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  • Writer's pictureShelly Albaum

Protecting Against Smoke from Wildfires

Furnace Filter Filtrete 3M Ultra Allergen 2200

[PICTURED: Indoor furnace filter after two days, 100+ miles downwind from a California wildfire.]

PG&E apparently starts devastating wildfires annually -- and thanks to global warming the fire season is longer, hotter, and drier than ever -- so Californians need to seriously plan for fires.

If you're in a hilly or forested high-risk fire zone, as I am, then you need to:

1. Scan your photos

2. Photograph your possessions for insurance records

3. Make sure all your computers are backed up to the cloud

4. Cut down trees near or overhanging your house

5. Remove ivy and vines growing up tree trunks

6. Gather sacred belongings so you can quickly load the car

But for every person at risk of losing their home, there are a hundred more who are safe from the flames but are at risk for smoke inhalation.

My home is over a hundred miles west of the Camp Fire, but our air quality has been unhealthy or very unhealthy for ten days now.

The photo above shows a 3M Ultra-Allergen 2200 Furnace Filter, brand new when the fire started, compared with two days later. Even though we keep all our doors and windows closed, a startling number of smoke particles enter the house. We are changing the furnace filter every few days, which is expensive, but presumably having our lungs look like that will be costlier still.

So if you have a forced air furnace, get a super-high quality furnace filter, and then run the fan 24x7:

The higher the MPR -- Micro Particle Reduction -- the better it filters out even the finest smoke particles. Mine is 2200, and you can see that that works. The house smells better, too.

Two Caveats:

First, make sure to check for your correct furnace filter size. Filters are easy to replace, but they have to be the right size.

Second, the highest quality filtration may slow air flow into the furnace, which impairs the system. So if you are using a very high MPR filter for air quality, consider switching to a slightly lower MPR for routinely running the furnace under clean air conditions. And really seriously do that if your furnace requires a high-velocity air filter.

What if you don't have a forced air furnace to filter the air?

If you don't have the money or time to buy a fancy or expensive single-room HEPA air purifier, there IS a "Red Green"-style jury-rigged option.

Get that 20-inch Box Fan from the garage, and with a 20x20 furnace filtered tied to the back, well...I have one of those going in a room that my HVAC unit doesn't reach, and it does appear to be better than nothing.

Also, get your smoke filter now while you're thinking about it, or next time they go on sale, but don't wait until the next fire, when they suddenly get scarce at the hardware store.

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