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Healthy homes: Protecting yourself from wildfire smoke

Many areas of Canada have recently been blanketed under a haze of smoke as wildfires burn out of control. It’s an unsettling situation to be faced with both the threat of fire and the pervasive impact of exposure to smoke.

What’s the concern?

Wildfire smoke is harmful to our health. It contains a mixture of gases and fine particles that pose various risks. It’s particularly concerning for vulnerable individuals, including children, the elderly, pregnant individuals, and those with preexisting conditions, but all of us should be taking precautions.

Inhaling fine particles and pollutants present in wildfires smoke can irritate your respiratory system, leading to symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, and chest discomfort. It can also worsen existing conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

Smoke particles cause irritation and inflammation of the eyes, nose, and throat. You might experience redness, itching, watery eyes, a stuffy nose, or a sore throat after exposure to smoke. If fine particles enter the bloodstream, they can potentially affect the cardiovascular system and increase your risk of heart attack or stroke. And smoke can trigger flare-ups of allergies and negatively impact your immune system. 

What can you do to protect yourself?

Protecting your family from the harmful effects of widespread smoke isn’t easy, but there are a number of things you can do to help keep yourselves safe. When local air quality is impacted by smoke, it’s a good idea to limit outdoor activities, especially strenuous ones like exercise. Stay indoors as much as possible and keep your windows closed. When you do have to be outside, wear a well-fitted N95 mask that effectively filters out harmful pollutants.

Always follow local health guidelines, including evacuation orders or recommendations for wearing masks. Check the Air Quality Health Index for forecasted maximums and adjust your activities accordingly. Consult with healthcare professionals if you experience severe symptoms or have concerns about your health.

How can you keep your home safer? 

Staying inside can reduce your exposure to particles in wildfire smoke, but homes aren’t airtight. That means that even indoors, your air quality will be impacted. One way you can limit your exposure is by making sure that your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) unit is operating optimally. 

Regularly changing your HVAC filter can provide protection by filtering out some of the particles and chemicals in wildfire smoke. Keep in mind that this isn’t a foolproof solution, but a high-quality HVAC filter is designed to capture the larger particles that negatively impact our indoor air quality, including dust, pollen, and some smoke particles. By replacing your filter often, you’ll ensure that it’s as effective as possible in capturing particles to reduce the overall particle concentration in your indoor air.

Choosing an HVAC filter 

Clean filters allow for better airflow through the system, which helps maintain the efficiency of your HVAC system. When the system is operating efficiently, it can filter and circulate indoor air better, potentially reducing the infiltration of outdoor smoke. While HVAC filters may not be able to filter out the smallest smoke particles or all of the chemicals present in wildfire smoke, they can still contribute to improving indoor air quality by helping to reduce visible smoke and odors.

Select a filter with the higher possible Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) that’s appropriate for your equipment. If you want to know more about choosing the right MERV rating, you can read our blog here.

For the best protection against wildfire smoke, look for a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter. HEPA filters are renowned for their exceptional particle-capturing capabilities, making them an excellent choice to help filter out the smaller chemicals and pollutants in wildfire smoke. 

It’s important to note that while high-efficiency filters can help reduce smoke particles, they may also impose additional strain on your HVAC system due to increased airflow resistance. Make sure that your system is compatible with the chosen filter and can handle the increased load.

Get expert guidance 

While changing your HVAC filter alone may not provide complete protection from wildfire smoke, it’s still a good practice as part of an overall strategy to improve indoor air quality and minimize exposure to pollutants. If you’re concerned about smoke exposure, consult with our HVAC professionals at Whyte Ridge Heating & Air Conditioning. We can provide tailored advice and recommendations based on your specific circumstances.

High-efficiency filters can help reduce smoke particles, but they are not a substitute for other preventive measures, such as keeping windows and doors closed during smoke events and following local health guidelines for protecting indoor air quality during wildfires.

At Whyte Ridge Heating & Air Conditioning, our HVAC experts can provide personalized guidance on the most suitable filter options for your specific HVAC system and smoke reduction needs. Our appreciation goes out to all of the firefighters and first responders who are continuing to work hard to keep our communities safe. Let Whyte Ridge help you keep your indoor air quality as safe as possible, as well.