Stop wildfire smoke from entering your home: Energy-saving ways to improve indoor air quality

Prevent harmful wildfire smoke and pollutants from seeping into your home by sealing vents, improving clean air circulation by replacing furnace filters, and considering a few other easy-to-do tasks that can also reduce your energy use.

Experts from Energy Trust of Oregon have cheap and free ways to maintain the comfort of your home while reducing energy consumption and keeping your household healthy during the wildfire season.

“With these dry, hot conditions expected to last through the summer, we want to make sure everyone has information on how to improve indoor air quality while keeping energy costs low,” said Scott Leonard of Energy Trust.

You can improve one room at a time. If the outdoors is smoky, make sure you and your pets are in a “clean room” with as few windows as possible, preferably without a fireplace, ventilation or other openings to the outside.

If you need one, run a portable purifier or air conditioner in that room and dust or mop surfaces with a damp cloth to catch settled particles.

To check the air quality in your area, go to IQair.com. For more information on indoor air quality during wildfires,check out these US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) resources).

Or visit the EPA’s air quality website, airnow.govand type in your city or zip code. View interactive maps on the state webpage, oregonsmoke.blogspot.com, or the EPA webpage, fire.airnow.gov.

Here are Energy Trust of Oregon’s top five tips for healthy indoor air:

Normally, you should replace your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) filter every three months. During smoking events, your filter may need to be replaced every six weeks to maintain healthy indoor air quality and avoid additional energy consumption.

Check your filter for dust and dirt build-up at least once a month during heavy use and more often during heavy smoking conditions.

High Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) filters have a much finer weave that captures many more particles compared to standard filters.

High-quality MERV filters can also make some HVAC systems work harder, which can increase energy consumption. Consult the manufacturer’s manual or website for the best advice on which filters to use.

Be sure to switch back to a standard filter after wildfire season. If your HVAC system is designed to work with a high-performance MERV filter, this is not a problem, but you should still replace the filter regularly.

Resources for HVAC Air and Furnace Filter Replacement:

  • The Home Depot has MERV Air and Furnace Filters in different sizes. A simple household, pleated MERV 8 air filter by Rheem would trap six times more harmful particles than a fiberglass air filter ($9.98 for a 3-pack of 20 x 20 x 1-inch filters).
  • Walmart has Smart filtering allergens, bacteria, and viruses HVAC air and oven filters (four filters for $15.88 to $78.77, depending on size). Take this quiz to guide you through the the filter you need.

Air monitors and air purifiers also need replacement filters to operate efficiently.

It’s a good idea to run your HVAC system in “fan only” mode during wildfire season. This ensures that your system works continuously to keep your indoor air flowing through the filter.

Remember to switch back to “auto” mode before the cold weather returns and the heating season begins so that the system only kicks in when needed. This prevents your energy consumption from rising and your costs rising.

If there are contaminants in the air, turn off anything that draws in outside air, such as a fresh air system, dryer, or portable air conditioner with a hose vented from a window.

“The biggest question we’ve been asked is, ‘Should I use my central air conditioner?’” says Rachel Smith of Pyramid heating + cooling in Portland. “Yes, you can run your air conditioner if it’s not taking in air from outside. Just be sure to set the fan to ‘on’ rather than ‘auto’ to ensure that the fan is constantly circulating and filtering air.”

If your doors or windows are draughty, install weather stripping to prevent smoke from entering your home. Also check for air leaks around your window air conditioner.

>The Home Depot has weather stripping foam tape, door bottoms, door seals, Bumps and by sweeps.

If you have a window air conditioner, close the outside air damper. If you cannot close the valve, do not use the window air conditioner. Make sure the seal between the air conditioner and the window is as tight as possible.

If you have a portable air conditioner with a single hose, which is usually vented from a window, do not use it in smoky conditions. If you have a portable air conditioner with two hoses, make sure the seal between the window vent kit and the window is as tight as possible.

Do you know the cooling capacity you need based on the size of the room? Find out with the Home Depots air conditioning calculator.

Avoid activities that cause more fine dust indoors: smoking cigarettes; the use of gas, propane or wood stoves and ovens; spraying aerosol products; frying or frying food; burning candles or incense; vacuum, unless you use a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency particle-absorbing (HEPA) filter.

When the air quality improves, you can ventilate your home by opening windows or by opening the fresh air intake on your HVAC system.

Forest fires are not the only polluters. Hazardous indoor air quality can be caused by smoke and odors from cigarettes, cooking or household cleaners lingering without proper ventilation.

High temperature and humidity levels can also increase concentrations of some pollutants, the EPA says.

Outdoor contaminants such as pollen, dander, and bacteria can be brought into a home by family members or pets. And everyone is aware of seasonal allergies.

If you have a portable air purifier or high-efficiency filter to remove fine particles from the indoor air, run it on the highest fan speed as often as possible.

Resources for a portable air purifier:

— Curated by Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072

[email protected] | @janeteastman

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