To ease pollution and protect health consider alternatives to burning wood for heat

01-28-16-C-1-Consider alternatives to burning wood for heat-large verticalThe bottom line is the California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Air Resources Board would like to see less wood smoke sent into the atmosphere.

In a recent compilation of information, the agency said there are many things to consider when it comes to wood smoke: air pollution, the health effects of smoke, and more.

“Smoke from neighborhood stoves and fireplaces, a common source of both odor and reduced visibility, greatly contributes to the air pollution problems people complain about most,” the California EPA stated. “When you include the health-related problems caused by inhaling smoke pollutants, health costs for individuals and the community can be significant.”

The agency recommends that good neighbors eliminate or limit the amount of wood smoke they produce.

“Most wood heaters, such as woodstoves and fireplaces, release far more air pollution, indoors and out, than heaters using other fuels,” it stated. “In winter, when people heat their homes the most, cold nights with little wind cause smoke and air pollutants to remain stagnate at ground level for long periods.”

In families where individuals suffer from chronic or repeated respiratory problems, like asthma or emphysema, or have heart disease, wood should not be burned at all.

“Those who must burn wood should make sure the stove doesn’t leak and that it is operated correctly,” it stated. “Remember, if you can smell smoke, you are breathing smoke!”

Wood smoke produces carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas, produced in large amounts by burning wood with insufficient air. Carbon monoxide reduces the blood’s ability to supply oxygen to body tissues, and can cause stress on one’s heart and reduce their ability to exercise. Exposure to carbon monoxide can cause long-term health problems, dizziness, confusion, severe headache, unconsciousness and even death. Those most at risk from the poisoning are the unborn child, and people with anemia, heart, circulatory or lung disease.

It also produces oxides of nitrogen, which impairs the respiratory system and its ability to fight infection. It also combines with volatile organic compounds to make ozone and with water vapor to form acid rain or acid fog. Ozone injures the lungs and makes breathing difficult, especially in children and exercising adults.

Toxic pollutants also result from wood smoke. These volatile organic compounds lead to toxic and/or cancer-causing substances.

Interestingly enough, manufactured fireplace logs are not recommended for burning because they produce toxic fumes, including PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).

“Researchers are now studying these and other smoke products to learn more about their effects on human health,” the report stated.

As a result of the way that wood burns, it has been deemed that fireplaces and old wood stoves are “inefficient, expensive heaters,” the EPA said.

Many have experienced the fact that if they sit within six feet of a fire roaring in their fireplace, the rest of the house seems to get colder. That’s because outdoor air leaks in to replace the hot air going up the chimney.

“The key to burning clean and hot is to control the airflow,” noted the EPA. “Most fireplaces waste wood because of unrestricted airflow. A lot of air helps the fire burn fast, but a load of wood will last only one or two hours. Some older fireplaces actually pollute more if you install glass doors on an old fireplace insert that is not a certified clean-burning model. Restricting the air supply causes the fire to smolder and smoke.”

That is why it is recommended that homeowners who wish to continue using their fireplace install a new, certified clean-burning fireplace insert.

Certainly improvements to an older house’s insulation can help improve heat efficiency as well. One should also be sure to caulk around all windows, doors, pipes, and any opening into the house. Weather-strip all door and window openings. Consider upgrading to double-paned glass windows or purchasing  insulated curtains.

The EPA said gas fireplaces are a good choice when remodeling a home and replacing a wood fireplace.

Pellet stoves are also growing in popularity because they are viewed as the “most efficient and least polluting of the new stove designs.” Some Fallbrook homeowners have been raving about their heating efficiency and easy-to-recapture cost.

Whatever the choice to reduce wood smoke, it is important to look at options that have the U.S. EPA label.

For safety purposes, if the fireplace is used, it is important to have it cleaned and inspected once a year, in order to remove built-up creosote.

“Cleaning is essential to ensuring its continued safe and clean-burning operation,” the EPA said. “Creosote can fuel a chimney fire that can burn down a house.”

To read the entire report, visit www.arb.ca.gov/research/indoor/wood_burning_handbook

8 Responses to "To ease pollution and protect health consider alternatives to burning wood for heat"

  1. Keep Wood Fires   January 29, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    Those who burn wood should make sure they are using EPA-certified, efficient,clean burning wood burning appliances!

    Reply
  2. Tom Firth   January 29, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    There is no “clean” way to burn wood. Wood smoke is toxic waste to the neighborhood. Please respect. the health and welfare of the community. Please do not burn!

    Reply
  3. Ellen   January 29, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    “In families where individuals suffer from chronic or repeated respiratory problems, like asthma or emphysema, or have heart disease, wood should not be burned at all.” Unfortunately families, including those with seriously ill members for whom breathing smoke could prove lethal, have no say in whether or not they’ll be forced to breathe woodsmoke if their neighbors burn. The way things stand, your neighbor has the “right” to endanger your health and cause you to have to go to the ER in an ambulance, but you have no right to be protected from unnecessary air pollution from your neighbor’s stove.

    When will we have the right to breathe clean air? There are other ways to heat a home other than polluting with wood, but sick people do not get to choose whether or not they have lungs or hearts that can cope with daily assaults from a neighbor’s wood stove. The ADA was passed years ago in recognition that a disabled minority have a right to safely exist in society. When will we acknowledge that the sick and disabled also have a right to breathe in their own homes and communities? It is past time to ban wood burning.

    Reply
  4. Matthew   January 29, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    “Those who burn wood should make sure they are using EPA-certified, efficient,clean burning wood burning appliances!”

    Using a myth of a “clean burning” wood fire to sell more products, polluting the rest of us out of our homes is evil.
    Wood fires should be banned.

    Reply
  5. Julie Reeder   January 30, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    No problem. Please call our office at 760-723-7319 and we will be happy to help you.

    Reply
  6. Vic Steblin   February 1, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    Wood burners generally don’t care about their smoke since by law they don’t HAVE to care. In their minds wood is cheap if you get it yourself, historical and traditional as if we still are in the cavemen or pioneer days, good exercise, good for the immune system (they say just toughen up or move away). Sure gas isn’t ideal yet it is a lot cleaner than wood …. so if you live in a crowded place that has gas …. use gas.

    Reply
  7. Dave Wade   February 3, 2016 at 9:29 am

    EPA certified wood stoves produce about 90% less pollution than a conventional fireplace. That’s no myth.

    Reply
    • Bill Lewin   May 20, 2016 at 8:31 am

      What a fairy tail that is

      Reply

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