How to prepare for wildfire smoke in Seattle?
November 1, 2018 7:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving to Seattle soon and after this past summer, I'm concerned about air quality issues due to wildfires. What can I do to prepare myself?

I don't have any breathing problems. I lived in Seattle for a good while previously and never had any issues, but this past season seems like it was particularly bad and I'm unsure if that is going to be a more common occurrence.

I'm guessing a mask would be one thing, so I'd appreciate specific recommendations there. I'm also concerned about my cat. I know most Seattle apartments don't have A/C (and I never felt the need when I lived there), but would that help? I heard people had a particularly hard time with choosing between bad air and being uncomfortably hot. Is the climate changing enough that Seattle's no longer comfortable without it?

Any other suggestions for how to deal with the combination of low air quality and heat for me and my kitty would be much appreciated.
posted by Cogito to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah masks help. There is a rating. During the fires they are everywhere.
And a home hepa filter.
posted by k8t at 7:22 PM on November 1, 2018

I live in the SF Bay Area and felt like I was dying during the bad wildfires last summer. I remember waking up one night as I clawed the N95 mask off my face while struggling up from a nightmare of being suffocated by someone. So, I would not suggest relying on masks.

Since then we've bought a Dyson air filter and have been very pleased with it. My recommendation would be to get a good HEPA air filter; do your best to seal windows, vents, and gaps to the outside; and use masks if you must be outdoors when the air quality is bad.
posted by Lexica at 7:46 PM on November 1, 2018

The one thing that helped me most was regular sinus rinses, after a recommendation by a doctor. I used the squeeze bottle system instead of a neti pot, but it seems to be up to individual preference.
posted by umber vowel at 7:57 PM on November 1, 2018

Sadly, I think that living comfortably above ground in Seattle summers now requires access to air conditioning, and wildfire smoke is part of the reason.
posted by oxisos at 8:18 PM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

You’ll want one or more of these box fan HEPA filters. In my experience they work better than expensive air purifiers.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:24 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Wirecutter has a detailed guide to home air purifiers (they don't discuss the DIY box fan approach, which is certainly cheaper)
posted by zachlipton at 8:41 PM on November 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've been in Seattle (and King County) almost 15 years. You are not imagining things, the last two summers have been bad. We replaced our furnace last spring and while we were at it, we added A/C and a better filter system. It felt like an extremely luxurious decision, but it was SO WORTH IT when the heat and smoke hit. No more monkeying around with window units and box fans. Parents, autistic child, wild child toddler, and asthmatic cat were all very comfortable. I have a lot of environmental guilt about the A/C but maybe someday I can afford a house that's built for these hotter summers. Since you are in an apartment get the best portable A/C and air filters you can comfortably afford.
posted by stowaway at 9:21 PM on November 1, 2018

I’ve lived in Seattle since 2009. I bought my first AC last summer and have used it on a pretty regular basis in the summer ever since. (I also started working from home so afternoon heat was an issue)

I was so glad to have it for air filtering too last summer! The truth is, you don’t know how much it will affect you. Some of my friends basically stayed inside for two weeks. My 75 year old parents, one of whom has asthma, were visiting during the worst of it and they were going for hour long walks every day and wondering what the big deal was!
posted by lunasol at 11:09 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

At my house, we battened down the hatches, put the furnace on 'fan only' and gave it a brand new Merv 12 media filter. Air quality inside was substantially better than outside. While outside, I wore an N95 mask on the worst days. My house stays pretty cool, so without AC it was hot but bearable. Get the mask ahead of time, because when it's smoky they might sell out. I got mine from an anonymous hero who had bought a giant box and was handing them out for free at Westlake Center.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:41 AM on November 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

> Is the climate changing enough that Seattle's no longer comfortable without it?

My house is about 15 years old and well insulated, and I don't need AC. There are maybe three days a summer when I wish I had it, but it isn't worth the money it would cost to get it installed; I haven't even bothered with an window unit, although I might do that some day. If you live in a leaky, sunny apartment, you might wish you had AC. If you live in a shady, insulated building, you'll be fine without it.

I was out of town for the worst few days of it this year, but in previous years (which were not as bad as this year) we just went about our lives. I kept the windows closed and the furnace fan running, and we didn't exercise outside. None of us in my household have lung issues; I'm prone to headaches, and had bad ones on days when the air was especially orange. My cats seemed fine.

Everyone I know obsessively checked the AirVisual app this summer.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:16 PM on November 7, 2018

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