Using Your HVAC System to Help During a Fire Advisory

Wildfires can be a scary time for any household, but there are some steps you can take towards your health and safety throughout. Your HVAC unit can help during times of poor air quality. The filtration units in your system, if properly maintained, can help purify indoor air to a certain degree. Here’s how it works.

Priority One: Staying Safe During a Wildfire

When fire threatens your home and community, your first priority is obviously your family’s safety. Pay attention to public health messages from local radio and news stations, and if they recommend you evacuate, go.

However, the radius of affected households typically extends well beyond the immediate path of the flames. Smoke from fires throws air quality into havoc, creating toxic conditions that can make you or your family members very, very sick. Although healthy adults can typically handle limited exposure, people who suffer from asthma, cardiovascular problems, or lung disease may be significantly harmed by smoke inhalation. Young children are also especially vulnerable – according to the CDC, since children’s lungs are still developing, they tend to take in more air per pound than adults.

To get a sense of the air quality in your area, check out the EPA’s Air Quality Index Forecast, which lets you view at a glance at-risk locations. If their read-out for your home looks bad, follow these precautions:

  • Stay Indoors As Much As Possible. Especially don’t go out if local advisories recommend that you stay inside.
    Wear Protective Gear Outside. If you do have to go out, wear a protective N95 or P100 respirator mask—don’t rely on paper masks, since these don’t really filter out smoke.
  • Keep Windows and Doors Shut. As much as possible, try to maintain the air quality inside (more on that to follow) by keeping openings secured. Don’t smoke, burn candles, vacuum, or use your oven—these activities will just exacerbate the problem.

Using Your Heating & Air Conditioning Systems to Help  With Air Quality

When the air quality outside keeps you stuck in your home, you may be able to use your home’s air conditioning and filtration system to improve the air your breathe indoors.

  • Change Air Filters. The first thing you can do is change all your HVAC air filters. Although you may have closed your windows and doors, fine particles can still filter in through roof vents or small gaps in windows and doors, and of course, pose a risk any time you have to go outside. A clean filter will be more able to handle the increase in particulate matter in the air.
  • Turn on Your Air Conditioning. Running your AC will circulate air in your home through your unit’s filters, which is why clean filters are so important. Some non-residential commercial units have fresh air intakes. Usually, these small filtered vents help improve air quality, since the air outside is typically fresher than the air outside. But during a wildfire, they can pour unhealthy air into a building’ interiors. To keep smoky air outside, close the intake using the damper.
  • Keep Bathroom Fans and Window Units Turned Off. Bathroom fans and window box fans commonly pull outside air into your home, so they should be shut off during a fire advisory.

We hope you don’t need to use this advice, but if a fire advisory should come down on your community, using your HVAC unit effectively can filter a fair amount of particulate matter in the air. Until then, stay safe out there!