November 29, 2023
Chicago 12, Melborne City, USA
The Empire State Building is seen in New York City in a smokey haze.

Here’s How to Maintain Your Home Smoke-Free during Wildfires

Share on PinterestKeeping smoky air outside of the house can be challenging. David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

  • Large portions of the US are being covered in smoke from Canadian wildfires.
  • Finding ways to avoid smoke indoors can be tricky.
  • In older structures, smoke can infiltrate through drafty windows and doors, introducing harmful particles into the home.
  • We spoke with experts to learn how to keep dangerous wildfire smoke away from your home.

  • Smoke from Canadian wildfires is blanketing large areas of the US.
  • In older structures, smoke can infiltrate through drafty windows and doors, introducing harmful particles into the home.
  • As smoke from Canadian wildfires drifts into the United States, the air quality in regions including the Northeast, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic has significantly worsened.

    More than 75 million people in the US are currently under air quality alerts, and they are being advised to minimize outdoor exposure as much as possible.

    The simplest way to avoid inhaling hazardous air is to remain indoors and wear a high-quality mask while outside.

    However, in certain older buildings, such as those constructed several decades ago, smoky air can seep in through drafty windows and doors, bringing harmful particles into the home.

    “There are two primary ways to reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke – either breathe less or breathe cleaner air. Breathing cleaner air is generally more attainable, although the methods to achieve this objective vary depending on your location or the construction of your home,” explained Mike Van Dyke, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

    Here are some tips on keeping your indoor air clean during an air quality alert:

    The most effective way to maintain clean indoor air is to ensure that your windows and doors are closed.

    By doing so, you can prevent ash and smoke from entering your home.

    “This is important as it helps keep particulate matter (PM) pollution, such as PM 2.5, out of your home, thus reducing your exposure to harmful air pollution,” advised Masri.

    Using a high-quality air purifier that contains HEPA filters can be very effective in ensuring clean indoor air.

    According to Masri, some purifiers can reduce air pollution by fifty percent or more.

    You can find air purifier recommendations from the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America here.

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests running your air purifier on the highest setting.

    Experts recommend avoiding the use of ionic purifiers as they can potentially do more harm than good.

    “They can produce ozone (another air pollutant) and are often more costly,” warned Masri.

    If you can’t find an affordable air purifier, you can create your own. The EPA offers a guide on how to make a DIY air cleaner.

    If you have a forced-air or central heating and cooling system, it is beneficial to keep the air circulating to filter out harmful particles from wildfire smoke, according to Van Dyke.

    The effectiveness of this method depends on the type of air system in your home. “The higher the ‘MERV’ rating, the better the filtration will be,” explained Van Dyke.

    If you have an HVAC system, set it to recirculate mode, and if you have a window unit, disable the outdoor air intake damper.

    If you cannot disable the outdoor air intake damper, turn off the entire AC unit to prevent it from pulling in smoky air.

    Van Dyke stated that many window air conditioner units filter indoor air as it is cooled, providing some reduction in indoor exposure to wildfire smoke.

    Finally, if you have an outdoor-mounted evaporative cooler, refrain from using it as it can introduce large amounts of outdoor air into your home.

    Similar precautions should be taken when driving a car.

    “By keeping your car windows closed and using the AC, you can achieve a 50-80% reduction in PM-related air pollution during a wildfire, potentially making it more effective than an at-home purifier,” suggested Masri.

    Another not-so-obvious tip is to avoid vacuuming when the outdoor air is harmful.

    “Vacuuming generates a significant amount of airborne dust that requires air flow and dilution to disperse,” Van Dyke explained.

    It is best to vacuum when you can open the windows to allow for proper ventilation.

    The EPA also advises limiting the use of gas, propane, and wood-burning stoves and furnaces during poor air quality conditions.

    Try to minimize the use of aerosol products, refrain from smoking cigarettes, avoid frying or broiling food, and avoid using candles or incense.

    All of these activities can generate more fine particles and worsen indoor air quality.

    Lastly, a high-quality face mask, such as an N95 mask or KN95 respirator, can offer protection against inhaling pollutants.

    For the mask to be effective, it must fit tightly against the face.

    “These masks should be strongly considered when spending extended periods of time outdoors during an air quality index exceeding 150 or if you have pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions,” advised Van Dyke.

    It is worth noting that fabric face coverings and surgical masks do not provide sufficient protection against wildfire smoke, added Van Dyke.

    When the hazardous smoke dissipates and the air becomes clean again, take the opportunity to refresh your indoor air.

    On days with an AQI of 50 or lower, open your windows, advised Van Dyke.

    “By opening your doors and windows to allow clean outdoor air in, you can quickly remove the particulate matter and gaseous pollutants,” said Masri.

    As smoke from Canadian wildfires drifts into the United States, the air quality in the Northeast, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic has significantly worsened. In cities with air quality alerts, health officials are urging people to avoid going outside, but even indoor air can be hazardous. By closing windows and doors, using high-quality air purifiers, and adjusting your AC settings, you can maintain clean indoor air during hazy days.

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