Climate change remains an abstract concept because many naturally downplay seemingly distant challenges that have not affected their daily lives.

The ongoing Canadian wildfires, however, caused about 70 million people in the northern tier of the U.S. to experience climate change firsthand when they suddenly found themselves under poor air quality alerts that forced them to change their behavior by staying indoors or by wearing a mask to go outside.

This increased awareness regarding the real-world implications of climate change, and the widespread public attention it has commanded worldwide, has created an opening for the fenestration industry to educate its stakeholders about the role a tight building envelope plays in maintaining good indoor air quality.

What Caused the Wildfires

As of mid-July, 900 active fires – 600 classified as out of control – represent Canada’s worst wildfire season ever.

Experts view global warming as the primary cause and agree that Canada’s record high heat and drought have turned forests into a kindling ground for wildfires. Additionally, research shows that for every degree of rise in global average air temperature, the number of lightning strikes – a common ignition source for wildfires – increases by about 12%.

Accordingly, many scientists predict wildfires will increase globally by 50% by 2100.

Health Risks

The threats from wildfire smoke can extend thousands of miles beyond the fires.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the fine particles in wildfire smoke are respiratory irritants, and exposure in high concentrations can cause persistent coughing, phlegm, wheezing and difficulty breathing. These particles can also cause reductions in lung function and pulmonary inflammation, even in healthy people.

A separate report from the EPA says our indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than the air we breathe outdoors. The report also points out that air pollutants can accelerate age-related cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, and other dementias.

Finally, wildfires also contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions that warm our atmosphere. One report estimates that the Canadian wildfires have produced nearly 600 million tons of carbon dioxide.

The Building Envelope

Just as the fires have commanded public attention, this outlook should command the fenestration industry’s attention because it suggests a corresponding growth in demand for healthier structures.

One key area where we can help our stakeholders is educating them about the difference between natural ventilation and infiltration so they can make more sustainable decisions. Many people don’t realize the former is the controlled, intentional flow of air throughout a structure, and the latter is the unintentional, uncontrolled flow of air through cracks and crevices around doors, windows and other openings.

We should also encourage our stakeholders to make their voices heard by voting for those committed to combatting climate change.
The quality of our future depends on what we do today to protect our environment and subsequently ourselves. We have the public’s attention. Let’s deliver our message loud and clear.

1 Comment

  1. We live in the mountains and have 2 run ins with wildfires. IQ AIR hospital grade filters for HVAC + tight windows + interior/exterior membrane = We breathe so much easier. It’s like smoking the moment you open the door outside. Worth it in the end!

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