Is It Safe To Use Air Conditioning In Wildfire Smoke?
It's no secret that the weather outside is frightful right now in the Northland, with dangerous air quality lingering due to wildfires burning in Canada. The Northland has been hazy off and on over the past few weeks, mostly recently just a few days before Grandma's Marathon with an Air Quality Alert in effect for northern Minnesota.
This is all happening as temperatures heat up in Minnesota and Wisconsin. With that said, it's the time of the year that we all turn on the air conditioning and try to keep our homes as cool as possible to escape the heat from the outdoors. However, some of our methods for cooling off can actually be dangerous with the wildfire haze and smoke.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has some tips on what you should and shouldn't do in terms of air conditioning during periods of wildfire smoke and what I learned was shocking, so it will probably shock you as well.
Should you use your air conditioner in northern Minnesota + Wisconsin right now?
You may think using your air conditioner is a good way to clear the air in your home but it turns out that is not entirely true. According to the EPA, certain types of air conditioners will actually bring more smoke into your home.
Can I use a window air conditioner?
According to the EPA, it is safe to use a window unit air conditioner if you are able to close the outdoor air damper. If you cannot close it all the way, the EPA suggests using something else like a fan.
Can I use a central HVAC system?
The EPA says this is perfectly fine to use. The EPA also suggests checking the fresh air intake on the HVAC system and turning it to "recirculate mode" or closing it temporarily. The EPA also suggests making sure the filter is in good condition and has been replaced as needed.
Can I use a portable air conditioner?
This is where things get tricky. The EPA says that in some cases, you shouldn't use a portable air conditioner if it has a single hose vented out of a window. This results in more smoke coming in from the outside into the inside of your home. Opt for another option instead. If you have a portable air conditioner with two hoses, you are fine to use it in smoky conditions as long as the seal between the window vent kit and window is tight.
It looks like the smoky conditions won't be going anywhere, as temperatures heat up and fire conditions worsen into the rest of the summer. This smoke, while it does let up at times in the area, can have under-the-radar impacts on our health, causing us to become depressed, anxious and even lose sleep.
All of this is to say that we should do what we can to make sure we cut down on the haze and smoke we breath in while we wait this all out. Of course, air conditioning aside, we should also limit our time outdoors, keep our windows and doors closed and avoid strenuous activity. The EPA also says to invest in some N95 respirator masks.