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Can Home Air Filters Protect Against Wildfire Smoke Exposure Indoors?

Air filters can limit wildfire smoke pollution in your indoor space. Find out the best HVAC filter for wildfire smoke and how it works.

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air filters wildfire smoke

Are you considering upgrading your HVAC system’s air filter to protect against wildfire smoke? You’re not alone. Investing in better home air filters to prevent wildfire smoke exposure indoors is both an efficient and cost-effective choice. With wildfire events continuing to increase and continued warnings of active wildfire seasons, now is the time to intervene in your space.

Why Wildfire Smoke Is a Problem

For a quick overview … wildfire smoke exposure is associated with numerous adverse health effects. Wildfire smoke itself comprises many different chemicals and pollutants. And that includes respiratory irritants and air toxics. Research also shows that specific populations (e.g., children, older adults, low-income families and outdoor workers) are more vulnerable to wildfire smoke exposure and high-risk for serious health ramifications.

Regardless, intervening in any way to minimize one’s wildfire smoke exposure is crucial. While wildfires worsen both outdoor and indoor air pollution, you can still control your indoor living space. IAQ solutions like improved home air filtration is necessary for anyone interested in limiting smoke exposure.

Do Air Filters Actually Help With Wildfire Smoke?

Outdoor air—including smoke pollution—can enter your home in a few ways. First, via natural ventilation or infiltration. This looks like open windows and doors, as well as leaky gaps or cracks in the home that let air in. Outdoor air also enters your space through mechanical ventilation systems. Think localized exhaust fans (AKA spot ventilation) such as a range hood or bathroom exhaust fan. Mechanical ventilation also applies to whole-home systems that purposefully bring in fresh outdoor air.

Home air filters do not stop these ventilation processes from happening. They do however help reduce the smoke particles that make it inside your home. Air filters help limit wildfire smoke pollution in two ways.

  1. Filters capture and reduce the amount of smoke particles circulating indoors.
  2. Higher-rated filters help clean the air supply overall, removing all sorts of pollutants—not limited to smoke particles. This helps counteract indoor pollution buildup that will result from keeping your home tightly shut during a wildfire event.

Best HVAC Filters for Wildfire Smoke

The best air filter choice to minimize indoor smoke pollution in your home depends on a few factors.

1. What Kind of HVAC System / AC Unit Do You Have?

So long as your home has an HVAC system, upgrading your system’s air filter is a smart choice. For those with central air, it’s particularly important. And, very useful during wildfires. Central air conditioning recirculates indoor air. With wildfire smoke outside, you want to limit your system’s fresh air intake as much as possible and maximize air recirculation. With this in mind, choose the best home air filter possible to capture and reduce indoor pollutants.

2. Size, Fit and Filter Changes Matter

Air filters cannot keep wildfire smoke from entering your space in the first place. They do, however, capture and reduce wildfire smoke pollutants. The result is fewer particulate matter, ground-level ozone and hazardous air pollutant particles circulating.

For air filters to truly benefit indoor air quality, ensuring the filter is the correct size is critical. You want to ensure a tight seal around the air filter with little air bypass. Make sure there are no gaps. It should be a snug fit for proper air filtration. And because a clogged or dirty air filter cannot protect your family, stick to routine filter changes.

3. Which MERV Filter Rating To Choose?

Upgrading your home air filter during wildfire season is another helpful option. Choosing a new air filter means choosing a new MERV level. MERV ratings simply offer consumers a standardized efficiency scale to compare air filters. The standard in most home builds is a low-efficiency filter, falling somewhere between MERV 1-4, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Medium-efficiency filters, MERV 5-8, provide significant air quality improvements while higher-efficiency MERV 9-12 filters are a considerable air quality upgrade.

However, the clear winner for healthy indoor air are the highest level: MERV 13-16 filters. These air filters remove smaller particles more effectively. MERV-13 or higher is also the clear winner to improve indoor air quality during wildfire events. EPA, along with many other air quality experts and environmental health groups recommend MERV-13 or higher to directly address wildfire smoke indoors. Higher-efficiency air filters work for smoke pollution because they effectively capture fine particulate matter in wildfire smoke.

If your area is prone to wildfires, have an extra air filter on hand. Do not underestimate the power of wildfire smoke. It’s better to be prepared in the long-run!

High-Efficiency Air Filters: To help homeowners make the switch, we’ve collected all the facts about MERV-13 air filters, take a look →

Additional IAQ Solutions

In addition to air filters, consider investing in a home air purifier. Whether you choose a portable HEPA air cleaner or a whole-home active air purification system, purification technology in addition to proper air filtration is a win-win. It will keep you and your loved ones safe during wildfire events—and all the time.

Indoor Air Pollution: If you’re searching for another helpful resource, check out our wildfire season IAQ guide. You’ll learn all about minimizing wildfire smoke indoors →

Another key point—avoid making indoor air quality worse. Don’t burn candles or incense that would add to the amount of smoke you’re possibly inhaling. Because fresh air isn’t an available option, you also generally want to minimize all sources of indoor pollution.

Improved Air Filtration

Investing in a high-efficiency, high-quality air filter has lasting health benefits. Even if your motivation is solely wildfire smoke, upgrading is a smart choice for many reasons. Above all, be ready and have a plan in place to protect your indoor space from wildfires.

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