It can even enter through air conditioning systems that have a fresh air intake.
Ways to Limit Wildfire Smoke in Your Home
When wildfires create smoky conditions, there are many things you can do to reduce your family's indoor exposure to smoke, which is important for everyone’s health. The EPA’s ‘Reduce Your Smoke Exposure’ fact sheet describes several actions to take in your home to reduce smoke exposure:
- Keep windows and doors closed; use fans and air conditioning to stay cool.
- Reduce the smoke that enters your home through your HVAC system:
- If you have an HVAC system with a fresh air intake, set the system to recirculate mode, or close the outdoor intake damper.
- If you have an evaporative cooler, avoid using it unless there is a heat emergency because it can result in more smoke being brought inside. If you must use the evaporative cooler, take advantage of times when outdoor air quality improves, even temporarily, to open windows and air out your home.
- If you have a window air conditioner, close the outdoor air damper. If you can’t close the damper, don’t use the air conditioner. Make sure that the seal between the air conditioner and the window is as tight as possible.
- Use a portable indoor air purifier.
- Use high-efficiency filters to remove fine particles from the air. If you decide to purchase a high-efficiency HVAC filter to increase filtration, choose one with a MERV 13 rating, or as high a rating as your system fan and filter slot can accommodate. You should consult a NADCA-certified HVAC technician to determine the highest efficiency filter that will work best for your system.
- Avoid activities that create more fine particles indoors, including:
- Spraying aerosol products
- Frying or broiling food
- Burning candles or incense
- Vacuuming, unless you use a vacuum with a HEPA filter
- Using gas, propane or wood-burning stoves and furnaces
- Smoking cigarettes
- Consider purchasing N95 respirator masks and learn how to use them properly.
Check Your HVAC System After Wildfires
Keep in mind that a building doesn’t have to actually burn for its HVAC system to incur damage from a wildfire. Smoke and soot can infiltrate HVAC systems, even when they’re sealed tight, and can be especially dangerous since the system circulates air throughout the home anywhere from 5 to 7 times each day.
Despite all the tips above for limiting smoke exposure in your home, once smoke and soot get into your HVAC system, replacing filters isn’t enough to combat the unhealthy effects on indoor air quality. Your best bet is to get your air ducts cleaned by a professional.
The National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) is dedicated to educating homeowners about the benefits (and proper methods) of HVAC system cleaning. Have questions about air duct cleaning? Unsure where to start when it comes to hiring a contractor to clean your ducts? Worried about scams? We've got you covered and have everything you need to know right here.
We all want our families to breathe clean, healthy air. When you’re ready to hire a company for your air duct cleaning, make sure you avoid the scams and choose a qualified contractor to ensure the job is done right – one who is certified for the task. Members of the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) have technicians on staff with advanced training and certification in HVAC system cleaning. They’re the best-of-the-best when it comes to getting your air ducts cleaned!
Plus, NADCA makes it really simple for homeowners to find an air duct cleaning professional — all it takes is a zip code to search our online directory to find a certified NADCA member in your area!