Fire by itself is not an air quality hazard. It is the smoke and ash the fire produces which deteriorates air quality. It is one of the reasons why the advisory to stay indoors (for those in the safe zone) is sent out whenever there is a wildfire event. Inhaling air saturated with smoke and ash can lead to breathing problems. Those who already suffer from such ailments are at even greater risk because inhaling even small amounts of contaminated air can trigger severe reactions.
Whenever there is a wildfire, you need to be especially careful of the indoor air quality. The polluted outdoor air can seep indoors and make the air inside equally poor. So, the hazard that outside found a way inside. Our today’s effort is dedicated to making the masses aware of ways to protect the indoor air quality during the wildfire season.
Why Is Smoke Inhalation Bad?
Smoke consists of a dense mixture of gases and fine particles. These are produced when wood, leaves, animals, and other organic materials burn. Nonetheless, the most significant health threat comes not from the gases but the fine particles. These infinitesimally small particles get into your eyes and the respiratory system, irrespective of whether you are indoors or outdoors. Once they enter your body, they can trigger health conditions like burning eyes, running nose, and ailments like bronchitis and asthma. Furthermore, microscopic particles can worsen chronic heart and lung diseases. Unfortunately, some smoke inhalation events are even linked to premature deaths in people already suffering from such conditions.
Healthy people are usually at no significant risk from short-term smoke exposure. Having said that, it is still advisable that you avoid any such situations if you can.
Protecting Indoor Air Quality During Wildfire Season
First and foremost, if you are anywhere in the danger zone or very close to it, it is better you evacuate at least until the fire is under control. Once you are back and others who were in the safe zone can follow the following protocols:
1. Keep All Doors And Windows Closed – During and soon after any wildfire, it is essential to ensure that the doors and windows to your residence remain closed. If there are any gaps, plug them with a wet cloth. This small activity will ensure that smoke and ash from the outdoors do not seep into your living place. Also, refrain from going out repeatedly. It is because every time you go out and come back inside, you open the door. An open door is an open invitation for smoke and ash to infiltrate your residence. Similarly, make the small kids aware of the importance of maintaining this seal between outside and inside.
2. Use Fan And AC To Stay Cool – Switch on the ceiling fan and the air conditioner to stay cool when indoors. Thankfully, the modern-day HVAC systems are technologically advanced and automatically clean the air inside the house to maintain healthy indoor air quality. The cleaning is done by a critical component of the HVAC system called the air filter. It traps the impurities floating in the air that passes through its mesh-like structure. As a result, the air that comes out of the vents is much cleaner than what went inside via the return ducts.
3. Change The HVAC Air Filter As Often As Necessary – As the air filter continues to cleanse the indoor air, it gathers a lot of dust, dirt, ash, dander, and other fine particles on its mesh surface. If you don’t replace the air filter with a clean one, the indoor air quality starts deteriorating. The dirty mesh acts as a hindrance to the passing air, and instead of cleaning, it makes it even dirtier. Therefore, the air filter needs to be switched with clean ones at regular intervals. During a wildfire and on subsequent days following the event, keep an eye on the condition of the air filter. Don’t wait for it to get clogged. Instead, replace it with a clean one as soon as it starts appearing dirty.
4. Use Indoor Air Purifier – If you have an indoor air purifier, well and good. If not, it’s time to invest in one, and while at it, go for something that uses HEPA filters as they are the best in class and known for their efficiency. Having a whole-home purifier is any day, a better option than a portable one. Nevertheless, if the budget does not permit you to make an expensive investment buy a portable air purifier, these are equally efficient in cleaning indoor air. All you need to make sure is that all the family members are in the same room as the air purifier to maximize its utility. You can also move it from room to room as and when required.
5. Refrain From Activities That Produce Smoke Or Fine Particles – Try to refrain from engaging in activities that produce smoke and fine particles. A few examples of such activities are cigarette smoking, using aerosol sprays, burning candles, deep cleaning the house, operating a wood, gas, propane stove or furnace, etc. These activities will only add to the poor indoor air quality and deteriorate it further. It is something you wouldn’t want to do when you know that the outdoor smoke and ash-laden air is already a hazard waiting to gain a foothold in your home.
Food For Thought
After a severe wildfire event in your locality, you may want to think about getting the ductwork cleaned professionally. However, it is a choice you have to make. The other option is to wait until you see the vents are getting clogged from the accumulations inside the ducts.
Similarly, if there is ash in your home, standard cleaning will not suffice. You will have to mist everything before cleaning so that ash and dust do not fly. Better would be to get your home professionally cleaned, especially by someone who specializes in post-wildfire cleaning. What you do during and after a wildfire will play a crucial role in determining indoor air quality.