How to keep wildfire smoke out of your home: Avoid these 5 surprising mistakes

By Arianne Cohen

This month, West Coasters are learning about all of the surprising ways that wildfire smoke can seep into a seemingly well-sealed home. (As a reminder, wildfire smoke is really bad for your health.) Here are the common mistakes to avoid:

Closed windows and doors can still leak

Don’t assume that new or well-sealed doors and windows are keeping smoke out. Painter’s tape is your friend, particularly where two window sashes meet. Seemingly secure doors will also leak, and need painter’s tape around their edges and a towel stuffed along the bottom. Wet towels will work better if more protection is needed.

Don’t use bathroom fans and range hoods

So you turned on your exhaust fans, thinking you’re sucking smoky air out of your home! You’re a genius! Except, not. First, indefinitely running an exhaust fan is a fire hazard. Second, if you’re constantly sucking air out of your home, that means you’re also pulling in smoky air through small gaps around the house. This is dumb! You can sometimes determine whether this is happening by holding a tissue up against window and door edges and looking to see if the tissue blows gently inward. A wet hand also works. For the same reason, skip ongoing use of portable air conditioners that blow air outside.

Beware of the basement

Numerous California and Oregon residents turned on their furnaces or central air conditioning to filter the house, only to discover that they drew smoky air up from old, not-well-sealed basements. Palm to forehead. Your home is only as smoke-sealed as your least-sealed room.

Skip vacuuming

Most vacuuming just launches microscopic particles into the air—which is usually not a problem, but right now is hazardous. The exception: You can vacuum if you have a HEPA filter in your vacuum, which most of us don’t.

Avoid cooking, candles, incense, etc.

If you’ve sealed up the house and don’t have a HEPA-filtered furnace or central air system filtering the air, you need to cease all indoor activities that increase indoor air pollution. For example, the fumes released from cooking meat are carcinogenic; normally, a good range hood and cross breeze takes care of them. Ditto with particulates from gas-burning stoves. This month is also an excellent time to skip using powerhouse cleaning chemicals indoors. Good ventilation is everything when it comes to safe air, and right now you don’t have it. Deep breaths.


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