What to do about wildfire smoke: Ensuring healthy air at home

Posted by Jennifer Easton on

Writing to you from hazy-as-hell Philadelphia, the city with the worst air quality in the world as of Wednesday night. If you live anywhere in the northeast U.S., you’ve had a wild week as the smoke from Canadian wildfires made its way into our neighborhoods. 

When we’re stuck in our homes, we become acutely aware of just how important the inside environment is to our health. Before launching Sway, I spent the first ten years of my career working for building standards that, among their many focus areas, address optimal indoor air quality from both an environmental lens (LEED) and a public health standpoint (WELL). Suffice to say, it’s something I care about a lot. 

This week, we're rounding up tips and resources for healthy air at home, whether you’re in an area affected by the wildfires now, or simply want to future-proof your house to ensure you can breathe easy the next time something like this happens.
Feel free to send to a friend. 💌

When there's wildfire smoke in your area: What to do first

Monitor your region’s air quality (AirNow.gov and their mobile app, and the iPhone Weather app, are super convenient for this) and stay indoors as much as possible if levels are in an unhealthy range. Vox and their subject matter expert, Daniel Croft, a pulmonologist and air quality researcher at the University of Rochester Medical Center, report that there’s no need to cancel activities that require small amounts of time outdoors (like a grocery run). But if you venture out, it’s a good idea to…
Mask up. If you need to head outside for work, errands or any other reason, the EPA recommends using an N95 or P100 respirator. Stock up
Pause your exercise routine. If your air quality index is above Orange level ("unhealthy for sensitive groups"), you probably want to take a break outdoor physical activity and workouts
Check on your people, and yourself. Pregnant people, children and babes, people with asthma or existing heart and lung conditions, and older adults are more likely to experience difficulty breathing and other health problems. Check in on each other and take care. 

Quick ways to improve air quality at home during a wildfire smoke incident 

Build a Corsi-Rosenthal air filter for your home for less than $100 to help with removing wildfire smoke that has entered your space. This DIY air purifier was created by Richard Corsi, the dean of engineering at the University of California, Davis, and Jim Rosenthal, the CEO of filter manufacturer Tex-Air Filters. For additional information, Jim recommended this how-to video if you’re looking for a visual aid. Grab the right filters and a box fan for your project. 
Create a clean room. Follow the EPA’s instructions to create a room in your home that minimizes exposure to smoke and particulate matter when levels are concerning outdoors. You may want to set this up for a baby’s room or if you live with any individuals at greater risk from the effects of smoke. 
Mila air purifier for home 

Future-proofing your home: Ways to ensure healthy indoor air quality for the next wildfire smoke incident, and everyday

Upgrade the air filters in your HVAC system. For optimal results, the EPA recommends choosing a filter for your air conditioner and/or heating system with at least a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) 13 rating, or as high as your system can accommodate. But! Be sure to consult your go-to HVAC expert to ensure that your current system can accommodate a more intense filter. Running your air conditioning when air pollution outdoors is a concern will remove potentially harmful particulate matter with the proper filter in place. 
Invest in an air purifier for the rooms you frequent the most: remember that we spend about 26 years of our lives in our bedrooms! Look for air cleaners with a high efficiency filter and the proper CADR (clean air delivery rate) for your room size. We’re long-time Mila fans—Felipe from Sway HQ loves his. 
Monitor your home’s air quality. Air monitoring sensors and alerts are often built into portable air purifiers, but you can also buy them as standalone devices if you're not on the purifier train. We’ve been recommending Awair from Sway’s earliest days. 
Seal it up! Addressing gaps and cracks around windows and doors is not only good for energy efficiency, but also for avoiding indoor pollution during environmental events like this one. Affordable products like door bottoms and sweeps from the hardware stores can help. 
Advocate. It’s a timely moment to donate or take action on climate change.
I’m a chronic seeker of silver linings, and one good thing that comes out of incidents like this is a broader awareness of how we can be better prepared and protect our health, and each other, in the future, especially when it's an imperative that we stay inside. 
Here’s to clear skies ahead and optimizing our homes so they can best support our health when we need them the most. 

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