Tips for protecting home air quality from wildfire smoke by UMaine researcher – N. Whiteman

With smoke from wildfires across North America now blowing into Maine, a University of Maine researcher has tips on how to protect home air quality from the incoming haze.

Smoke particles are light enough to linger in the air for hours or days, which is how they can travel to Maine even if they ignite in farther away places. As a result, if they enter a house, they can stay there and build up over time, says Nicholas Whiteman, a Ph.D. student with the UMaine School of Earth and Climate Sciences and Climate Change Institute. And during a wildfire event, an open window won’t necessarily bring in fresh air. Luckily, harmful particles can also be easily corralled by the trajectory of recirculated air flow from fans, and captured by a filter, Whiteman says.

“It’s simply effective because you’re pairing a filter with an air mover,” Whiteman says. “A personal fan with a filter fitted to its cage, placed nearby, can go a long way for protecting someone who is at risk.”

Installing any type of air filter — including an inexpensive MERV13 or similar product that can be found in hardware stores — and turning on any type of fan available can help remove the harmful materials from smoke that may enter your home, Whiteman says.

Large scale filtration systems like Corsi-Rosenthal Boxes and HEPA systems can also be helpful, but some people may not tolerate the space they take up or the noise they generate, Whiteman says. Equipment of that size and cost isn’t necessary for protecting vulnerable individuals from wildfire smoke pollutants. For example, MERV13 filters, which can cost as little as about $20, or even less from a bargain-bin, have capture rates of 75% or above, and can be as effective as a HEPA system over time.

“Any filtration effort is better than none,” Whiteman says. “A furnace filter from your local hardware store can be cut to size, taped to practically any fan that’s already on hand, and be put to work scrubbing harmful materials from your air.”

Whiteman is researching the kinematics of airflow indoors and how it governs the trajectory of hazardous particles. The work involves using high-performance computing technology at the Facility for Geodynamics, the procurement for which was supported by a $350,000 award from the National Science Foundation.