Precautions Sacramento Homeowners Can Take Against Wildfire Smoke to Preserve Indoor Air Quality
The Sacramento Valley is coming up on wildfire season again, and with the Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture warning Californians that 2016 will be a bad year for wildfires, we should all pay attention. In fact, fires have already started in the state — folks are dealing with wildfire smoke right now and probably will be until the season ends in October. If you have issues with wildfire smoke in your home — and we often do in the Valley — there are a few things homeowners can do to prevent smoke from getting in your house and affecting your indoor air quality. Some of these things you can do now, while some of them require a little more planning. But even if you can’t get them done this summer, it’s never too early to start planning for next year’s fire season.
Check Your Windows
The quickest and easiest change you can make to your indoor air quality is fairly obvious: shut your windows and doors and keep them shut. This likely means you’ll have to run your AC more than you normally would, especially if you tend to leave the house open in the cooler mornings and evenings. It’s unfortunate to lose the cool air, but when that air brings in clouds of smoke and affects your health and comfort, it’s a worthy tradeoff. For one of our clients in Dixon, this was enough to stop her smoke allergies from acting up in the summer. Keep in mind that any window air conditioning units will pull in air (sometimes unfiltered) from outside the home, so running a portable AC unit during wildfire season can increase smoke pollution in the home.
If it’s too difficult to keep the entire house clear of smoke, consider creating a “clean room” as illustrated on page 16 of California’s Wildfire Smoke Guide. This guide is technically for public officials, but it’s a great resource for homeowners as well to learn about wildfire smoke in our state, its health effects, and steps you can take to mitigate those effects.
Air Filters and Air Purifiers
After closing your windows, your air filters are your next line of defense against wildfire smoke. That’s why it’s imperative to keep them clean and new during fire season. If that means changing them once a month (which it did for one of our clients in Placerville last year), then you need to change them that often. Getting in on a maintenance club can seriously reduce your expenses on frequent maintenance items like filter changes.
Sometimes, though, filters aren’t enough. We’ve had several clients with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or other respiratory ailments that affect them or their family members. It’s especially hard seeing loved ones go through respiratory trouble at home — your house should be a safe haven, not a health risk. For these clients, we recommend air purifiers. Used in medical and research settings, these devices blast contaminants from the air in a way that traditional paper filters can’t touch. Combined with proper home sealing, purifiers can make a big difference in your quality of life during fire season.
Seal the Home Envelope
Many homeowners are turning towards “home envelope sealing” as a green building technique that improves energy efficiency. This can a tricky procedure (hard to test for and hard to do right), but the idea is to create a home with as few openings as necessary; to do that, people will caulk over joints and cracks to make their home air-tight. It’s easiest to do this during the building stages of a house, but existing homes can also be sealed. The balance is between allowing air to leak in or out and creating an airtight building that will retain too much moisture, breeding mold and mildew.
A properly-sealed home will have a net positive air flow, meaning that air will be pushing out of the house through any cracks that aren’t sealed. A sealed house will be more difficult for smoke to contaminate as a net positive flow means that air pushes out instead of smoke pushing in.
A Banner Year for Fire
With 2016 looking to be a banner year for wildfires, it’s important for homeowners to safeguard their homes against the significant health hazards associated with long-term exposure. This is especially true for the very young, the very old, or anybody with respiratory complications.
Not everyone is going to have to install a home air purifier or create a clean room. But we all need to think about it now before smoke is upon us here in the Valley. For most homeowners, that starts with an HVAC checkup from Bell Brothers. When we come, we can also talk to you about building sealing, purifiers, and other ways to improve your indoor air quality, even during a nasty wildfire season in Sacramento.