What you can do to ensure cleaner air quality inside your home or office during wildfire and other smoke events.
Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particles from burning trees and plants, buildings, and other material. People with asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), or heart disease, and children, pregnant women, and responders are especially at risk.
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)
In the short term:
1. Use the real-time Air Quality Index information available in your area. Go to www.purpleair.com/map and enter your town in the search box on the top left of the map. Dots on the map indicate neighborhoods where monitors are located and the air quality levels. Dots outlined with black circles indicate indoor air quality monitors.
2. Purchase your own outdoor and/or indoor particulate sensor to monitor the air in and around your home/office. PurpleAir.com sells models that can be registered on the user-friendly, real-time internet mapping system, with public viewing available. See www.purpleair.com
3. Purchase a free-standing, portable air purifier. An air purifier uses a blower and high- quality filters to clean your room air. Portable units are available for small and large rooms and in various types. They work to clear indoor air pollutants, including those from smoke. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, are recommended by the U.S. Department of Health for their ability to remove at least 99.97% of airborne allergens and pollutants. Ozone-based purifiers are not recommended because ozone is itself harmful to people. Available air purifiers can be found at https://bit.ly/3h6EMNo
4. According to the CDC, masks that are used to slow the spread of COVID-19 offer little protection against wildfire smoke. They do not catch small, harmful particles in smoke that can harm your health. To protect your lungs from smoke particulates when outdoors, a mask with a pocket for a carbon filter insert may be more helpful. They can also be used outside during high air pollution days in the winter. There are several varieties and prices available and searchable by entering “face masks with PM2.5 inserts” on your internet browser.
5. Upgrade the removable filters on your centralized A/C heating system. The filters work to clear indoor air pollutants, including PM2.5, generated by smoke. Different types use different filtering techniques to draw particulates out of your room space: HEPA, Ionizers, electrostatic purifiers, and activated carbon filters. Find out the types available at https://www.homeclimates.com/blog/air-filter-types
6. Window-mount refrigerated air conditioners (A/C) are a fairly inexpensive alternative or addition to a swamp cooler household. These may have two modes: the vent mode will only bring smoky outside air into your space. Use of the typical non-vent mode, however, recirculates existing room air as part of the cooling process. To make sure you’re not re-circulating poor air, you can purchase an indoor air purifier, noted above, to work in conjunction with an A/C window unit (Note: both the A/C and purifier use more electricity than a swamp cooler. Use of solar power will save energy costs.)
In the long term:
1. Have your home or office space audited for energy efficiency, including how much air leaks out of, or into your home. Rebates up to $200 are included. Details at: https://www.xcelenergy.com/programs_and_rebates/residential_programs_and_rebates/home_energy_efficiency/home_energy_audit
2. Non-Xcel customers can find financial assistance for energy efficient purchases and improvements in the form of incentives such as tax credits or rebates, and through energy-efficient financing. Visit the following website for more information: https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/services/incentives-and-financing-energy-efficient-homes
3. Some local nonprofits may also provide home audits for qualified home owners.
4. Consider purchasing and installing a whole-house, centralized air/cooling system due to its ability to recirculate the air in every room. These systems utilize motorized blowers and filters to “process” recirculated room air during, or separate from, the cooling cycle. Households with evaporative coolers, also known as swamp coolers, and typical radiant heating systems (i.e. hot water boilers with baseboard registers) do not have the ability to re-circulate and process room air. Contact your local plumbing and heating expert for more information and estimates.
Additional tips for home or office during high pollution days:
• Use a HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaner and keep your space dust-free.
• Keep windows and doors closed, turn off the swamp cooler and seal off swamp cooler registers with plastic, or pre-made vinyl covers (available at hardware stores).
• Wet-mop the floors and clean surface areas where particulates can settle.
• Don’t use scented candles.
• Change to healthier cooking habits that don’t pollute the indoor air. Frying, cooking with a wok, and sauté methods typically emit particulates and harmful toxins into the home environment.
Remember: If you smell smoke, you’re breathing smoke.