How-To: Stay Healthy During Fire Season

Katie Ackerly, AIA, LEED AP, CPHC
Illustration of apartment features for fire-season safety
Image Credit
David Baker Architects

For many people who live in apartment buildings, the heating, cooling and ventilation systems that serve to provide a comfortable and healthy environment are often opaque and confusing. We’ve all been there: it’s hard to know why a heater isn’t working as you expected or where fresh air is really coming from, if anywhere.

The increase in wildfire events, heat waves and power outages in recent years turns this reality from a commonplace nuisance into a health risk. Air conditioning is still relatively uncommon in many Bay Area and coastal locations. Ventilation systems with decent filtration or recirculation are even less common across the state for apartment buildings of all vintages. In fact, many buildings completed between the 2013 and 2019 energy code cycles actively increase the supply of outside air without measures to mitigate hazardous air events. The “out of sight out of mind” norm around these systems is no longer acceptable. We have an opportunity to shift the norm toward empowering people to understand and gain more control over the environmental quality in their homes, where it matters most.

As with many things, populations served by affordable and supportive housing, including low-income families, seniors, and residents with disabilities, are especially poised to benefit from better information. In 2018, The Commonwealth Fund reported that low-income populations are 15 percent more likely to have health concerns than those in a higher income bracket—in part due to inadequate living conditions or access to services.

To help the people who run the types of affordable multifamily housing buildings that manage high-quality housing for high-risk residents, David Baker Architects and the Association for Energy Affordability hosted a virtual roundtable in 2020 with non-profit housing partners to understand what resources would be useful.

In response, we have created a simple info sheet to help property managers inform and empower residents to mitigate the health impacts of climate-related hazards in their homes. Various versions are available, representing the most common systems in existing and recently completed affordable apartment buildings.

Download your version from the list below. Remember to check to make sure the diagram matches what residents would find familiar. If you can’t find one that’s just right, just contact us!


Mini-split Heat Pump / Central Ventilation (pdf)

Mini-split Heat Pump / In-Unit Supply & Exhaust (ERV / HRV) Vent MERV 8 (pdf)

Mini-split Heat Pump / In-Unit Vent MERV 13 (pdf)

Mini-split Heat Pump / Exhaust + Fresh 100 (pdf)

Mini-split Heat Pump / Exhaust + Z-Duct (pdf)


Packaged Heat Pump (PTAC)-Window / Central Vent (pdf)

PTAC-Window / In-Unit Vent MERV 8 (pdf)

PTAC-Window / In-Unit Vent MERV 13 (pdf)

PTAC-Window / Exhaust + Fresh 100 (pdf)

PTAC-Window / Exhaust + Z-Duct (pdf)


PTAC-Wall / Central Vent (pdf)

PTAC-Wall / In-Unit Vent 8 (pdf)

PTAC-Wall / In-Unit Vent 13 (pdf)

PTAC-Wall / Exhaust + Fresh 100 (pdf)

PTAC-Wall / Exhaust + Z-Duct (pdf)


Heater only / Central Vent (pdf)

Heater only / In-Unit Vent 8 (pdf)

Heater only / In-Unit Vent 13 (pdf)

Heater only / Exhaust + Fresh 100 (pdf)

Heater only / Exhaust + Z-Duct (pdf)

*hydronic baseboard
*electric baseboard
*gas wall heater
*electric wall heater