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How to Protect the Air Quality of Your Home from Wildfire Smoke

Carolyn has been an online writer for several years. She loves giving advice to others about health.

how-to-protect-the-air-quality-of-your-home-from-wildfire-smoke

Let's face it, the world is changing and every day it seems we are faced with new challenges. The pandemic is still around but now many of us are dealing with an explosion in the number of wildfires raging around the world from the US, Canada and as far as Russia.

Even if you are thousands of miles away from the danger of wildfires, the smoke from some of the larger, out of control fires is drifting to many cities where air quality alerts are then being issued. The drop in air quality can have a direct effect on your health and well being1. Here we will discuss the steps you can take to improve the quality of air in your home, regardless of what is happening around you.

Health Effects of Wildfire Smoke

According to the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency):

Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic materials burn. The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles. These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system – whether you are outdoors or indoors, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and 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.2

From the BC Center for Disease Control in Canada3:

  • Smoky air makes it harder for your lungs to get oxygen into your blood.
  • Wildfire smoke can irritate your respiratory system and cause an immune response, which may lead to inflammation that affects other parts of your body.
  • Common symptoms include eye irritation, runny nose, sore throat, mild cough, phlegm production, wheezy breathing, or headaches. Such symptoms can usually be managed without medical attention.
  • Some people may have more severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath, severe cough, dizziness, chest pain, or heart palpitations. You should seek prompt medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms.
  • Smoky air may increase risk of some infections, such as pneumonia COVID-19, and ear infections in children.

A particle needs to be smaller than 10 microns before it can be inhaled into your respiratory tract.4


Comparing Particles in the Air

ParticlesAverage Size (microns)

Coronavirus COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2)

0.1-0.5μm

Wildfire Smoke

0.4-0.7 μm

Bacterium

1-3μm

Dust particle: PM2.5

≤2.5μm

Dust particle: PM10

≤10μm

Grain of Pollen

15μm

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Protecting the Air in Your Home

To recap, we have learned that smoke from wildfires (or from any source) can cause serious health issues, even in your home.

Wildfire particles are between 0.4-0.7 microns in size (smaller than most dust particles).

It really comes down to air purification.


For Everyone:

  • Close all windows and doors, make sure to eliminate sources of outdoor air that can get into your home.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency advises people to avoid doing anything that contributes to indoor air pollutants. That includes vacuuming that can stir up pollutants, as well as burning candles, firing up gas stoves and smoking.
  • You can create something called a box fan air filter using air filters and a simple box fan. Here are the instructions on how to make one.
  • Seek out places with fresh air and filtered air systems, such as indoor malls, libraries, community centers, civic centers and local government buildings.
  • Surprisingly, according to the CDC5 face masks do not help but can make things worse. If you still feel it's necessary it would need to be a N100 or P100.

If you rent your home:

  • See above
  • Invest in an air purifier (air cleaner) with a HEPA filter

If you own your home:

  • Look at replacing leaky windows or doors
  • Use caulking around windows to better seal them
  • Use weather stripping
  • Add door sweeps if possible
  • Invest in a good quality furnace filter (if you have forced air) unfortunately ones that filter smoke particles restrict airflow too much and can cause the air handler to work harder than it should. Furnace filters are mostly for reducing dust so it can run efficiently.
  • Invest in an air purifier (air cleaner) with a HEPA filter


Best Air Purifier for Your Home

There are a few things you should take into consideration when shopping around for an air purifier for your home to protect the air quality in your home from wildfire smoke.

Whole House Air Filter

Cons:

  • The cost of a whole house air filter is more expensive ranging in price between $2,000 and $4,000 not including the cost of professional installation.
  • It's difficult to get a true HEPA filter for your HVAC since it restricts air flow significantly. This may require an installation of a powered fan to keep proper air flow and circulation.
  • Regular maintenance costs
  • The air in your home is only purified when the HVAC system is running. It's costly and too much of a strain to have the fans going 24/7.

Pros:

  • Much quieter than portable air purifiers for the room.


Room Air Purifiers

Cons:

  • One unit cannot clean your whole home, and multiple units may not effectively clean the air in the entire home.
  • Not as quiet as whole home air purifiers

Pros:

  • Do not have to pay for installation
  • Dedicated motor and fan in the unit allows for the use of a true HEPA filter, thereby cleaning the air more efficiently
  • Lower cost to purchase (Less than $100 in some cases)
  • If it has activated carbon it can remove smoke odor as well as the smoke itself.
  • More efficient at removing smaller particles such as smoke, allergens, mold and dust.

Filter 99.97% of Smoke in Your Home

We’re not only seeing ever-increasing fires year after year. We’re also seeing more fires over a larger geographical spread. And we’re also seeing a longer period. Our fire season used to be just two months of the year 15 years ago and now it’s nine months of the year.

— Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands, Washington State Department of Natural Resources

Sources:

  1. https://www.edf.org/health/health-impacts-air-pollution
  2. https://www.epa.gov/wildfire-smoke-course/health-effects-attributed-wildfire-smoke
  3. http://www.bccdc.ca/resource-gallery/Documents/Guidelines%20and%20Forms/Guidelines%20and%20Manuals/Health-Environment/BCCDC_WildFire_FactSheet_HealthEffects.pdf
  4. https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/how_do.html
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/covid-19/wildfire_smoke_covid-19.html


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Have Your Say

MG Singh emge from Singapore on July 26, 2021:

Nice article. Fires are raging all over the uSA with wild fire smoke. You have given good advice in such a scene.

Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on July 26, 2021:

Very good and timely advice-- thank you!

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