climate change

Before and After: Wildfire Haze Blackens Brand New AC Filter

Reif says they normally suggest switching out your AC air filter twice a year. But that rule doesn't apply if we have wildfires

NBC Universal, Inc.

It hasn’t been too long since wildfires covered our county with a dreary haze for more than a week, turning the sky gray and turning sunsets orange and red. But even though the sky's back to blue, you could still be breathing that bad air where you least expect it.

Mike Reif has worked as a service tech with Bill Howe Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning for 20 years.

NBC 7 caught up with him performing a routine tune-up on Wednesday – something he normally does for clients about twice a year.

But this year, a couple of clients have had AC filters that are anything but normal.

Wildfires, like the one earlier this month near Alpine, enveloped our county in a haze for over a week.

At the time, doctors said spending too much time outside, breathing this in for days at a time, could wreak havoc on our health - increasing the likelihood of strokes for the elderly and premature labor, and doubling the odds of newborns developing asthma later in life.

But there could still be a bad air culprit within your own home.

Reif says they normally suggest switching out your AC air filter twice a year. But that rule doesn't apply if we have wildfires.

The impact of a wildfire on a new filter can be dramatic. Reif showed us a filter recently switched out from a home in Santee. The filter had only been in place for two months. Normally, it should last 6-8 months, but instead, it’s loaded with dirt.

Filters side by side
On the left, you see a filter that had only been in place for two months in a home in Santee. On the right, is a brand new filter.

“It can be pretty shocking, again this is not a normal situation,” says Reif.

Reif says if your filter gets this filthy, it is no longer able to filter the air – meaning your lungs become the filter.

“Filters are the most important thing you can do as a homeowner to keep your system safe and also healthy,” says Reif.

So what should you do?

Reif says check your filter, and make a point of checking it quarterly – not biannually.

“Just make sure you get your air filters changed out much more frequently than normal,” says Reif.

He says a standard, disposable 1-inch air filter will work – which you can usually find for $10-12 at your local hardware store. No need to splurge on extra ridges, the regular ones work just fine.

Another good tip, write the date on the filter with a pen before switching it in, that way you will know how long it's been since your last switch.

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