Air Quality - Impact From Wild Fires

Air Quality – Impact From Wild Fires

As a home inspector and local community building science resource, I thought I’d comment on something that significantly impacts one of the services my company specialized in; AIR QUALITY- Impact From Wild Fires

.Above is a photo of a plume of smoke rising from the Tamarack Fire that started shortly before we visited this area in California. The fire started right where we had plans to go back-packing, so we rented an Airbnb instead in South Lake Tahoe where I took the photo. To illustrate the impact these fires have on air quality and daily living, we almost had to cancel our Airbnb being the South Lake Tahoe was filled with smoke a couple days before our arrive. However, thankfully the air cleared before we arrived. Weeks after we left, the Caldor Fire then burned right up to the home we stayed in and actually reached up to only three neighborhood streets away from that home!

Record-setting wildfires have been raging with little or no end in sight. Although drought-stricken regions have been most susceptible to forest fires, these fires have been popping up all over the country and world for that matter. A  dry warm weather pattern has been active for years in many areas contributing to the persistence of fires. Smoke from these fires can travel hundreds of miles and pose a  serious hazard to your health. 

Wildfire smoke is a combination of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. Exposure to wildfire smoke can cause eye irritation,  respiratory distress, and exacerbate symptoms from asthma or heart and lung diseases. The unprecedented nature of many fires since 2017 involve the burning of many homes. This adds an entire layer of unknown pollutants into the air from the burning of building materials, automobiles, and other manufactured items. 

What can you do to protect your home’s air quality when there is smoke present in your area? 

#1 Pay attention to the news and local  smoke warnings 

Stay informed. It is extremely important to be aware of deteriorating air conditions and how the direction of the wind is affecting smoke traveling from wildfires.  Even if you reside hundreds of miles away from a forest fire your air quality may not be at a healthy level. Winds can shift and fires can grow rapidly. Many major U.S.  cities have been adversely affected this summer by smoke traveling from wildfires.  The U.S. government’s weather website provides a daily air quality forecast and a smoke forecast.  Use this as a resource to stay informed about the outdoor air quality in your area. Imagine, in 2021 it was reported the New York city air quality was being majorly affected by the Dixie Fire burning in the state or Oregon!

#2 Keep your home airtight when smoke  is present 

While letting fresh air in is usually a great way to improve indoor air quality, prevent outdoor air from entering into your home when smoke is present in the atmosphere.  Keep windows shut, run your air conditioning during the summer months but close the fresh air intake to limit outdoor smoke, and turn fans on to circulate air. Keep air filters clean or replace them frequently. Limit your exposure to the outdoor air and change your clothing as soon as you return indoors. For those who use an evaporative or “swamp” cooler to cool the interior of your home; think seriously about the need at this time to have an air conditioning system installed for the protection of you and your family. Heating has been required by law in many areas due to the possibility of death if heating was not present. Some areas need to start viewing air conditioning in this same light.

#3 Take steps to improve your indoor  air quality 

Houseplants help purify indoor air by emitting oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide. Purchase several houseplants and place them throughout your home (see the article “Five Air Purifying Plants”). Protect your indoor air from further pollution. Do not burn candles or allow smoking indoors. Limit the use of fireplaces and gas stoves. If air quality is a concern, here is an article about having testing performed.

What I witnesses this year in California moved me to wright this article. I hope it is helpful to you as you seek to make wise decisions to protect the health of your family.