July 10, 2024

Wildfires are becoming increasingly common and creating serious issues for people in many different parts of the country. It isn’t just wildfires near your home that you need to worry about. The smoky air from wildfires can travel hundreds or thousands of miles. The concern is that wildfire smoke creates serious air quality issues since it contains fine particles that are unhealthy to breathe in. These particles can lead to your eyes and nose running and even cause bronchitis. Smoky air is especially a concern to people with chronic lung or heart disease since it can exacerbate these illnesses and potentially even cause premature death.

Another concern is that wildfire smoke can contain carcinogenic chemicals that are produced when wood burns. The good news is that your HVAC system can be a major help during wildfire season by both preventing smoky air from getting inside and helping filter the fine particles out of the air.

Why You Should Leave Your Air Conditioning On When It’s Smoky Outside

Many people aren’t fully aware of how air conditioning systems work. One common misconception is that air conditioning systems pull fresh air in from outside. That’s why you’ll hear some people say not to run your AC when the air outside is smoky. The truth is that if you have central air conditioning or a ductless AC system in your home, you should definitely keep it running if there is smoke in the air. You never have to worry about the system bringing smoke inside since all it does is circulate and cool the air already within your house.

There are many times throughout the summer in Oregon when it isn’t hot enough that you need to have your air conditioning running. That’s why many people end up having their windows open quite a bit of time to help keep the home cool while also allowing fresh air inside. Of course, having windows or doors open when there is wildfire smoke in the air is the last thing you should do since it will result in lots of smoke getting inside and making the air in your home unhealthy. This is where having central or ductless air conditioning in your home comes in handy since it will keep you cool while preventing smoke from getting inside.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Other Cooling Units When It’s Smoky Outside

Running a central or ductless AC system when there is wildfire smoke in the air is always recommended. However, you should never have an evaporative cooler (swamp cooler) or a portable AC unit running when it’s smoky outside. Unlike central and ductless ACs, both of these types of units actively pull air in from outside and will also end up bringing in lots of smoke.

Portable air conditioners have either one hose or two. On a unit with two hoses, one hose brings air in from outside and the other blows hot air in the room back outside. Units with a single hose only blow hot air back outside and technically don’t directly bring air in from outside. While you may think this means you can use this type of unit when it’s smoky outside, you definitely shouldn’t. The reason is that a single-hose unit always creates negative air pressure in the surrounding area when it runs. The negative pressure then ends up pulling air in through gaps in the building’s structure, which means you’ll still end up with smoke quickly infiltrating your home.

Most window air conditioners are safe to use when it’s smoky outside since they don’t always draw air in from outside. Some window ACs do bring outdoor air in to provide ventilation. Nonetheless, you can usually turn this ventilation feature off to prevent smoke from getting pulled inside. This is sometimes done just by pushing a button, but on older window ACs you may have to manually close the damper on the outside of the unit. If you can’t close the damper, you shouldn’t use the unit or else you’ll end up with smoke coming inside. The other thing to note if you’re running window ACs is you need to make sure that the area between the unit and the window is completely sealed so no smoke particles can get in through the window.

Other Ways to Keep Smoke From Getting Inside Your Home

In addition to leaving your central or ductless air conditioning running, you should also take some extra steps to keep smoke out. This mostly means closing or sealing up any potential areas where smoke can flow into your home. That includes closing the damper on any chimneys. If you have a condensing furnace, it’s also a good idea to seal up its air intake pipe outside the house so that no smoke can flow inside through the pipe.

Another thing most experts recommend is to avoid using your bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans when it’s smoky outside as much as possible. This is because exhaust fans create negative air pressure when they run and can again result in smoky air flowing in through gaps in your home’s structure. The issue isn’t as bad with a small exhaust fan in the bathroom, but a powerful kitchen exhaust fan will almost always cause some smoke particles to get pulled inside. One last thing you should do if your HVAC has a ventilation system is make sure to shut it off and close the air intake or else the system will also end up pulling lots of smoke particles inside.

Options for Overcoming Wildfire Smoke Issues

Taking the precautions we’ve mentioned so far will definitely help keep smoky air from getting inside your home. Unfortunately, there is often nothing you can ever do to fully prevent smoke particles from getting into your house. Smoky air can still end up seeping in around windows and doors and various other places. Some smoke particles will obviously also get in every time you go in and out of the house. Another issue is that the filter in your HVAC system isn’t effective enough to remove smoke particles from the air. That means your air conditioning will just end up circulating the particles around your house.

The best option for tackling all of the air quality issues caused by wildfires is to upgrade your HVAC system with a whole-home filtration or purification system. There are a variety of different systems available that will effectively remove all smoke particles and contaminants from within your house. That means you’ll be able to breathe easily throughout wildfire season. An air filtration or purification system will also remove most other pollutants from your house so that the air in your home is always much cleaner, purer and healthier.

Since 1998, Woodward Heating Air Plumbing has been offering outstanding plumbing, air quality and comfort solutions in Salem and throughout Marion County. If you’re looking for better indoor air quality, install a whole-home air purification system! This will ensure you’re prepared for wildfire season, you can count on us for help. Our technicians also service and repair all makes and models of central and ductless AC systems. That means we can help ensure your air conditioning works effectively so that your home always stays sufficiently cool and you don’t need to open your windows when it’s smoky outside. For more information on how we can help you improve your home’s air quality and overcome issues with wildfire smoke, contact us today.

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