Cleaner indoor air and lower energy costs: Tips for wildfire season


illustration of home

Wildfires—and the resulting smoke—have become increasingly common and more severe across Oregon in recent years. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles. These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system—whether you are outdoors or indoors—where they can cause health problems.” Wildfire smoke can also make your heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system work harder, contributing to increased energy use and higher energy bills.

Taking precautionary measures now can help improve your indoor air quality and reduce your energy use later this summer. Here are some ways you can keep your family healthy, maintain the comfort of your home and save on energy costs during wildfire season.

Replace your air filter frequently
Regularly changing your air filter is always a good idea, but it is especially important when there are active wildfires in or near your area. Replacing your filter more frequently will help you maintain healthy indoor air quality and avoid extra energy use.

Know your filters—and HVAC system
Filters with a high minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) have a much finer weave that catches far more particles compared with standard filters. However, high-MERV filters can also make some HVAC systems work harder, which can increase energy use. Consult the manufacturer’s manual or website for the best advice on the filters you should be using.

If you replace a standard filter with a high-MERV filter during wildfire season, you can reduce the amount of smoke that gets into your house—but you may also increase your energy costs. Make sure to switch back to a standard filter after wildfire season. If your HVAC system is designed to work with a high-MERV filter, this isn’t an issue, but you should still replace the filter regularly.

Switch to “fan only” mode temporarily
It is a good idea to use your HVAC system in “fan only” mode during wildfire season. This ensures your system is operating continuously to run your indoor air through the filter. Just remember to go back to “auto” mode before cold weather returns and heating season starts so that the system kicks on only when needed. That way, you will avoid increasing your energy use and raising your costs.

Tighten seals around windows, doors and window air conditioners
If your doors or windows are drafty, install weatherstripping to help prevent smoke from drifting into your house. If you have a window air conditioner, run it only if you can close the outdoor air damper. Additionally, make sure the seal between the unit and the window is as tight as possible.

For more information on indoor air quality, check out these resources from the EPA.

You can also find low- and no-cost ways to save energy and money from Energy Trust of Oregon.