The Impact of Wildfire Smoke on Your Health

Wildfires are a frequent occurrence in summer throughout Canada, but some years can be far more devastating than others. There are some 8,000 wildfires that affect heavily forested areas in the country per year; both drought and dry conditions only increase the risk for potential fire activity, which is more frequent than ever in the summer months.

Alberta has experienced a string of destructive wildfires in recent years. In 2016, there was the Fort McMurray fire which engulfed roughly 590,000 hectares of land before it was deemed to be controlled. 2019 suffered a rough start to summer in Alberta when the Chuckegg Creek Fire started near a town called High Level, forcing thousands of residents to evacuate from their homes.

Wildfire smoke poses a huge and sometimes underestimated threat to the health of everyone in the province due to the large amount of land it can quickly encompass. Both Alberta and British Columbia have suffered some of the worst air quality conditions in recent years than ever thanks to wildfires.


How Wildfire Affects Your Health

While certain individuals are more susceptible to the effects of wildfire smoke than others, the threat is no less universal. Those who suffer from chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma, lung or heart diseases are particularly sensitive, as well as people over sixty-five, smokers, infants or young children and pregnant women. Anyone who is at risk from wildfire smoke should seek medical care if they are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath beyond what is normal;
  • A recurrent cough;
  • Watery or dry eyes;
  • Headaches, either dull or throbbing;
  • Asthma attacks of lung irritation;
  • Weakness, fatigue or inexplicable exhaustion; or
  • Pains or feelings of tightness in the chest.

Those with heart or lung conditions should ensure they have access to the appropriate, necessary care if there is any exposure to smoke. Wildfire smoke is particularly dangerous because it includes both carbon monoxide gasses and particles of building material and burning vegetation, and can cause issues or exacerbate pre-existing conditions when it enters the respiratory system.


Limiting Smoke Exposure

The best way to avoid being affected by wildfire smoke is to limit your exposure to it altogether. Here are a few ways to do so:

  • Stay indoors as much as you can and close doors and windows, especially on days with heavy smoke conditions;
  • Drink plenty of water;
  • Refrain from smoking, wood-burning stoves, candles and other indoor air pollution sources;
  • Do not vacuum indoors during smoke conditions as this can stir up dust;
  • Use effective air-cleaning filters; and
  • If you or a loved one suffers from a health condition that could be worsened by the smoke, consider leaving the area until the threat subsides.

If you need to go anywhere, reduce your exposure to the smoke by sealing your windows in your car and using your air conditioning to circulate the air.


Wildfire Smoke FAQ

What is particulate matter?

­Particulate matter is debris that was burnt by the wildfire which accumulates in smoke. It is what makes wildfire smoke so dangerous. The largest particles, greater than 10 micrometers, tend to aggravate the eyes, nose and throat. Particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers may possibly be inhaled into the lungs and induce symptoms like coughing – or even worsen pre-existing conditions.


What do I do if I’m having a medical emergency due to smoke exposure?

­Call 911 immediately, or go to an emergency room if you can. Medical emergencies from smoke can include severe difficulties breathing or intense chest pain.


How do I know what the air quality is in my community?

Check the Air Quality Health Index for Alberta.


Protecting Your Home from Wildfire Damage

Wildfires expand by using vegetation and wilderness as their fuel source. When they cross into urban communities, manufactured structures become their source of fuel. Protecting your home is essentially about making it so that your home cannot be used as a fire fuel source. Here’s how:

  • Ensure your lawn is kept well-trimmed and you regularly clear it of dead or unhealthy plant debris. Brown tips on grass are a good indicator that a trim is necessary. Dispose of all plant matter as soon as you can and do not let it accumulate.
  • Keep trees maintained by dispatching dead or broken branches. If need be, remove dying or dead trees completely.
  • Make the area around your home fire-free by using non-flammable materials like stones, gravel, rocks and synthetic patio planks. If possible, consider reconstructing your house’s outdoor features with fire-resistant resources.
  • Work with your neighbours to create a “fire-adapted community”, since your home can only ever be as fire-proof as the houses around it.

For additional information regarding current provincial advisories for wildfires and other public health concerns, check Alberta Health Services. They will be able to provide further assistance when it comes to protecting yourself and your loved ones from the effects of wildfire smoke.

10 Foolproof Tips To Save On Home Insurance

Whether you’re an established home buyer or you’re looking to enter the real estate market for the first time, leaving some room in your budget for home insurance is key.

The good news is, our insurance experts have compiled 10 ways that can help you save on your home insurance. Check out the list below, then contact your Sharp Insurance broker to see if you can take advantage of one (or all) of these discounts.

  1. Bundle and Save

Insurance companies want your business, and they want you to consolidate all of your insurance needs in one place, on one policy. The good news is that by bundling your home, tenants or condo insurance with your other insurance needs like your car insurance, you could save up to 20%.

As an added benefit, your insurance becomes simplified with one premium, one renewal date, and in the event of an incident involving your home and car, you only pay one deductible.

  1. Guaranteed 5%

There is lots of choice when it comes to direct writers and insurance brokers in the market today. That’s why at Sharp, we guarantee we can save you money on your insurance. On your next renewal, bring your policy to Sharp and we will beat your current premium price by up to 5% – guaranteed. Some conditions apply. Policy must be within participating markets. To learn more or get a quote, contact us today.

  1. Purchase a newer home or condo

Newer homes, that are roughly ten years or younger, are more likely to have updated roofs, electrical and plumbing – making them less likely to have a claim. Many also come with sprinkler systems or water damage prevention devices. If you’re in a newer property, ask your Sharp Insurance broker if you are eligible for discounts.

  1. Location, location, location!

Another thing insurance companies will look at when determining your premium is the location of your property. They will often ask how many meters or kms to the nearest fire station or fire hydrant. Being near emergency services is more likely to save you money on your home insurance. On the flip side, if you are looking at a property close to the river or areas that are prone to flooding, don’t anticipate saving any money on your premium, as you’re at a higher risk of making a water damage claim.

  1. Give your property a face lift

Whether you’re buying a new home or simply giving your current property some much needed renovations, it’s important to let your broker know. Certain renovations and upgrades can save you money on your home insurance. These include:

  • A new roof – insurance companies love rubber, slate or steel roofs and other more fire and weather resistant materials. They often will come with a discount due to the grade of building material.
  • Water sensors, sump pumps or backwater valves that help protect your property from water damage and can earn you valuable discounts.
  • New electrical – increasing the amp’s to your home
  • Heating – type of furnace or simply having it inspected and cleaned yearly
  • Plumbing systems – type of plumbing, having an automatic shut off.  Did you know you can connect your plumbing system to your monitored alarm to watch in case of an issue?
  1. Annual premiums

Many of the insurance companies we work with will offer discounts if you pay your premium annually in one lump sum, as opposed to paying your premium monthly. You could save up to 4% by paying your premium annually. Talk to your Sharp Insurance broker to determine if this is right for you.

BONUS TIP: Some insurance companies will also offer a discount to homeowners that are mortgage free.

what does home insurance cover

  1. Safety first

By installing devices that protect your home, belongings and loved ones you are not only more prepared in the event of a break-in or fire, but you may qualify for savings on your home insurance.

Houses alarms, sprinkler systems, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers are all great additions to help keep your home happy and safe. Talk to your Sharp Insurance broker about how they could help you save up to 20% on your premium.

  1. Improve your credit score

Your credit score measures your financial health. More than half of Canadian insurance companies utilize your credit score as a way of calculating the likelihood of you making a claim. If you have good credit, you could be rewarded with preferred pricing on your policy.

  1. Claims free is the way to be

If you have made several claims in the past it could show that there are underlying issues with your home, or that you live in an area more likely to result in a claim. The longer you maintain a claims free status, the less risk you present to the insurance company. Many insurance companies will offer discounts on your home insurance when you have been claims free for several years.

  1. Talk to a broker

At Sharp, we’re not like the other guys. Since we’re not owned by an insurance company you know that we are working to find the policy that meets your needs at a great price. Great coverage, a low price, unbiased advice – what more can you ask for? Talk to a Sharp Insurance broker and start your home insurance quote today.

BONUS TIP: By increasing your deductible you can save on your annual premium. Did you know that many companies will let you place a deductible on specific types of losses – like water or wind and hail.  You can choose to increase those deductibles to save money – great thing to do if you are in a higher risk area.