How to Protect Your Home and Health from Wildfire Smoke

People living on the West Coast have certainly had a trying year with the coronavirus pandemic, heat wave, energy blackouts, riots, and now wildfires that have not yet come under control. The wildfires have left thousands of people worried about saving their homes and protecting their health. 

If smoke gets into a home, it can cause numerous respiratory issues in addition to physical damage. Below are several ways that people living in the Bay Area of California and other West Coast locations affected by wildfires can protect themselves and their families from the ravages of smoke and flames.

Start by Weatherizing the Home

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District recommends that homeowners and multi-family property owners take several steps to weatherize homes. This is because weatherizing helps to naturally protect against smoke infiltration. These steps include:

  • Seal all door and window openings that allow air to leak into the home with caulking or weatherstripping
  • Consider replacing old or inefficient heating and cooling systems
  • Replace doors and windows with significant air leaks
  • Buy an HVAC filter for the furnace and air conditioner with a MERV rating of at least 13 to allow it to trap smaller particles
  • Install an air purifier in the home that is non-ozone producing

Even if homeowners or renters can’t complete all these steps, minimal weatherstripping efforts will help to keep wildfire smoke from penetrating their doors, windows, and walls.

Create a Clean Air Room for People with Health Vulnerabilities

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that anyone who shares a home with young children, elderly adults, or people with cardiac or breathing challenges create at least one room in the home to protect them from possible smoke inhalation due to the wildfires. The room should have minimal windows, no doors if possible, and no fireplaces.

The CDC also recommends that anyone living in an area affected by wildfires should have an action plan to protect themselves for when the smoke-filled air becomes especially problematic. Part of the plan should include ensuring a strong seal when closing doors and windows. Running the air conditioner can also help, but only if the filter is clean and the homeowner or renter shuts off the fresh air intake. Anyone without an air conditioner should consider purchasing at least a window unit but preferably a central air conditioning system.

Wear an N95 Mask

If smoke from the wildfires has already made its way into the home, wearing an N95 mask can help keep occupants comfortable until they can arrange to have the smoke cleared. The mask should be at least an N95 or even a N97 or N100 if either one of those are available. Cloth or homemade masks are not effective at blocking particulates and possible carcinogens present in wildfire smoke. People should not plan to wear the N95 masks for long periods as they are meant as a short-term solution only.

Seeing wildfires burn out of control can certainly be an unsettling experience. The more proactive people can be about taking precautions to protect their home and family, the less anxious they will feel until these massive fires finally die out.

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