As smoke from Canadian wildfires envelops outdoor areas, the air you breathe inside your home can suffer too.
But there are plenty of ways to prevent smoke from creeping in and to improve the overall quality of indoor air.
To keep wildfire smoke outside, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests taking these steps:
- Keep doors and windows closed. The American Lung Association says tucking damp towels along the bottom of windows and doors can help keep smoke out.
- Set your HVAC system to recirculate mode or close the outdoor intake damper.
- Avoid using an evaporative cooler or a whole house fan that pulls in air from outside.
- Use a portable air cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter and a filter for your HVAC with a high Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating, which measures a filter’s ability to absorb larger particles. A filter with as high a MERV value as your HVAC system can handle will result in cleaner air.
- If you don’t have access to a portable air cleaner, you can create a DIY air cleaner.
Create Your Own DIY Air Cleaner
There are several ways to build your own air cleaner. Designs involve using one or more air filters in coordination with a box fan and typically work best in a small room, like a bedroom. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has instructions and links to tutorial videos to help people make their own. If you do create a DIY version, the EPA recommends these safety tips:
- Use a newer model box fan with safety features.
- Do not leave the fan unattended while in use and monitor children nearby.
- Do not use an extension cord and make sure your home smoke detectors are working.
- Have extra filters on hand to change them out when they become dirty.
This wildfire event should get people thinking about whether their indoor air quality has been compromised, particularly if they are older or have health issues, says Delphine Farmer, a professor of chemistry at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. She recommends using a portable air cleaner in the room you spend the most time in and wearing an N95 style mask if you plan to exercise indoors.
“When the air outside is really bad, it’s usually better inside,” she says. “But when it’s such an extreme pollution event ... the indoor air is going to be heavily influenced by the outside.”
Wildfire and other pollutants are a problem
Smoke from wildfires isn’t the only thing that can affect indoor air quality. Smoking, frying or broiling food, burning candles or incense and using a vacuum cleaner that does not have a HEPA filter can all have a negative impact. Common home pollutants like asbestos, radon, mold and household chemicals can make your indoor air dirty too.
In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that indoor air might be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air.
In general, strategies such as proper ventilation and low-cost fixes like air purifiers and filters can all help. While green plants may look nice, experts say they don’t have much impact on the air quality in your home.
Here are some ways to clean up your home’s air environment during a wildfire event and all year round.
Most people don’t think about indoor air quality unless they experience health symptoms that can include headaches, aggravated allergies, elevated asthma, fatigue, coughing, dry eyes and skin rashes.
“We know that particles — aerosols or small solids or liquids suspended in the air, like dust, smoke, smog or oil from cooking — have negative health effects ranging from respiratory lung disease to cardiovascular issues,” Farmer says.