Unfortunately, it seems like contending with forest fire smoke is a part of a regular summer in Western Canada. The smoke blankets the sky – in many instances almost completely blocking out the sun. As soon as you step outdoors you can smell the forest fire smoke. As the air quality diminishes, health experts recommend that you reduce outdoor physical activity because of the health effects. More of that outdoor air contamination is coming indoors than you probably think.
The HVAC system in your home (furnace, air conditioner, duct work) is the lungs of home. It is constantly “breathing in” and “breathing out” while the system is operating. Even if you don’t have an air conditioner, your furnace fan is likely still operating to move air in your home. Part of this system is a fresh air intake that draws air from the outdoors and brings it into the home.
Your furnace filter is an important part of your HVAC System. It protects the furnace and air conditioner components from being contaminated by blocking contaminates from entering the furnace. The size of contaminant particles blocked will vary depending on the type and quality of furnace filter you are using. Furnace filters are rated based on their MERV (Minimum Efficiency Rating Value). A MERV 8 filter will stop pollen, dust, dust mites, debris, and pet dander. Whereas a MERV 13 filter will stop those and mold spores, car fumes, tobacco smoke, smoke, bacteria, virus carriers, and small allergens. Keep in mind that many systems do not have sufficient power to draw air through high rated filters which can cause system failure. Under regular circumstances the furnace filter should be replaced at least every 3 months. During times of heavy contamination (like during forest fires), you should be changing (or at least inspecting) your filter weekly.
The air ducts in your home are where much of the dust, hair, dander, and dead skin cells from your home end up. Since you can’t see or access your air ducts, this builds up over time. This material will hold soot and smoke odour and then continue to spread that throughout your home even after the smoke has settled. When outdoor air quality improves and the smoke has cleared, its a good idea to have your furnace and air ducts professionally cleaned. This will remove the dust, hair, dander, and dead skin cells as well as the soot that has collected from the fire ensuring that your family is breathing clean air again.