How to Maintain Indoor Comfort When There’s Wildfire Smoke Outside

Southern California Sometimes Means Smoky Air During Fire Season

indoor air quality, air filters
Smoke from a wildfire is never a good thing.

It’s an unpleasant fact of life for anyone living in Southern California: wildfire season. Along with maintaining your smoke detectors and considering fire safety in your landscaping designs, it’s also possible to take steps to maintain indoor air quality when wildfire smoke hangs heavy outdoors. For anyone who suffers from smoke-related allergies or asthma, this is extremely important.

As you might imagine, it starts with good air filters. When it comes to maintaining indoor air quality, this is a must, especially if you have a household that includes dogs and cats. However, HEPA-grade filters are not required. In fact, HEPA filters are not generally recommended for a residential setting, in that they will typically restrict too much airflow, require extra equipment (including an additional blower fan) and possibly damage your evaporator coil. It’s best to leave those to hospital operating rooms or other rarified commercial property settings.

Instead, consider simply using a medium-rated MERV filter instead. These are also very good at trapping smoke, irritants and other harmful air pollutants. In fact, according to the EPA, “filters that have a MERV between 7 and 13 are likely to be nearly as effective as true HEPA filters.”

These air filters are readily available at your local hardware store or Amazon, relatively inexpensive and easy to replace. While we recommend having your heating and air conditioning system checked at least once a year by a professional, changing the filter is something you can do immediately and yourself to enhance air quality, especially during smoky conditions.

Next, think about an air purifier. Air-Tro offers several unique ways to treat your indoor air using what’s called a whole house HVAC air purifier. These products not only trap and remove dust mites, pet dander and other pollutants from circulation, but also neutralize bacteria, unpleasant smells and of course, smoke. Ranging from carbon activated mechanisms to ones utilizing ultraviolet light, central air purifiers can be a game-changer for anyone who suffers breathing problems from outdoor smoke, air pollution or even pollen. Talk to a certified HVAC specialist to find the right system for your budget and your home.

In the meantime, think about purchasing a HEPA-certified portable air purifier for those days when the outside smells like an ashtray. While not as effective as a central air purifier, even these products work very well in removing irritants from .4 to .7 microns, which happen to be exactly the size of typical wildfire smoke particles. The most powerful portable machines can clean a room up to 350 square feet very well, so you can enjoy a typical kitchen, bedroom or living room in total comfort as you run it. Use it on the “high” setting for at least an hour to clean all the air. Afterwards, turn it on “low” to run continuously (and more quietly).

Finally, remember to damp mop your floors during a wildfire event. Ash and smoky particles cling to your clothes and shoes when going outside, so it’s easy to track all these pollutants in. Make sure to shower, and change clothes when arriving home to remove these irritants, too.

We hope no one ever needs to use this advice, it would be wonderful not to have “wildfire season” at all. But for now, knowing what you need to do to keep your indoor air clean is essential, especially when pollutants make it hard to breathe outdoors.

Need help in determining what air filter your HVAC system should have, or how often to change them? Give Air-Tro a call at (626) 357-3535. We’ve been keeping California comfortable since 1969.