August 6, 2021
Tips for Improving Home Air Quality During Wildfires
Nicholas Rupp -
With wildfire smoke recently becoming more of a concern as fires burn in several western states, the Salt Lake County Health Department’s air quality experts warn that even if you are not in immediate proximity to a fire, smoke imported by weather systems can still be a significant health concern—especially for people with underlying health conditions.
Smoke can enter a home through natural ways like open doors or windows, mechanical ways such as an HVAC system, or through infiltration of cracks or small openings in the structure.
The following tips are based on EPA guidelines and can vary based on your location relative to a fire, but they are generally among the most effective ways to improve indoor air quality in your home—and help protect your health—when outdoor air quality is poor due to wildfire smoke.
- Keep windows and doors closed
Try to keep the most obvious entry points to your home closed as much as possible. If you don’t have air conditioning, when your area is affected by wildfire smoke the EPA recommends using fans instead of opening windows—or seek relief from heat at a Salt Lake County Cool Zone.
- Limit use of a swamp cooler
Evaporative coolers bring air from outside to help cool the home; during a heat emergency, consider visiting a Cool Zone instead of using a swamp cooler, or limit its use as much as possible.
- Close the fresh air intake vent on window AC units
If your AC unit has a setting to recirculate air, use that option instead of outside “fresh” air. This also applies to central air systems: if there is a fresh air circulation option, try to turn this off temporarily.
- Avoid adding to the poor air quality by burning
Adding to the smoke by burning or cooking outside is ill-advised during wildfire events. Things like recreational fires or smoker grills can make the air worse for you and your neighbors.
- Consider buying an indoor air purifier
The EPA recommends using indoor air purifiers on the highest possible setting during fires. If you have a central air system with filtration, run the system’s fan on the highest possible setting; this moves the air particles around that have settled and helps get them out.
- Postpone house cleaning
Vacuuming can temporarily make your indoor air quality worse, by kicking up dust and small particles—unless your vacuum has HEPA filtration. So, consider postponing your house cleaning until the wildfire smoke passes (you’re welcome!).
- Avoid being too active
If there’s ever an excuse not to work-out strenuously—especially outdoors—it’s during a smoke event. Cardiovascular exercise increases the amount of air you take into your lungs, so consider having a rest day during significant wildfires.
- Use N95 masks
If air quality is visibly poor, use an N95 or KN95 mask when outdoors; with cases again surging, you’ll also help protect yourself from public COVID transmission.
Reducing overall exposure to smoke during wildfires is the best thing you can do to protect your lung health. This is especially important for vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly or if you have a preexisting heart or lung condition. For more information, visit epa.gov/smoke-ready-toolbox-wildfires.