5 Easy Ways to Protect Your Placerville Home’s Air Quality During a Wildfire

ways to protect your home's air quality during a wildfirePlacerville residents are used to keeping forest fires, and diminished air quality, in mind during our scorching summers. This past June, we saw forest fires ravage more than 1,500 acres of land in El Dorado and Placer counties—nature can cause quite a bit of damage in our dry, arid climate. But if the onset of fall has you taking a big breath of fresh air, if you live in Placerville, know that you may still experience air quality issues in the coming months. Why? Because the US Forest Service is planning controlled burns in our area through next spring.

While we’re sure to be safe from the path of these fires, we might still experience some of the effects—smoke and ash can travel miles, polluting the air we breathe. High levels of these air contaminants can shut down schools and businesses, and, even when you stay indoors, the air in your home can become polluted. But, if you prepare your home and HVAC system for these bad air quality days in advance, you can rest easy knowing that your family will be healthy and safe until the smoky air passes.

How to Keep Smoke out of Your Home

Did you know that smoke can travel thousands of miles? We all know the danger to our health from smoking in our home, but we often don’t think about smoke from an outside fire as a danger to our indoor air.

Smoke from any burning substance has dangerous carcinogens that can damage our lungs, and if it finds its way into your home it can be just as harmful as someone lighting up a bunch of cigarettes. Luckily, we have five easy ways to protect your Placerville home from the smoke of controlled burns this fall:

#1 Close all windows and doors. This may seem like common sense, but the first thing you should do when your area has a fire warning or controlled burn is to close up all the windows and doors of your home. Make sure they all have airtight seals—the same process as weatherproofing your home in the winter. The easiest, and most cost-effective, way to create a seal is by applying caulk. Make sure the areas you will be caulking are clean, and try to apply a steady, straight line around all the edges of the windows and doors.

#2 Shut the outdoor intake on your HVAC system. You may not even know you have an outdoor intake, which is even more reason to check it to make sure it’s shut tight. This intake is essentially a vent in your roof that lets outside air mingle with the return air of your HVAC unit, i.e. it lets outdoor air come in. There should be a device, called a damper, with blades that open and shut. These can be manually turned to a closed position, which won’t allow outside air into your HVAC. Read your unit’s manual to find out exactly where your outdoor air damper is, or consult an HVAC professional to check the position of your system’s outdoor intake.

#3 Seal the chimney flue. There should be a lever within reach just inside your chimney. This is the damper that allows air to come in and out. Pull the lever towards you to close the flue—and stop air flow from the outside in.

#4 Install high MERV rated filters in your HVAC. If your air conditioner or furnace is equipped to work with high-rated filters, change your filter out for a MERV 13 rated filter—they are less permeable and can keep contaminants like ash, smoke, and debris caused by wildfires out of the air in your home.

#5 Check your attic for drafts. If you have a drafty attic, know that your roofline may not be doing you any favors when it comes to your home’s air quality. Have a local HVAC professional check your attic for leaks, holes—and whether or not it’s time to upgrade your insulation, especially in an older or historic home.

How Your HVAC System Can Help During a Forest Fire

Simply running your HVAC system during a wildfire, or a controlled burn, can greatly improve your home’s air quality. By putting your HVAC unit or furnace on a recirculating cycle, you can make sure that only the air already in your home is being used. By continuously running the unit, you will also be continuously cleaning the air thanks to your MERV rated filter, much like rinsing your vegetables in a colander.

Of course, if you’re putting your home’s HVAC system or furnace to work in a big way, it may also be the perfect time for a fall service or maintenance call. Your local, trusted HVAC professionals are around to check everything from your filter to your intake vents, your insulation to your windows, to ensure your home’s air quality is nothing but top notch.

While forest fires can be scary, controlled or not, they’ve become a fact of life for a lot of us Northern Californians. Even when our homes aren’t directly threatened by flames, we have to remember that a distant fire or burn can still affect the quality of the air inside our houses. But, with a little preparation, and maybe the help of an HVAC professional, we can all breath easy knowing our home’s air is fresh, clean, and free of contaminants.

Take your indoor air quality questions to the professionals at Bell Brothers, where you can get expert advice on all your HVAC, insulation, and window needs.