Areas that are prone to wildfires — like deserts or large, dry forests — see thousands of acres burn each year during wildfire season. The flames aren’t the only danger caused by wildfires, however. Smoke and ash from large fires can cause poor air quality hundreds of miles from an active fire.
Learn to protect your family from wildfire smoke, even if you’re not in the immediate path of a fire.
How Do Wildfires Affect Indoor Air Quality?
Smoke from a wildfire is a mix of gases and particles that form when wood and other materials burn. The fine particles in smoke are what pose the biggest health risk. Just as allergens like pollen can cause irritation, particles in the wildfire smoke can cause a runny nose, burning or itching eyes and illnesses like bronchitis.
The smokey, outdoor air can enter your home and cause health issues in a couple of ways, such as:
- Through an open door or window.
- Through bathroom or kitchen fans that vent outside of your home.
- In fresh air intake grates on an HVAC system.
- By seeping through small openings like cracks, joints or unsealed windows and doors.
When the smoky air enters your home, the indoor air quality gets worse.
How to Test Your Indoor Air Quality
Knowing how good your indoor air quality is can help you figure out the best way to improve it. Use an at-home air quality testing kit to find out if you have other irritants in the air before the fire season starts. Knowing what irritants — like pet dander or mold — are already present in your home allows you to get rid of air quality issues before wildfires start spreading smoke to your home.
If you use an at-home air quality test and find major air quality issues, you might want to consider following up with a professional to make sure there are no immediate threats.
Prepare for Wildfire Season by Creating a Clean Room
One of the best ways to protect your indoor air quality from wildfire smoke is to create a clean room in your home. A clean room is a designated room that is closed off from outside air and uses air purifiers or other equipment to keep the air fresh and safe.
Follow these tips to create a clean room:
- Choose a room that’s big enough for your whole family to comfortably spend time. A bedroom with an attached bathroom is a popular choice because it gives you access to a clean bathroom and often has comfortable furniture.
- Close up the doors and windows in the room to prevent smoke from entering. Be sure to leave an escape route in case of a house fire or other emergency. Try to pick a room without an exhaust fan or exterior vent.
- Use fans or air conditioning to help keep the room cool and circulate the air through the room.
- Spend as much time as possible in the clean room to help limit your family’s exposure to smoke in the air.
How to Improve Indoor Air Quality During Wildfires
A clean room isn’t the only way to protect your family and improve the air quality in your home. Improve indoor air quality throughout your home with these tips:
- Close Windows and Doors: The first thing you should do when the outside air gets smokey is to close windows and doors. Closed windows and doors greatly limit the amount of smoke that can come into your home, helping to maintain good air quality.
- Use Fans and Air Conditioning: Fans and air conditioners help keep your family cool when staying inside. If you can’t use fans or air conditioning to stay cool, you may want to evacuate to a safer location, such as a relative’s home with central air conditioning.
- Recirculate Indoor Air: Some HVAC units and portable or window air conditioners have an outside air intake. You’ll want to close this intake in smokey conditions so the indoor air recirculates and keeps smoke outside of your home.
- Use a Portable Air Cleaner: Portable air cleaners help filter the air in a room so the air quality improves. Set up air cleaners in rooms with a lot of traffic, including your clean room.
- Invest in Masks to Avoid Smoke: Masks and respirators — like N95 masks — help block harmful particles from smoke and other irritants. Stock up on masks and learn how to use them properly so you can protect yourself if you need to go into polluted areas.
- Use a High-Efficiency Filter: Some HVAC systems use high-efficiency filters that help remove fine particles from your indoor air. Run your high-efficiency HVAC system often to help filter out any smoke particles that have made their way inside.
- Avoid Activities That Add Pollutants: Smoking cigarettes, burning wood fires, or frying foods in oil can add more pollutants to your indoor air. Try to avoid any activities that will further decrease your indoor air quality until the smoke from the wildfire has dissipated.
- Decrease Strenuous Activity: A hard workout or other strenuous activities cause you to breathe heavier and take in more air. This can be dangerous if you’re breathing in smokey or polluted air from a wildfire. Reduce your risk by skipping strenuous activities if possible.
- Refresh Indoor Air When Outdoor Quality Improves: Open your windows and circulate air from outside as soon as outdoor air quality improves to a safe level. Even if the outdoor air quality worsens again, a quick refresh of your indoor air will help keep it fresh until you can safely open your home after the fire.
Even if you live in an area that doesn’t see many wildfires, or you don’t smell smoke, the particles from nearby fires could pose a health risk to you and your family. Knowing how to deal with wildfire pollutants and maintain good indoor air quality helps reduce the chance of smoke-related medical issues during the fire season. Be prepared by investing in the equipment you need and creating a clean area in your home before the outside air quality deteriorates.