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  • Nicole Trumbo

Wildfire Activity Sparks Concerns About Indoor Air Quality

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

wildfires in a local town with phone lines

Given the last few months of unprecedented wildfires in Canada, it’s become more important than ever to consider how indoor air quality (IAQ) affects our health and well-being, especially since it’s expected that wildfire activity will increase 25% by 2030. Experts have been expressing concern about the safety of indoor air quality ever since it was determined that the small airborne particles from wildfire smoke contain harmful pollutants that can easily infiltrate our indoor air as well.

Back in July this year, a nine-year-old in British Columbia lost his life due to intense wildfire activity producing smoke pollutants that contributed to his fatal asthma attack. Just this past week, even Florida was engulfed in a cloud of Canadian wildfire smoke, adding to the growing list of U.S. states that have been impacted by wildfire smoke coming from Canada. This has led to an urgent need to address the quality of ventilation systems used in public buildings.

Immediate Steps You Can Take to Protect YourselfFrom Smoke

Environment Canada recommends limiting outdoor activity when the air quality health index is showing a high level of risk, and even goes so far as to urge people to wear an N95 mask when you have to be outside for long periods of time. However, most ventilation systems aren’t currently equipped with filters that are capable of blocking small airborne smoke particles from coming indoors. So how do you prevent these harmful pollutants from getting inside your home? Here are a few immediate recommendations:

  • If you have an HRV or ERV, turn it off or unplug it.

  • Keep your windows closed, minimize the ability for the outside air to enter your home.

  • Check your furnace filter and make sure it is clean.

Indoor Air Quality Solutions for Your Health & Wellbeing

There are different products to help improve indoor air quality. An electrostatic air cleaner can control particulates and collect 97% of ultrafine particulates at 3 microns or higher. You may also consider UV lights that can disinfect and deodorize the air. Then there’s the HEPA filtration system, which can collect 99.97% of ultrafine particulates. But, before you research and purchase an additional appliance, you might want to further investigate the option that's already conveniently available through your HVAC system.

Heat recovery ventilation systems (HRVS) utilize heat and energy to keep the temperature comfortable inside while filtrating the air outside to keep your indoor air fresh. While not all heating systems come with an HRV, in most cases they can easily be added to your existing system. If you already have an HRV addition to your heating system, you may be wondering well, what more can be done?

The Importance of Filtration Quality for Healthier Indoor Air

Studies have shown that the pollutants found in wildfire smoke are by far the most damaging to public health. Aside from those with existing health conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), there is also some evidence related to inflammation and toxic build-up in the lungs leading to arthritis flare-ups.

Currently, most ventilation systems are equipped with the minimum efficiency reporting value, commonly known as MERV, filtration that's within the standard building code requirements. This requirement is known as the ASHRAE Standard 62.1 which specifies the minimum ventilation rate and additional measures required in order to provide acceptable indoor air quality for humans to minimize health risks. The most recent recommendation stands at a minimum MERV-6 requirement for most commercial buildings. However, a MERV value of 13 or more is recommended to capture the fine particulate matter that’s emitted from wildfire smoke. As a result, Ontario school boards are now planning on upgrading to MERV-13 filters across all of their school’s ventilation systems.

To give you a better idea of the difference in filters, here’s a breakdown:

  • MERV filters within a 1-4 rating block contaminents such as pollen, dust mites, cockroach debris, sanding dust, spray paint dust, textile fibers and carpet fibers

  • MERV filters within a 5-8 rating further block contaminents such as mold spores, dust mite debris, cat and dog dander, hair spray, fabric protector, dusting aids and pudding mix

  • MERV filters within a 9-12 rating further block contaminents such as Legionellaare bacteria, humidifier dust, lead dust, milled flour, auto emission particulates and nebulizer droplets

  • MERV filters within a 13-16 rating further block contaminents such as bacteria, droplet nuclei (sneeze), cooking oil, most smoke and insecticide dust, most face powder and most paint pigments

Interested in Upgrading Your Filtration System?

Our expert technicians will ensure your in-home air is filtered and rid of airborne particles, bacteria and dust, with cleaner home surfaces. The system removes excess moisture from your home, catches hair and dirt, and reduces airborne allergens which irritate the skin and lungs. Your indoor air quality should be pure and healthy. Consider a top-tier air purifying system like Lennox or any of the other quality brands we carry. Total Home Energy Systems also has the HEPA filtration system, which can collect 99.97% of ultrafine particulates.

If you have any questions about how indoor air quality products can help give your home the cleanest air possible, give Total Home a call at (519) 664-2008.

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