Smoke from Canadian wildfires has been filling the skies in the Northeast for weeks, and it appears to have no signs of abating. The smoke has changed the color of the sky, but it also poses health risks to people and in high concentrations can lead to coughing, dizziness, headaches, and other health concerns. For people with allergies and pre-existing respiratory problems, the risk is heightened.
Unfortunately, while you can’t make the problem go away, there are several steps you can take to reduce the amount of smoke in your home. Consider the following.
Replace your HVAC filter.
All of the air in your home passes through your HVAC filter. With regular use, you should change the filter every three months to a year — the timing depends on the system and the amount of dust in your home. For instance, someone with three large dogs who cooks a lot and lives on a gravel road will need to change their filter much more often than someone who doesn’t have pets, doesn’t cook, and keeps their windows closed most of the time.
Regardless of where you fall on the above spectrum, you will need to replace your HVAC filter more often if it’s exposed to wildfire smoke. Even if you have a washable filter, you may just want to replace it this year due to the extra strain on the filter. You can replace your own filter or schedule a maintenance appointment with an HVAC specialist.
In addition to changing the filter, they’ll also clean your interior and exterior equipment. This is particularly important right now as smoke is building up on exterior components, which could ultimately slow their functioning and lead to repair issues.
The standard filter on a central HVAC system only filters visible pollutants like pet hair and dust bunnies. If you want to filter smoke, you need a filter that can remove nanoparticles. For instance, the standard filters on most high-end ductless mini splits can remove smoke. If you have a platinum deodorizing filter, it uses a nanometer-scale mesh platinum catalyst to remove particulates and odors.
When choosing a filter, look for a Minimum Efficiency Rating Value (MERV) of 12 — the higher the better. Look at your system to see if you can upgrade the existing filter. But keep in mind that filters aren’t universal, and you need to select one that works with your system.
For example, some older HVAC systems may not be able to accommodate a very fine filter. The equipment will have to work too hard to push air through the filter, and this puts unnecessary strain on older equipment.
If your HVAC filter isn’t up to the job of filtering wildfire smoke out of your home, you may want to consider upgrading your equipment. There are rebates and financing options that can help you invest in a ductless heat pump for your home. Alternatively, you may want to look into a standalone air filtration system.
In this case, buy a unit based on the size of the area you want to filter. Keep in mind that you may need to adjust to a slightly bigger unit if you have very high ceilings, and you may want multiple units for different floors of your home. Look for a HEPA filter — anything less won’t be able to get the fine smoke particulates.
When you first get the unit, run it for an hour or two. This will allow it to go through all of the air in the room multiple times. This is also true if you’re putting on your ductless air handler for the first time of the season — let it run on high the first time you use it. After the initial filtering of the air, you can set the system on low, and it will continue to filter the air.
Air filters can’t do this job on their own. If you really want to safeguard the air in your home, take these steps to reduce the smoke that can get into your house:
- Keep your windows closed.
- Track outdoor air quality and only air out your home when the smoke has shifted away from your area.
- Look for air leaks around your door and window frames and seal them.
- Use indirect entries and exits whenever possible — for example, instead of coming and going out of the front door, use your garage entrance. This traps the smoke in the garage instead of letting it straight into your home.
- Remove smoky clothes when you get home and put them straight into the wash.
- Take a shower before bed and wash your bedding more often.
To protect yourself while out and about, you may even want to wear an N95 respirator. If you feel uncomfortable or your throat gets scratchy, that’s a strong sign you should consider this option.
At N.E.T.R., Inc, we are well aware of the impact the wildfire smoke is having on the people in this area and in our community. If you want to talk about replacing filters, routine maintenance, or upgrading your HVAC system, contact us today. We work with residential and business clients, and we will help you improve and protect your indoor air quality.