Quick Guide: How to Keep Wildfire Smoke Out of a House
If you live in an area prone to wildfires, which is the case in states like California and Texas, you've probably thought about how to keep wildfire smoke out of a house. But the truth is, wildfire smoke is a problem that affects us all. The smoke that billows into the air doesn't stay in one place or fall directly back down to the ground. It can wind up in just about any home in the country.
This quick guide explains what wildfire smoke is and the health risks it can pose. It also covers methods for preventing wildfire smoke from entering the air you breathe inside your home. So, let's get started! Here's everything you need to know and do if a wildfire threatens your home:
Health Effects Of Wildfire Smoke
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that the air inside a house can become polluted by wildfire smoke, making it unsafe to breathe. At the same time, there may be shelter indoors orders when the air quality outdoors is especially low. If you can't evacuate, then staying inside is your best option.
Whether indoors or outdoors, fine particles brought about by wildfire smoke can cause adverse reactions if they get in your eyes or respiratory system. It could even cause serious health problems to people with existing chronic lung or heart disease.
Wildfire smoke inhalation is a danger to your health because wildfire smoke isn't just from the fire itself. It is composed of many different particles that mainly comes from burnt structures. There's also vegetation, gases, and other materials within wildfire smoke. It's polluted enough to make anyone ill.
Some people are particularly susceptible to wildfire smoke. Those with asthma, respiratory illness, COPD, or heart disease are the most at risk. Pregnant women and children also have an increased risk of complications.
Signs that wildfire smoke inhalation has occurred include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Raw throat
- Eye irritation
- Runny nose
- Chest pain
- Rapid heartbeat
It's almost as if you're having a panic attack while fighting off an allergy attack that's what happens when you inhale wildfire smoke. Asthma attacks are also possible if you breathe in wildfire smoke. So, if anyone in your home has asthma, you must have an extra inhaler in your emergency first aid kit.
When the worst is over and once the wildfire is under control, you still have to be cautious. The fine particles of wildfire smoke can linger in the air for weeks. Until the air clears, homeowners should take additional measures to purify the air inside.
Best Air Filter For Smoke
Evacuating an affected area for at least three days is the best way to avoid wildfire smoke inhalation. If there is an evacuation order from the local government, everyone should follow those recommendations.
There are also things you can do in advance to prevent wildfire smoke from entering your home. One thing you can do is choose an HVAC air filter that's capable of filtering smoke from the air. Some air filters are designed specifically for filtering smoke, although they typically address cigarette and kitchen smoke.
Here are some of the best air filters in the market:
Activated Carbon Air Filters - The activated carbon in these air filters attracts odor-producing particles like smoke.
MERV 8 Air Filters - Air filters with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating of 8 can remove smoke particles from the air. Anything below that may not be sufficient for any type of smoke.
Air Conditioner Settings
Your air conditioner setting also matters. When an HVAC system is set to recirculate the air, it allows the air filter to purify the air that's inside without drawing in more polluted air from outside. You should also keep it the air conditioner in the "on" setting rather than "auto" to allow the air to continuously circulate.
Best Air Filter For Fire Smoke
It would seem that an air filter that can filter cigarette smoke would be able to filter fire smoke as well, but that’s a common misconception. For fire smoke, you need an air filter that can purify the air of fine particles. That means going for an even more efficient air filter.
A MERV 13 air filter is a good option for fire smoke. An air filter with a MERV 13 rating is capable of filtering out the fine particles of wildfire smoke without restricting airflow. That’s crucial for comfort, and it can help your HVAC system function well when the air conditioner is in recirculate mode. Some experts recommend MERV 13 or higher, but going for a much higher version could be problematic unless the filter is will only be used on a short-term basis and while wildfire smoke is still a threat.
What you don’t want to do, above all, is use an air purifier that emits ozone. Instead of purifying the air, it will add more pollution.
More About Filtering Wildfire Smoke
Wildfires are a complex natural disaster that have far-reaching effects. With each passing year, wildfires claim more acreage and produce more pollution. Each one of us could find ourselves dealing with wildfire smoke at some point in our lives. Keep reading to find answers to some of the most common questions about filtering wildfire smoke.
Do air conditioners filter wildfire smoke?
They can, but it all depends on the HVAC air filter used (see Best Air Filters for Fire Smoke section above). You also need to have the air conditioner in the recirculate setting so that air from outside doesn’t get pulled inside.
THE EXCEPTION: If your home has a basement, don’t turn on the furnace or HVAC system in hopes of filtering out smoke unless it’s sealed well. The furnace and HVAC system can draw air up from the basement, which is why you should check the air quality down there before turning anything on.
What is in wildfire smoke?
There’s a lot of different materials in wildfire smoke, that’s why it’s so dangerous. Wildfire smoke consists of a variety of gases and fine particles from plant materials and building materials.
How far can wildfire smoke travel?
Climatologists dread wildfires because the smoke can travel around the world. During a large-scale wildfire, air currents can carry the smoke just about anywhere. That’s why we should all carefully consider the air filters used in our homes, stores, businesses, and offices.