As California and the desert Southwest see an increase in annual wildfires, residents of Sacramento and the surrounding areas are learning how to manage their quality of life with smoke in the air. Most wildfires occur during the summertime when you rely on your air conditioning system to keep you cool. Unfortunately, these units use outdoor air as part of their normal operation. Smoke from wildfires can affect the Sacramento area, even if the fires are in a neighboring state or farther away. Here are 10 tips to protect your air conditioning system and indoor air quality during wildfire season.

1. Follow Local Public Health Recommendations

Your local public health department puts out information for days when air quality is poor. The recommendations may include staying inside as well as closing all doors and windows. Wildfire smoke is a serious threat to everyone, but some people are more vulnerable to the damaging effects. This includes children, the elderly and people who have chronic respiratory conditions.

2. Use Your Air Conditioner

It may be tempting to shut off your air conditioning system on smokey days because the unit does draw in outdoor air. In reality, your AC system helps to clean the air inside your home. By circulating air throughout the day, your AC system filters out any smoke particles as well as other types of airborne pollutants such as dust, pollen, bacteria and viruses.

3. Replace Your Filters Often

During wildfire season, there are more particulates in the air than when there aren’t any wildfires. Your HVAC filters will most likely get clogged with particles much faster than in years when fires aren’t a major issue. If wildfire smoke is visible at your home, we recommend that you change the filters each month until the fires subside. The reason that you need to keep your AC filters clean during wildfire season is that the unit has to work harder to cool your home when the filters are dirty.

4. Upgrade Your HVAC Filters

Upgrading your HVAC filters is a great option for wildfire season. The experts at Huft Home Services can help you find the best filters for your needs. HEPA filters help trap 98% to 99% of the smallest particulates such as smoke, odors, bacteria and viruses. Most AC systems can use HEPA filters. If your system does not have an appropriate HEPA filter option, we can recommend alternatives. Upgrading your filters not only helps with wildfire smoke but it also protects the life of your equipment.

5. Invest in an Air Cleaner

Cleaning the air inside your home prevents excessive wear and tear on your air conditioning system. Portable and whole-home air cleaners take some of the burden off of your HVAC system. If you have a small budget, we recommend a portable air cleaner in the room that you use most often. You can also move the unit as needed, such as setting it up in your bedroom at night. Like your AC system, air cleaners need clean filters to work properly. If you want a more long-term option for extra air cleaning in your home, the experts at Huft Home Services can help. There are whole-home air cleaners that fit in your existing HVAC system.

6. Reduce Other Types of Airborne Particles

Wildfire smoke brings with it enough particles to burden even the most energy-efficient HVAC equipment. You want to avoid any activities that add even more particles to the air. These include smoking, using candles and cooking with a gas stove throughout the day. Those activities release small bits of carbon and other substances that your AC system has to filter from the air in addition to the wildfire smoke. Dusting is another activity that releases particles into the air. Choose a day during the week when you will clean, and use a wet method for removing dust from your furniture. You should also minimize using your vacuum cleaner.

7. Use the Fan Setting on Your AC

Turning the fan setting for your AC system to “On” can help on those days when there is wildfire smoke outdoors. The system will cool the air the same as when you have the fan set to “Auto.” The difference is that the fan will run continuously, even when the air is not being cooled. This pushes the indoor air through the filters nonstop so more particles can be removed.

8. Use Your Household Fans

Ceiling fans, floor fans and desk fans are great ways to help keep air circulating in your home and reduce the burden on your AC system. Distribute portable fans throughout your home with the goal being to ensure air movement in every area. Keep the fans running during the day and night. This helps to move airborne particles into your HVAC system where they are trapped by the filter. Also, make sure that the intake vents in your home are open and clear of any furniture or small items. These vents are important for air circulation and removing wildfire smoke and other particulates from the air.

9. Cover Your AC Unit

On the days when wildfire smoke is especially thick in the Sacramento area, you can cover your AC unit until the smoke lifts a bit. The best way to do this is to cover the unit with a plastic trash bag or cardboard. Secure it with duct tape. This should only be done on a short-term basis and only on the days when you can tell that you have wildfire smoke inside your home. It will smell like a campfire. Make sure to remove the covering once the smoke subsides. Otherwise, you risk burning out the motor and damaging the unit.

10. Have Your AC System Checked

If you missed scheduling your spring maintenance appointment with Huft Home Services, we can set up a time during the summer. In addition to changing filters, checking electrical systems and testing the temperature settings, we can also recommend ways to safely operate your AC unit during the days when wildfire smoke is in the Sacramento area.

Using Window Air Conditioners During Wildfire Season

Older and smaller homes in the Sacramento area may use window air conditioners to cool the interior. These units do not provide the air circulation of central AC units, but you can still take some steps to maintain healthy indoor air quality. Your local hardware or home improvement store has filters for window units. These attach to the vents that blow air into your home. We also recommend that you seal up the area around the unit. Make sure that there are no openings for smoke to get inside your residence.

Learn More Ways to Protect Your AC During Wildfire Season

At Huft Home Services, we support homeowners in Sacramento and the surrounding areas by providing expert services any time of year. If you have questions about how to safely operate your AC during the summer or you just want some tips on how to reduce energy use, give us a call. We perform cooling and heating installation, repair and maintenance. Besides that, we also offer a complete line of both plumbing and electrical services.

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