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Improve Indoor Air Quality During Wildfire Smoke

Danielle Onat | 03/11/2019 | Posted in Indoor Air Quality, Cooling

Wildfire smoke: an unfortunate new reality that has consequential effects on residents living in the Pacific Northwest. 

As many people have noticed, the air quality is at an all time low due to the raging wildfires in Washington State. The East side of the state has been hit particularly hard and strong winds has blown the smoke into the Puget Sound area.

Scientific modeling and consensus shows poor air quality from smoke may be increasing in the near future. While the long term factors (increases in hazy skies, dirty cars and dry coughs during our summers) cannot be solved quickly, there are strategies one can use to help keep loved ones protected during these likely health hazards.

“The most important thing a person can do when air quality becomes unhealthy or hazardous is to limit exposure to the dirty air,” says Chris Baisch, HVAC & Home Performance expert at Washington Energy Services.  “The notion being, when the air gets bad outside, button down the hatches inside.”  The challenge with this strategy is that most homeowners in Puget Sound do not have air conditioning.  Therefore they must decide between stifling indoor temperatures or opening windows for airflow relief with worse air quality.

When one has air conditioning, it is critical to keep all windows and doors closed so the AC can do its magic and keep the home comfortable.  This has a double-positive effect on the air quality of the home.  First, it allows the home to have a consistent barrier between outside and inside with all windows and doors closed.  But, just as importantly, when your AC is running, you are also cleaning your indoor air as it cycles through the filtration system connected to the ductwork.  This removes particulates and cleans the air whenever the HVAC blower fan is on.  More advanced filters and cleaners can even eliminate harmful indoor air quality problems like VOC’s, mold and finer particulates.

If AC isn’t an option, there are some tactics homeowners can put into play to help themselves, “If AC isn’t in the cards, consider running the furnace fan during the summer to circulate the air inside the home.”  Mr. Baisch suggests.  “You don’t get the cooling and humidity reduction, but it can take the edge off the heat while cleaning the air through the filter system.”

If you suffer from allergies, asthma or other respiratory conditions, it may be wise to invest in enhanced filtering systems like HEPA filters or UV ionizers.  Along with wildfire smoke, the Pacific Northwest is seeing steady annual increases in total pollen production from plants making our allergy season reliably miserable https://www.columbian.com/news/2018/jun/09/pollen-its-getting-worse/.   We are seeing a trend in homeowners electing to add more robust air cleaning to their HVAC systems for these very reasons and more.

No matter what, it is wise to have a plan for poor air quality periods during the spring and summer months.  We recommend having a strategy for high smoke days, high pollen days and high heat days all of which can trigger poor indoor air quality conditions.


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