Forest fires and wildfires across the United States are dramatically reducing environmental air quality over much of the country, making the idea of stepping outside for fresh air impossible for many. If Senior Living operators don’t take action, they risk reducing the indoor air quality within senior care buildings, which can in turn put vulnerable residents at risk. Fortunately, there are a few simple steps to help you both improve your air quality and protect your staff and residents.

Assessing the Threat of Wildfires in Your Area

The first and most critical thing you can do is protect yourself from the fires themselves. Pay attention to local news sources and government agencies for advice on how to prevent fires, what fires may be in your area and what you should do in response. The USDA Forest Service maintains an online map, but local services will have more detail and the most relevant information for you.

But beyond the fires, the smoke itself can be a real issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), wildfire smoke can cause persistent coughs, headaches, shortness of breath, asthma attacks, and even cardiovascular issues such as chest pain and heart attacks. This is especially critical in Senior Living, as the smoke may worsen symptoms for people over 65 years of age, or with respiratory or cardiovascular diseases.

Even if you aren’t near a fire, the jet stream and natural air currents can carry the smoke chemicals and debris from the fires thousands of miles from their source. Bookmark this site to monitor up-to-date maps on fires, smoke coverage and air quality in your area.

Protecting Your Residents & Staff from Wildfire Smoke

When wildfire smoke lowers air quality in your area, there are several important steps you can take. The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has created a framework for protecting building occupants from smoke, published in the March 2021 edition of the ASHRAE Journal. Below are some of the activities you may consider taking: 

  • First, plan ahead if you can. Assess your filters and MERV ratings, ensure your system is running properly for the level of filtration and ventilation it was designed for, and weatherize your building envelope to prevent smoke intrusion. If you need help preparing your building, contact TELS Building Services
  • Second, improve your filtration. If your HVAC systems allow for it, upgrade all filters in your system to at least MERV 13. Assess your air intakes to determine if you can temporarily add supplemental filtration with MERV 13 filters, tape and temporary ducting materials. Consider adding additional types of air purification products, such as portable HEPA air filters installed in rooms where air quality is a concern.
  • Third, balance the outside air coming into your building. An indoor air quality monitor that measures PM2.5 particles can help you determine if you need to take further steps, such as lowering the amount of outside air coming into your building. It may be beneficial to recirculate more air within your building rather than bringing in additional contaminants from wildfire smoke.
  • Lastly, keep pathogens in mind. Increasing ventilation is important for diluting the amount of infectious particles there may be in the air, but decreasing ventilation prevents wildfire smoke from entering your HVAC system. Portable air filters can reduce both exposure to pathogens and smoke in the air, and thus may be a good way to balance between these two requirements.

How Can Direct Supply Help?

We know you prioritize the safety of your seniors at all times – having to cope with external factors like a natural disaster puts unnecessary stress on your operations. Browse our array of indoor air quality solutions and reach out to us directly if there is any other way we can support you in these stressful times.