We are ad-free and buy all the devices we test with our own money. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission, which we use to fund new product tests. Learn more

How to protect your home from wildfire smoke

By
Updated on November 14, 2023
Written by
Jeff Somers
Jeff has been writing for HouseFresh since 2023. He lives in Hoboken, NJ with his wife and their cats, and has published nine novels and more than fifty short stories. In addition to writing for HouseFresh, Jeff also covers topics connected to home ownership for Lifehacker,
TL;DR

Wildfires are a significant threat to property and human life—floating embers cause most home fires during wildfire events.

Wildfire smoke is hazardous if you plan to remain in your home during a wildfire event. Even if your home is far from the flames, smoke can infiltrate the house and potentially cause severe health problems.

Using fire-resistant building materials and managing the “Ignition Zone” around your property can reduce the fire risk at your home.

You can also take steps to seal your home to prevent smoke infiltration and an air purifier can improve indoor air quality within your home to defend against wildfire smoke.

There are more and more intense wildfires than ever before, and they’re appearing in areas that were once deemed low-risk. Everyone should have a wildfire evacuation plan in place to protect their family. 

Still, even wildfires that don’t directly threaten your home can be dangerous because of their main byproduct: Smoke.

All homes “breathe,” and smoke can get in via joints, cracks and tiny gaps via a process known as infiltration. Wildfire smoke contains tiny, invisible particles and other contaminants that can cause many potentially dangerous health problems, including:

❌ Bronchitis

❌ Asthma attacks

❌ Heart attack

❌ Stroke

❌ Lung cancer

❌ Decline in cognitive function

The best defense is a good offense: Learn how to smoke-proof your home.

The three-step strategy to smoke-proof your home

If you have wildfires, check the AirNow website to anticipate air quality dangers. 

Then follow our three-part strategy to smoke-proof your home — Seal, Circulate, Clean:

  • Seal. Shut windows and doors, and inspect and repair caulking and weather stripping to eliminate gaps. Close outdoor intake dampers or vents on your central air conditioning systems as well as any window-mounted ACs. If you have portable ACs installed, check the seal around the exhaust mounts in the windows—or remove them altogether and close the window.

    If there are gaps under doors or anywhere else in the house—places where you can feel a draft on windy days—fill them in as best you can. Expanding foam, window and door caulk, or even old rags or leftover insulation can be used as short-term solutions to stop smoke from entering the home.
     
  • Circulate. It’s best to keep air moving inside the house to keep it fresh and to maintain climate control—if wildfires are nearby, staying cool inside the house is essential for your health and safety. If you can’t cool down the house, it’s best to evacuate if you possibly can because heat is a serious threat during a wildfire. 

    A key caveat here is to make sure your air conditioning systems are set to “recirculate mode” so they only cycle the air inside the house. If your system doesn’t have this setting, or if there is an outdoor damper or vent that you can’t close (or if it’s a single-hose portable air conditioner, which can pull air (and thus, smoke) into the room from the outside), don’t use your AC.
     
  • Clean. No matter how well you insulate and prepare your home for wildfires, there’s a chance some smoke will get inside. The EPA recommends creating a “clean room” that’s free from all air contaminants, including cooking or smoking, that can be used to reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke. Using an air purifier or air cleaner to keep the air inside a clean room or elsewhere in your home free from the fine particles that travel in wildfire smoke is a very good idea. Make sure your air cleaner has a high-efficiency filter, and run it at the highest setting as much as you can—remember, you may not be aware of particles in the air because they are so small.
Tip

If you don’t own an air purifier, it is possible to make one from a few common materials for a short-term DIY solution. While this DIY setup won’t be as effective as a commercial air purifier or cleaner, it will help improve indoor air quality.

Additionally, having some N95 respirator masks on hand is also an excellent idea if you’re going to ride out a wildfire in your home. This way if your efforts to keep the indoor air clean and circulating aren’t sufficient, or if you need to go outside for any reason, you will be protected from smoke and particles in the air.

Protecting your home during a wildfire

Wildfires move very fast and your home represents a rich fuel source. Most houses that burn down during wildfires ignite due to embers and burning debris carried by the wind, which means you can take steps to help protect your home.

This starts with understanding what the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) calls the Home Ignition Zone, which is divided into three main categories:

  1. Immediate Zone: 0-5 feet (this includes the home itself) 
  2. Intermediate Zone: 5-30 feet
  3. Extended Zone: 30-100 feet

The Immediate Zone is crucial because embers can land on your home and start a fire. If wildfires are approaching your property, it’s best to start with the structure of your home itself and then work outwards from there to reduce flammable materials.

– Trim tree branches that overhang the home and trim branches within six feet of the ground.

– Inspect roof shingles and replace them as needed; embers penetrating the roof are common causes of home fires during wildfires.

– Inspect attics for openings allowing embers to enter the home and add 1/8th-inch metal screens to all vents. Adding wire mesh to screened-in areas like porches to resist embers is also a good idea.

– Remove all plants from the Immediate Zone, including landscaping. If there’s a lawn, make sure it is hydrated. If it’s dry and brown, cut it as low to the ground as possible.

– Clear dead leaves and other debris from under decks and porches and between boards.Remove any materials that could ignite from floating embers.

– Instead of mulch, use crushed stone or gravel in your landscaping.

– Replace your roof with fire-rated products such as composite, clay, concrete shingles, or metal.- Replace siding and exteriors with fire-resistant materials like concrete siding, brick, plaster, or stucco.

– Replace your windows with dual-pane windows utilizing tempered glass in at least one pane. 

– Single-pane windows can crack and shatter in extreme heat, allowing ember and smoke penetration.

The Intermediate Zone is where you can slow down a wildfire’s advance. While the immediate zone is about eliminating combustible materials, this area is more about spacing and maintenance.

– Replace soft landscaping with hardscaping where possible to reduce potential fuel sources.

– Ensure any structures are built using fire-resistant materials.

– Create fire “breaks” with non-flammable materials, e.g., pavement, pavers, or gravel at regular intervals.

– Clear vegetation under trees to prevent the spread of flames to branches and canopies.- If possible, maintain a minimum space between trees of 18 feet.

The Extended Zone will be your first opportunity to minimize a wildfire’s impact on your property. The goal here isn’t to eliminate a fire but to interrupt the fire’s path and keep flames to a minimum. 

– Regularly clear ground of flammable materials, including dead vegetation, to reduce fuel.

– Keep any buildings or structures clear of ground plants or climbing plants.

– Ensure any structures in the Extended Zone are built using fire-resistant materials.

– If possible, maintain a minimum space between trees of 12 feet (within 30-60 feet from home) or 6 feet  (within 60-100 feet from the home).

The best air purifiers for wildfire smoke

No matter how well you seal your home, smoke and dangerous particles can enter. A high-quality air purifier is vital to protecting your home and your family from the dangers of wildfire smoke. 

HouseFresh performs exhaustive in-house performance testing on different air purifier models, collecting a wide range of data. 

Using the data from these hands-on tests, we’ve compiled our top three recommendations (including a Best Overall selection) for air purifiers that are most effective at removing wildfire smoke from your home’s air depending on the size of the room being serviced, your budget, filter life and overall performance. 

For a deeper dive into your air purifier choices, read our complete findings and recommendations.

👑 BEST OVERALL💰 FOR TIGHT BUDGETS🛋️ FOR LARGE SPACES
EverestAirBlueair Blue Pure 211+IQAir Healthpro Plus
AIR CLEANING SPEED ⚡13 minutes18 minutes25 minutes
CADR 👩‍🔬360 CFM (612 m3/h)350 CFM330 CFM
FILTER TECHNOLOGY 💨3-Stage Filtration (Pre-filter, H13 HEPA and activated carbon)HEPASilent™ Technology (electrostatic filtration with HEPA),  
Activated Charcoal Filter
Pre-max filter, V5-Cell Filter, HyperHEPA filter
MAX ROOM SIZE 📏558 sq. ft.540 ft²450 ft² to 1125 ft²
WEIGHT ⚖️20.7 lbs (9.38 kg)12.5 lbs (5.67 kg)35 lbs / 15.88 kg
OUR REVIEW 🔍Levoit EverestAir ReviewBlueair Blue Pure 211+ reviewIQAir Healthpro Plus Review
PRICE 💵$249.99$249.99$769.00

Last update on 2024-02-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Final thoughts 

Wildfires are frightening and destructive, burning anything in their path indiscriminately. If your home could be in the path of wildfires, you can take steps now to reduce the fire risk from floating embers by using suitable fire-resistant materials. 

Remember you can protect your family by devising an evacuation plan that can be implemented without delays. But smoke is just as dangerous as the flames, so you also need a plan to keep the air inside your home safe and breathable. 

Make your house as smoke-proof as possible by sealing gaps and ensuring the interior air is circulated and cleaned aggressively.

SOURCES

Last update on 2024-02-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

About the author

Jeff Somers

Jeff has been writing for HouseFresh since 2023. He lives in Hoboken, NJ with his wife and their cats, and has published nine novels and more than fifty short stories. In addition to writing for HouseFresh, Jeff also covers topics connected to home ownership for Lifehacker,