If you’ve so much as glanced out a window the last couple of weeks, you have likely noticed that golden-red tinge to the light that means forest fire season is here in Northern California. Not only are there dozens of fires burning in California at the moment, but firefighters in Oregon and Washington have their hands full as well. As a consequence, the entire coast is dealing with smoky, hazy air.

But the biggest concern isn’t how the air looks, but what it can do to your body.


Breathing smoky air produced by forest fires can be bad for your health.

According to the CDC, breathing smoky air can irritate airways, and presents a serious risk to people who:

  • Have heart or lung diseases, such as coronary artery disease or asthma.
  • Are of an advanced age, due to their increased susceptibility to heart and lung diseases.
  • Are particularly young. Children have airways that are still developing, and they actually breathe more air, proportionally speaking, than adults do. They also spend more time outdoors.

Obviously, you want to stay indoors as much as possible when air quality is particularly poor. An easy way to determine the current air quality in your area is by referring to the AirNow website, which is a service provided by the EPA.

AirNow generates air quality forecasts and current condition information for just about the entire country. The AIrNow page for your area will display the current Air Quality Index, the overall forecast for the day, and the forecast for the next day.

To briefly break down the significance of the AQI scores:

  • Good (0 to 50): The air doesn’t present any risks
  • Moderate (51 to 100): Acceptable air quality, but could cause problems for extremely sensitive persons.
  • USG (101 to 150): USG means “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” and means that people with lung disease, children, and the elderly could face health risks.
  • Unhealthy (151 to 200): This means the air presents health risks for just about everyone, and sensitive groups are at significant risk.
  • Very Unhealthy (201 to 300): Everyone is at significant risk.
  • Hazardous (301 to 500): Emergency conditions are in place, as everyone faces serious health consequences.

AirNow is a great resource for knowing how healthy it is to be outside, and whether you should remain indoors. But raises an important question:

So, it’s smart to stay indoors when the air is bad. But does running your air conditioning pose a health risk when the air is smoky?

If you’ve run the air conditioner in your car when passing by a fire—or a particularly fragrant cattle farm—it’s pretty obvious that the great outdoors can quickly contaminate the passenger compartment.

This raises a pretty logical question: If you run my home’s air conditioner when it’s smoky outside, will that bring the smoke particulates and other harmful pollution into my home? Thankfully, the answer is no. It’s safe to run your AC, regardless of the severity of forest fire pollution in your area.

While your outside unit expels a lot of hot air, that air isn’t coming from inside your home and being replaced with outside air. Air conditioners are heat exchangers. They use a closed coolant system to absorb heat from the air inside your home and then use powerful fans to push a lot of outside air over that same coolant system, suck out the heat, and then exhaust that heated air back outdoors.

At no time does outdoor air get pulled into your home. Thus, pollutants don’t have the opportunity to intrude into your home, except when you open a door or window.

Window AC units can allow some contaminants to penetrate around the sides of the unit, if it hasn’t been sealed properly. But aside from this concern, both central AC and window AC units will keep you cool without risking your health.

At Gilmore Heating Air & Plumbing, we know how important it is to not only keep your family comfortable but healthy as well. If you have family members with sensitive health conditions, and you want to know what air conditioning solution is best for your family, Gilmore can help. To learn more, give us a call, or send us a message, and our AC experts will work to find a solution that works right for you!

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