How to Keep Wildfire Smoke Out of Your House

August 30, 2022

Wildfire smoke is harmful to your health. Learn how to keep wildfire smoke out of your house with guidance and expertise from the Western Fire Chiefs Association (WFCA).

Even if you live far away from a fire, smoke can still pose a threat to your health.

How Does Wildfire Smoke Affect the Air Quality Inside the Home?

Beyond physical damage, wildfire can also make the air unhealthy to breathe. In the event of a wildfire in your vicinity, it is likely you will be advised to stay indoors to avoid exposure to smoke. However, smoke can also enter the home and affect indoor air quality.

Wildfire smoke contains a complex mix of gases and fine particles, which, if inhaled, can cause and exacerbate health problems.  The fine particles can be irritating to the eyes, throat, and nose, and aggravate existing health conditions, particularly heart and lung diseases.1

Wildfire smoke can travel thousands of miles, so it is important to know how to keep it out of your house, even if you live many miles away from active fires.

Steps for Keeping Wildfire Smoke Out of the House

Make sure exterior windows and doors are sealed if it is smoky outside.

1. Close All Windows and Doors

It may seem obvious, but the first thing you should always do is ensure smoke cannot enter through windows and doors. Once shut, try to stay inside where it is easier to control the air quality.  If it is too hot to stay inside without opening windows, consider seeking alternative shelter.

2. Use a Portable Air Cleaner

A portable air cleaner can help reduce indoor air pollution by filtering fine particles from the air. Check that your portable air cleaner is appropriately sized for the room.  It is also important to choose one that does not create ozone while running.

Air conditioning or a portable air filter can help to clean indoor air.

3. Consider a High-Efficiency HVAC Filter

Check your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system to understand how it can be adjusted to help keep smoke out. Upgrading to a filter rated MERV 13 or above is an effective way to remove fine particle pollution during smoky periods.2

Wear an appropriate particulate mask if you need to spend time in smoky environments.

4. Wear an N95 Respirator Mask or Better

Surgical masks or cloth face coverings provide little protection from particulate matter. According to the FDA, N95 respirator masks are designed to achieve a very efficient filtration of airborne particles.3 N95 respirators are labeled for ‘single-use’ so ensure you have a sufficient supply for the whole family.

5. Avoid Evaporative Coolers

Evaporative coolers, otherwise known as ‘swamp coolers’, pull air from the outdoors into the home, which increases the amount of smoke indoors. If you have no other way of cooling your home, it may be time to consider evacuating.

6. Avoid Activities that Create More Fine Particles

Things like frying and broiling food, vacuuming, smoking cigarettes, and using aerosols all create additional particulate matter, which worsens air quality.

7. Avoid Strenuous Activities

Smoky days are a valid excuse to skip your workout. Strenuous physical activity increases the amount of air being inhaled – something to keep in check when the air quality is poor.

8. Air Out Your Home Once the Air Quality Has Improved

Take the opportunity to air out your home once the smoke clears and the air quality improves. Open up the windows and doors, or switch on the fresh air intake on your HVAC system to let the clean air ventilate your home.

Sources

  1. United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Fires and Your Health.” Accessed August 18, 2022.
  2. United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Preparing for Fire Season.” Accessed August 18, 2022.
  3. US Food & Drug Administration, “N95 Respirators, Surgical Masks, Face Masks, and Barrier Face Coverings.” Accessed August 18, 2022.

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