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How to deal with intense wildfire smoke?

 
Posts: 47
Location: Myrtle Creek, Oregon
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What are your ideas to reduce forest fire smoke? I'm living in Oregon and the air quality has been dangerous. Last night it rained and now is at poor levels. The rain will stop and go back to dryness soon. I have tried simmering rosemary or sage to help.
 
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Realistically, adding more particulates to the air isn't going to make it feel cleaner. Burning more plant matter, or vapourizing its essential oils, is only going to put something else that's not oxygen in the air.

I would suggest getting those pollen-grade window screens, or failing that, getting a bunch of those hepa filters that will fit a window, duct-tape them in place, and then blow the air out another window with a box fan similarly fitted to the window or door it's exhausting out of. It won't work perfectly, but it will remove particulates from the air, which are responsible for the smell and thick feeling both.

-CK
 
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I find it's a lot like basic dust control they did in the 1930s-1970s.  They also did a lot of studies on this (at least in BC, Canada) for houses next to the road in the 1980s-1990s.

Certain kinds of trees planted together are good at filtering particles like dust or exhaust.  Also, having a shorter plant on the outside, and the trees on the inside helped push the air up and over the house.

For example, the part of our house that is lower than the fruit tree line has very little to no smoke, whereas the upper floor where there are no trees protecting, has quite a bit of smoke.
 
r ranson
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example of planting trees for filtering urban pollution: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190104103948.htm#:~:text=a%20new%20study.-,Urban%20planners%20should%20plant%20hedges%2C%20or%20a%20combination%20of%20trees,from%20the%20University%20of%20Surrey.

Back in the 80s, my grandparents lived next to a highway.  The problem with that city was that most of the trees wouldn't thrive because the air from the cars was too 'heavy' (as it was explained to me as a child - basically inversions were common so it trapped pollution and smog near the ground.  Smog is especially bad because the moisture particles of fog make the pollution particles have a stronger effect on living things).  But having this line of vegetation between the road and the houses cleaned the air.  You could feel the difference instantly by walking to the end of the driveway.

These air-breaks work wonderfully well in all sorts of situations.  We've been using them in our landscape designs ever since (but working a lot more food plants into the system, unless we're too close to the road, then it's pollinator and bird-friendly plants).  Most cities use a combination of coniferous (great for sound) and deciduous (great for air) plants.  The cities used to publish lists of the best plants for different situations (easy to water, no irrigation, road smell, road noise... blablablbal)
 
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I heard that tamarisk is good at filtering stuff. Some people plant it on the edge of their gardens, I have it together with my beach rose bushes.
 
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Somewhere on this site, someone hooked a furnace filter up to a box fan.  If you use a group of filters ....4...three sides and top...with cardboard on the bottom to form a box with duck tape ....then duck tape it to the draw side of the fan, it should be of benefit.  Of course, the higher quality of filter the better.
 
r ranson
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So other than planting a wall of trees around your house once the air clears, what you can do now is find ways to increase and improve the oxygen in your home.  

House plants are a good start.  Aspidistra were popular air purifiers in coal-smogged London (which was about the same as being near Portland these last couple of weeks).  Ficus is another popular air filter back in the age of led gasoline.  

 
r ranson
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Another thing I've been doing in the forest fire smoke season is wearing cotton masks.  Yes, even before 2020, I wore masks around the farm because the smoke can settle in here for months (inversion).  It makes a huge difference.  I go from throwing up from the intensity of the smoke to being able to clean out the chicken house.

But the problem was, I couldn't wear the mask in public without people looking at me strangely.  Thank you 2020 for changing that.  

Several people I know who aren't big into mask-wearing, are wearing their cotton masks to protect against smoke as they have a lot of outside work to do.  
 
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Location: Clackamas County, OR (zone 7)
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Hey, our place is about 10 miles from the edge of the riverside fire. I bought an indoor air quality meter when our daughter was born, and so I have been able to keep tabs on the air quality. It got so bad one day that my meter went off its scale. It was showing 999 ug/m^3 of PM2.5 (that is bad. Very bad). Thankfully we had an air purifier with a hepa filter, and some replacement filters. The filters I taped over a desk fan, and that worked really well. The furnace filters are not generally HEPA, so they do not catch the very small particles in smoke. If you can find them, (the stores were stripped instantly of all furnace filters around here) then look for the highest MERV rating - anything less than like 11 is basically not removing any smoke. It should be rated to remove pollen and mold spores.

Driving around with the car set to recirculate did improve the air quite a bit - so it dawned on me to swing by the auto parts store. Sure enough, you can pick up an 8" square of HEPA filter for maybe 8 bucks? some of them also have activated carbon, which should help with any of the VOCs in the smoke. I managed to make a passable filter out of computer fans, a cardboard box, a car filter, and the filter out of a shopvac as a pre-filter, and a bunch of duct tape. The air coming out had a reading of like 50 ug/m^3, which is good enough.
 
John F Dean
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The post I am referring to was by Nicole Alderman in "Ways to cope with thick wildfire smoke"
 
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In Australia we have discovered that bushfire smoke has an adverse effect on unborn babies and the placenta.
They are usually born underweight, and the placenta looks like one from a packet a day smoker.

In some cases the placenta needs to removed by surgery!
 
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John F Dean wrote:The post I am referring to was by Nicole Alderman in "Ways to cope with thick wildfire smoke"



The air filter actually works really well. Some people use only one filter, like this:

DIY air filter from box fan

But, one filter makes the fan sad, and doesn't filter as much air. Two years ago, we made one with two filters:

DIY air purifier with 2 air filters

This year we made it with three filters:

Homemade air purifier for smoke with 3 air filters

It helps if you can get filters that have one side that's the same size as your box fan's height. The ones we have are 20x20x1, and they work great. Get the highest rated filters you can, as the higher ones will filter more smoke out (but will be more expensive, and might be out of stock because other people might be buying them for the same reason). Any filter is better than none, though. Ours were white when we installed them over a week ago, and now the filters are grey. I've also taken to hanging my wet shirts or towels over the filters to dry. This seems to filter even more, without really taxing the fan too much. Our air quality has stayed great inside, even when it was at 225 outside. We also only entered and exited from the garage, using the garage as a kind of air lock. And, of course, we don't open the windows. And we've refrained from using the dryer or hood/bathroom vents. All of those send air outside, which means the house has to suck (polluted) air in from outside.

Of course, since we weren't exchanging inside air for the cooler outside air, our house has stayed pretty uncomfortable at 76-80 degrees, and I've had to run the portable AC unit (which sends hot air outside, and therefore sucks polluted air in) just too cool ourselves down. But, the box fan filter does a nice job of cleaning the air pretty quickly.
 
John F Dean
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Hi Nicole,

I really dont see why a filter cannot be put on top as well.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I thought the same thing after we'd built it. But, we only had three filters here at home, and I didn't really want to halt construction to go buy another filter. I'll buy four for the next time. I'd like to think there will be no "next time," as we never once had wild fire smoke in the previous 30+ years of my life, or of my parents' and grandparents' life in this area. But, this is the third time in 5 years, so, I think I just always need to have air filters around.
 
pollinator
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Nicole Alderman wrote:

John F Dean wrote:The post I am referring to was by Nicole Alderman in "Ways to cope with thick wildfire smoke"



The air filter actually works really well. Some people use only one filter, like this:

DIY air filter from box fan

But, one filter makes the fan sad, and doesn't filter as much air. Two years ago, we made one with two filters:

DIY air purifier with 2 air filters

This year we made it with three filters:

Homemade air purifier for smoke with 3 air filters

It helps if you can get filters that have one side that's the same size as your box fan's height. The ones we have are 20x20x1, and they work great. Get the highest rated filters you can, as the higher ones will filter more smoke out (but will be more expensive, and might be out of stock because other people might be buying them for the same reason). Any filter is better than none, though. Ours were white when we installed them over a week ago, and now the filters are grey. I've also taken to hanging my wet shirts or towels over the filters to dry. This seems to filter even more, without really taxing the fan too much. Our air quality has stayed great inside, even when it was at 225 outside. We also only entered and exited from the garage, using the garage as a kind of air lock. And, of course, we don't open the windows. And we've refrained from using the dryer or hood/bathroom vents. All of those send air outside, which means the house has to suck (polluted) air in from outside.

Of course, since we weren't exchanging inside air for the cooler outside air, our house has stayed pretty uncomfortable at 76-80 degrees, and I've had to run the portable AC unit (which sends hot air outside, and therefore sucks polluted air in) just too cool ourselves down. But, the box fan filter does a nice job of cleaning the air pretty quickly.



I meant to head back to the other thread to mention what a great idea this is...

I have a manufactured filter; I will definitely build one like this to pair it with. My purpose built one has a sensor, and this is convenient. It uses a blower instead of a fan; generally better when static pressure is called for. It may also have a finer filter, not sure the specs on available filters as above.

But. Big advantages to Nicole's version; cost, and filter surface area. And, those may well be the most important two attributes for most people and most applications... That is a lot of filtration area!

I think one like this will pair very well with my current one; I will probably use a blower instead of a box fan. I have one sitting around... if I get lucky, I will find a smaller DC blower to use. This would let me run this filter without turning on the inverters.. which would be nice, because this smoke has been brutal on my solar system.

I am off grid and rely on solar for everything... and the worst smoke has cut my power to effectively zero. Not helpful!

I am really looking forward to building a permanent house that is heavily earth-sheltered. A nice cool basement with filtration would be heavenly... I usually run three 180mm DC exhaust fans all day when it is hot, and my tinyhouse stays at about ambient temp.. lately I can choose between cooking to death and choking. No power to run the fans nonstop, even if I wanted to bring in unfiltered air. As it is, I run the filter for a few minutes when I come inside for meals, and blast it for a half hour before sleep... and have been one bad day away from running out of power for even this, most of the time.
 
Nicole Alderman
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r ranson wrote:Another thing I've been doing in the forest fire smoke season is wearing cotton masks.  Yes, even before 2020, I wore masks around the farm because the smoke can settle in here for months (inversion).  It makes a huge difference.  I go from throwing up from the intensity of the smoke to being able to clean out the chicken house.

But the problem was, I couldn't wear the mask in public without people looking at me strangely.  Thank you 2020 for changing that.  

Several people I know who aren't big into mask-wearing, are wearing their cotton masks to protect against smoke as they have a lot of outside work to do.  



I find my cotton mask works even better for battling smoke when I get it damp before hand. That seems to catch more particles. I rinse it after each use outside and then hang it up until I need it again.
 
Nicole Alderman
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D Nikolls wrote:
But. Big advantages to Nicole's version; cost, and filter surface area. And, those may well be the most important two attributes for most people and most applications... That is a lot of filtration area!

I think one like this will pair very well with my current one; I will probably use a blower instead of a box fan. I have one sitting around... if I get lucky, I will find a smaller DC blower to use. This would let me run this filter without turning on the inverters.. which would be nice, because this smoke has been brutal on my solar system.

I am off grid and rely on solar for everything... and the worst smoke has cut my power to effectively zero. Not helpful!

I am really looking forward to building a permanent house that is heavily earth-sheltered. A nice cool basement with filtration would be heavenly... I usually run three 180mm DC exhaust fans all day when it is hot, and my tinyhouse stays at about ambient temp.. lately I can choose between cooking to death and choking. No power to run the fans nonstop, even if I wanted to bring in unfiltered air. As it is, I run the filter for a few minutes when I come inside for meals, and blast it for a half hour before sleep... and have been one bad day away from running out of power for even this, most of the time.



I just went and plugged in my watt meter-thing.

Running on high, it uses 105 watts
Running on medium, it uses 92 watts
running on low, it uses 72 watts.

It blows a lot of air, even with a wet shirt hanging over each filter. I wonder how much power a normal air filter uses?
 
Nicole Alderman
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And this is AC power. I just went and looked up a DC fan (I didn't even know about them). I found this tidbit of information amazing:

DC fans are widely regarded as the most efficient type of fans. They consume significantly less power than AC fans. In fact, DC fans consume up to 70 percent less energy to produce the same output as traditional AC fan types. This means, that a 25-watt DC-driven yields the same results as 100-watt AC fan



I'd definitely hook up some filters to your DC fans-- you'll get clean air and a good breeze!
 
D Nikolls
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Nicole Alderman wrote:And this is AC power. I just went and looked up a DC fan (I didn't even know about them). I found this tidbit of information amazing:

DC fans are widely regarded as the most efficient type of fans. They consume significantly less power than AC fans. In fact, DC fans consume up to 70 percent less energy to produce the same output as traditional AC fan types. This means, that a 25-watt DC-driven yields the same results as 100-watt AC fan



I'd definitely hook up some filters to your DC fans-- you'll get clean air and a good breeze!



Those ones are plumbed into the wall as exhausts, but I have a couple more somewhere.. a DC squirrelcage blower would be ideal.

The big win will be lack of the ~100W+ draw from the twinned inverters, which cannot be run separately without annoying reconfiguration... and I need them twinned to produce 240V for the irrigation pump for at least a few minutes per day.

My filter is a Coway AP-1512HH; judging by DC draw on the batteries with the unit at various settings, it uses about 40W on max, with ionization off. The medium and low speeds draw so little power it is pretty well lost in the fluctuations of other draws; maybe 15W?

Interestingly, according to the label it uses a DC blower, running at 161V; the efficiency advantage of a DC blower is more than enough to justify converting the AC input to DC.


I looked into the filters a bit more..  the short version: 'While a MERV 16 filter(the highest/best MERV rating) captures >95% of particles in the entire size range tested (0.3-10.0 microns), a HEPA filter captures 99.97% of particles with a size of 0.3 microns.'

So, it is hard to quantify the difference, because the MERV rating is vague... it may be catching 95% evenly across the board, and a couple more passes would improve that.. or it may be doing great with big stuff, and the small stuff is often getting by. Smoke is apparently pretty small, 0.4 micron and up... so.


I wonder if you could increase filter effectiveness by wetting or oiling them, as is done with some truck air filters... Is the wet t-shirt for filtration purposes, or cooling, or?


I am now thinking of looking for HEPA filters to hack up a secondary filter; catching a lot more gunk in one pass is more important with a limited power budget!

So far the Coway unit has been good; I bought it after the 2017 fire season, and this is the first year I have needed it... but it was over 300 bucks then, and I doubt I could find one right now. Feeling pretty pleased with my past self on this one.
 
Nicole Alderman
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D Nikolls wrote:I wonder if you could increase filter effectiveness by wetting or oiling them, as is done with some truck air filters... Is the wet t-shirt for filtration purposes, or cooling, or?



I'm stacking functions!

(1) I had no idea how to dry my clothes without using (A) the dryer and thereby sucking ucky air in, or (B) hanging the clothes out in the smoke-filled air. So I resigned myself to hanging them inside. I didn't want to tax my clothesline with the weight of towels, and really had not enough room to hang up all my laundry as it is, so I draped them on the filter. This seemed to work well for cleaning the air, and didn't stress the fan, so I've been hanging my wet t-shirts on it, too.

(2) Extra filtration! I noticed my cloth mask seemed to catch a lot more smoke when wet than when not-wet, so hanging damp cloth on the filters would hopefully add extra filtration. My husband also wanted to mist the filters to have them catch more smoke, but I wasn't sure if they will deteriorate when wet, and I didn't want to find out the not-fun way. I figure the wet t-shirt does the same thing, without risking the filter.

(3) Yes for the cooling...though our house is humid (usually around 60), so it didn't really do much for cooling unless you were right in front of it. I'm sure this would work a whole lot better in a less damp region.

Basically, I started doing the shirt-draping for all of those reasons. It does seem to help!
 
Flora Eerschay
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This reminds me of Olafur Eggertsson's farm in Iceland, which is at the foot of Eyjafjallajökull volcano. When it erupted in April 2010, he locked up his 160 cattle, including 60 dairy cows in a barn and covered the windows with hay and straw to block the ashes. The cattle survived, because the gases from volcano weren't toxic and the mudslide that followed missed his farm. Article that mentions the farm: A cruise to Iceland on the 10th anniversary of its most famous volcanic eruption.
I took the attached photo three years ago, when I visited Iceland.
OlafurEggertsson.jpg
Olafur Eggertsson's farm in Thorvaldseyri
Olafur Eggertsson's farm in Thorvaldseyri
 
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John F Dean wrote:Somewhere on this site, someone hooked a furnace filter up to a box fan.  If you use a group of filters ....4...three sides and top...with cardboard on the bottom to form a box with duck tape ....then duck tape it to the draw side of the fan, it should be of benefit.  Of course, the higher quality of filter the better.


I have done this in the past to help with dust and pet hair; just be aware it shortens the fan motor's lifespan.  Be sure you monitor the filters and change them when necessary!
 
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I gave in and got an air purifier by Honeywell from Amazon for under $250, good for around 467 square feet. It’s got a carbon filter and HEPA  filters.
Normally, I would try to make a contraption of sort to fix things, but with these more recent California fires (and quarantine) that gave us the APOLCALYPTIC orange sky, I had to do something more serious and effective. We’re in our 50’s and 70’s. We need to take extra care.

We keep all our doors and windows close and we don’t turn the heat pumps on unless it’s been over 100° outside, but I do go out several times to check on the chickens.
 
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