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wildfire smoke and the importance of protecting your air quality

Protect Your Indoor Air Quality With a Wildfire Smoke Air Purifier

Something’s in the air, and it’s not love–it’s toxic wildfire smoke particles that negatively impact the air quality outdoors and in our homes.

June 9, 2023

Across Canada, more than 150 wildfires continue to burn as an already unprecedented wildfire season kicks off. While these fires devastate wildlife and residents of the surrounding areas, the toxic smoke produced has led to health concerns for much of the eastern United States. Thick smoke plumes cover the skies prompting areas like New York City to record the worst air quality levels in the world. While this event has garnered international attention, wildfires, and the resulting air pollution occur much more frequently than many realize. Because of this, a wildfire smoke air purifier is critical to keep your indoor air breathable during this particularly eventful wildfire season.

Since 1983, the National Interagency Fire Center has documented an average of 70,000 wildfires in the U.S. annually. Aside from the apparent dangers and high-level of destruction associated with wildfires, the harmful smoke negatively impacts air quality far outside the danger zone. The smoke contains irritants and particles capable of traveling thousands of miles away. Because wildfire smoke knows no boundaries regarding state lines or countries, you may not even know that you are breathing in pollutants from wildfires in other regions. Despite this, you may notice symptoms like coughing, runny nose, wheezing, or a burning sensation in your eyes or throat—even inside your home if you don’t have an existing wildfire smoke air purifier.

Although the wildfire smoke particle size is invisible to the naked eye, it can impact everyone’s well-being. Meanwhile, those with existing respiratory or health concerns are at an elevated risk of illness and breathing difficulties. Fortunately, wildfire smoke air purifiers can trap these pollutants, and other steps can be taken to minimize the effects.

Keep your indoor air breathable this wildfire season by learning how to protect yourself from wildfire smoke:

How to Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke

1. Stay up-to-date on wildfire news.

At-risk individuals, in particular, should closely follow the news and track smoke and wildfires. Even those that occur thousands of miles away may present a risk to individuals after a few days as the pollutants travel through the air. This will allow proper time to prepare for any changes that need to be made to prevent breathing difficulties, such as purchasing or installing a wildfire smoke air purifier or replacing an existing air filter. 

2. Sign up for Air Quality Health Index alerts

Many local weather forecasters allow subscribers to sign up for weather and air quality & health index (AQHI) alerts. These alerts can be sent directly to a smartphone or e-mail address to alert you when the air quality is poor and presents a risk to those with asthma, allergies, respiratory, or other relevant conditions. 

3. Limit time spent outdoors (or avoid it altogether)

For healthy individuals, when wildfire smoke is present in the air, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends limiting the time spent outdoors. Instead of taking a long hike for exercise, walk on the treadmill until the air quality outdoors improves. If you must spend time outdoors, consider wearing an N95 respirator mask to filter out pollutants.

Those with existing conditions should carefully follow the advice outlined for sensitive individuals in Air Quality & Health Index reports. In many cases, this means avoiding going outside altogether until conditions have been improved to err on the side of caution. Remember that indoor air can also be full of toxic particles without using an HVAC system with an adequate MERV rating or a wildfire smoke air purifier to remove these irritants from the air. In either case, monitor at-risk individuals closely during these alerts. 

4. Keep your windows and doors closed

If you are at home, keep your windows and doors closed to help keep pollutants out. To aid in cooling down your home, turn to your HVAC system instead, which is equipped with a filter to capture small particles. Use the same method when traveling in your car and opt for the air conditioning instead of opening windows until the wildfire smoke has cleared from your area. 

5. Replace your HVAC system's air filter.

Most homes with central heating and air conditioning have air filters that can remove some irritants from the air. The filter's effectiveness at removing smoke particles will depend on its MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating. Wildfire smoke particle sizes are among the smallest measured (around 2.5 microns on average) and, thus, some of the most difficult to capture. This requires a 13- or higher MERV rating, which is higher than most average residential air filters. Unfortunately, not all residential HVAC systems are able to make use of filters with a high MERV rating, so opting for a wildfire smoke air purifier in addition to your existing HVAC air filter is recommended. 

These air filters are necessary to ensure the quality of air indoors while also protecting the HVAC equipment, but they must be checked and replaced regularly. In typical conditions, most homeowners should replace them every 30 to 90 days, depending on the level of use of the HVAC system and whether or not pets are in the home. In areas affected by wildfire smoke, check your filter more regularly, and replace it as needed (which is likely more frequently than usual).

6. Invest in a wildfire smoke air purifier

Air purifiers and air filters share the common goal of removing harmful irritants from the air to produce cleaner air indoors. Despite this, an air filter captures the particles, while an air purifier captures them and sanitizes the air. Whole home air purifiers work in sync with your HVAC, but portable machines are also available.

How to choose the best wildfire smoke air purifier

Research conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows that the particles that make up most wildfire smoke are very fine. They are known as PM2.5 and are best removed using air purifiers that contain HEPA (High-efficiency particulate air) filters and a powerful fan to push the air through the filter. One should also consider their existing HVAC layout and the size of their home in choosing the best air purifier for wildfire smoke:

Consider your existing heating and cooling units

Those who do not have central heating and cooling and rely on window unit air conditioners, baseboards, or other forms of heat should opt for a portable air purifier model for quick relief from wildfire smoke particles. Remember that even if there is no existing ductwork in your home, it is possible to install ductless HVAC systems with wildfire smoke air purifiers for a more powerful, whole-home option.

For homes with existing HVAC units, there is likely an air filter in place that will aid in removing wildfire smoke particles from the indoor air. Be sure to check your filter and ensure that it is clean. If not, replace the filter and remember that wildfire smoke may warrant more frequent air filter replacements as the filter works overtime to keep the air clean. Consider adding a whole home wildfire smoke air purifier, such as Trane CleanEffects® Whole Home Air Cleaner, to your HVAC system for additional protection. This model, in particular, is 100 times better than a standard 1-inch air filter at removing harmful particulates from the air, with an ability to capture 99.98% of airborne particles down to 0.3 microns in size.

Choose the right size wildfire smoke air purifier for your space

Much like air conditioning and heating units, air purifiers are designed to accommodate a variety of spaces. For example, an air purifier designed for a small studio apartment-sized space will be ineffective as a wildfire smoke air purifier for an entire 5000 sq ft home. By the same token, an air purifier designed for a large home would lead to excessive energy consumption if used in a small apartment. This information is typically displayed on the box or in the product description section as square footage compatibility, such as “for spaces up to 200 sq ft”. Be sure that this aligns with the size of your space for optimal performance. 

Connect with an indoor air quality expert to discuss wildfire smoke air purifiers

Not sure which wildfire smoke air purifier is right for your home or want to learn about adding a whole-home unit to your existing HVAC system? Find a local Trane dealer to discuss your needs.

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