Though wildfires pose a real risk to residents of Ventura County and surrounding areas, you can find ways to stay safe and healthy when evacuation is not mandatory. Your heating, cooling, and filtration systems can help you breathe clean air as you wait out a firestorm.
In order for this to work, however, your HVAC system needs proper maintenance during and after a wildfire advisory. Read on to learn how to keep your central heating and cooling in ship-shape during fire season.
Why Are Fire Advisories Important?
Fire advisories may be inconvenient, but they are enforced for a reason.
In addition to destroying acres of land, wildfires fill the air with harmful particulates and toxic carcinogens. They also emit gases that blend with the pollutant particles to create a harmful cloud that reduces air quality for hundreds of miles beyond the fire’s radius.
Particulate matter, “PM,” is a combination of microscopic bits of dust, ash, and chemicals. Particulates can’t be seen with the naked eye, but they can do a lot of damage to a person’s respiratory health when inhaled. For instance, particulate matter can get lodged in a person’s lung, causing prolonged breathing issues or exasperating chronic conditions like Asthma.
Additionally, toxic carcinogens like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are released into the air through burning wood, are linked to terminal cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.
When smoke spreads from chemical wildfires, there is also the danger of mercury emissions. Scientists estimate that about 30 percent as much mercury is released into the air through wildfires as is released via industrial pollution throughout the United States.
General Fire Advisory Safety Tips
Did you know that approximately 15 thousand people in the US die annually from wildfires?
Scientists predict that this number will double by the 21st century’s end. Though instances of wildfires will increase, evacuation orders and fire advisories are meant to decrease tragic results.
Keep your family safe by following these guidelines when a fire advisory is enforced. Also, if you are asked to evacuate, leave as soon as possible. Choosing to stick it out won’t help you or the firefighters who have to rescue you from a dangerous situation.
Unless you have to leave your home, stay indoors until the advisory is lifted.
If you anticipate a fire advisory, stock up on groceries and other essentials a day or two in advance. Better yet, keep essential groceries and non-perishable foods on hand during the entire fire season.
Wear Protective Gear Outdoors
If you have to step outside, don’t leave your home without wearing protective gear. Even if you’re just leaving your house for a second, you should wear:
- A long-sleeved shirt
- Long, thick pants
- A smoke mask
- Protective shoes
When stepping outside, wear shoe covers over your boots. You don’t want to track any particulates back into your house.
Regular single-strap masks don’t give you adequate protection either. If you’re going out under a fire advisory, use a respirator mask that has the acronym “NIOSH” on its label. Look for tight-fitting masks that are labeled N95 or P100.
Monitor Your Air Quality
It’s important to keep track of the air quality in your vicinity. If possible, only leave your house when the air quality is moderately good.
You can monitor your air like you monitor your weather. A reliable online resource for this is AirNow. Simply type your zip code into the site, and local air quality results will pop up.
Shut All Doors And Windows
It’s not enough to stay indoors when in the vicinity of a wildfire. You’re not safe unless all windows and doors remain closed.
Make sure that all your doors and windows are well insulated. Add extra insulation or use cellophane coating to seal them shut if insulation is lacking in your home.
Remember, the air outside is not fresh until it’s free of smoke and debris. Keep everything closed until the advisory is lifted.
Eliminate Pollution Indoors
It’s also important to eliminate or reduce any pollution from inside your home while a wildfire rages on. This means you shouldn’t do anything that emits gas, scents, or debris into the air.
Try not to
- Use your gas stove
- Burn Candles
- Vacuum (unless your vacuum is HIPA compliant)
- Smoke or vape any substance
The general rule of thumb is: Refrain from doing anything that might clog your air filter.
How To Prep Your HVAC System
Your HVAC system is your best friend during a California firestorm. Not only can it keep your home cool, but it can keep your air clean. This is especially important if someone in your household is sick or elderly.
Change And Upgrade All Filters
Your HVAC system is only as effective as your air filters. During a firestorm, it’s important to invest in the best filters available, and change them before you lock down your home.
When choosing your new filter, pay attention to its Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV). MERV ratings range from 1 to 16, and the higher the rating, the more effective the filter.
For maximum protection during a wildfire, pick air filters with a MERV rating from 11 to 15. Use this MERV chart for reference.
Your air filter is typically located near the main vent of your HVAC system, or inside an access closet. To change it, turn off your AC and swap the old filter for a new one. Make sure that the new filter stays sealed in its package until its time to install it.
Close Fresh Intake Vents
Every modern HVAC system has a fresh intake vent. This, in combination with a passive (filtered) vent, keeps your indoor air quality fresh under normal circumstances.
In the case of a wildfire, the air surrounding your home is no longer fresh. If you don’t close your intake vent, your house will fill with polluted air, creating a dangerous situation.
To close off this vent, use the associated damper. Simply slide it shut. If you aren’t sure where your fresh intake vent is, ask an HVAC expert to locate it for you.
Run At High Efficiency
Once your filters are changed and the intake vent is closed, you can run your cooling system as you normally would.
Run your AC at maximum efficiency. Don’t turn it off at any point during the firestorm unless there is an emergency that requires shutting it off.
HVAC Maintenance After A Fire Advisory
Since your HVAC works very hard to keep your air clean during a firestorm, it only makes sense to keep up with its maintenance afterward. From cleaning it to repairing any damage, post-firestorm maintenance will protect your unit from long-term problems like corrosion and rust.
Change All Filters Again
Even the most expansive air filters get clogged in the event of a firestorm. If you don’t change them out as soon as the fire moves on, your system will require much more energy to run. This will translate to higher costs on your end. Also, your HVAC electric motor can burn out if the air filter is too clogged to function.
In addition to switching your standard air filter, consider adding a charcoal-infused carbon filter to your HVAC. A charcoal-infused filter offers even more protection, and it filters out any fumes that may have passed through your home.
Charcoal-infused air filters are especially beneficial to anyone who has chronic respiratory issues or a weakened immune system.
Schedule An HVAC Inspection
It’s important to keep up with some of this aftermath maintenance yourself. However, to ensure that your HVAC system is running smoothly again, you need it to be checked by an HVAC technician.
Preventative maintenance will keep your system running efficiently through many more fire seasons. Also, if your HVAC incurs any damage as a result of the fire, a certified technician can take care of it immediately.
During your HVAC maintenance visit, a technician will inspect both your furnace and your cooling system. He or she will check for any damaged vents and corroded condenser coils. Your technician will also ensure that the outdoor condenser unit is cleaned and undamaged.
Get Your Ducts Cleaned
Though the HVAC system does a good job of keeping particulates out of your home, its ducts collect a lot of soot and dust while exposed to smoke. Once the advisory is lifted, it’s important to schedule an HVAC duct cleaning as soon as possible.
If you use your HVAC system while the ducts are still dirty, all the dust you’ve fought to keep out of your home will flow right in. A professional duct cleaning service can ensure that each duct is clean and intact.
Is Your HVAC Fire-Ready?
Now that you know how to take care of your HVAC during a fire advisory, it can keep you safe and free of toxins. However, every homeowner needs an HVAC professional to keep their system running efficiently
For more information on HVAC systems or to schedule a maintenance checkup, contact us today. We understand the importance of keeping your cooling system in top condition, and our professional technicians are up to the task.