Clean Air Partners' Guide to Safe, Healthy Woodburning

Smoke from fireplaces can be a significant source of air pollution, especially during the winter season when cold air temperatures leads to stagnant air movement. Smoke contains fine particles and can lead to unhealthy air quality during the fall and winter months. Fine particles may cause asthma attacks, aggravate lung and heart disease, and may increase the likelihood of respiratory illness. Burning wood can also release carbon monoxide into the home and if not vented properly can rise to dangerous levels.

Clean Air Partners would like to provide residents with easy ways they can stay warm with proper wood burning tips – ones that can help protect their health, while reducing their contribution to air pollution this winter.

  1. Get Ready: Start the fall season by choosing an EPA-approved wood burning stove or fireplace insert feature with improved safety and efficiency reduces the amount of toxins released. They produce almost no smoke, minimal ash, and require less firewood. Cleaner wood-burning stoves can reduce your fuel bill, and EPA-certified stoves produce only two to seven grams of smoke per hour, as compared to older uncertified stoves that release 15 to 30 grams of smoke per hour.

    Wood stoves come in different sizes and can be sized to heat a single room or an entire home. Small stoves are suitable for heating a family room or a seasonal cottage. In larger homes with older central furnaces, you can use a small stove for "zone heating" a specific area of your home (family or living room). This can reduce fuel consumption, conserve energy and save you money while maintaining comfort. Medium stoves are suitable for heating small houses, medium-sized energy-efficient houses, and cottages used in winter. Large stoves are suitable for larger, open plan houses or older, leakier houses in colder climate zones.
  2. Know Your Wood: Burn only dry, well-seasoned wood that has been split properly. Season wood outdoors through the summer for at least six months before burning it. Properly seasoned wood is darker, has cracks in the end grain, and sounds hollow when smacked against another piece of wood. Wood burns best when the moisture content is less than 20 percent. You can purchase a wood moisture meter to test the moisture content of your wood before you burn it. Store wood outdoors, stacked neatly off the ground with the top covered.
  3. Avoid Wax and Sawdust: Do not use logs made from wax and sawdust in your wood stove or fireplace insert – they are made for open hearth fireplaces. If you use manufactured logs, choose those made from 100 percent compressed sawdust.
  4. Start it Right: Start fires with newspaper, dry kindling and all natural or organic fire starters. Never start a fire with gasoline, kerosene, or charcoal starter.
  5. Get it Hot: Build hot fires. For most appliances, a smoldering fire is not a safe or efficient fire.
  6. Maintain Proper Airflow and Remove Ashes: By removing ashes from your appliance(s) and storing them outdoors in a covered metal container, you can maintain proper airflow. Keep the doors of your wood-burning appliance closed unless loading or stoking the live fire. Harmful chemicals, like carbon monoxide, can be released into your home.
  7. Know What Not to Burn: Never burn garbage, leaves, cardboard, plastics, magazines, boxes, wrappers, driftwood, plywood, particle board, wood with glue, or wet, rotted, diseased, moldy, or coated, painted, or pressure-treated wood.
  8. Don't Set the House on Fire: Keep all flammable household items—drapes, furniture, newspapers, and books—far away from the appliance. Install and maintain a smoke alarm, each year in the United States, about 3,000 people lose their lives in residential fires – and mostly from inhalation of smoke and toxic gases, not as a result of burns. Properly installed and maintained smoke alarms in the home are considered one of the best and least expensive means of providing an early warning of a potentially deadly fire.
  9. Install and Maintain a Carbon Monoxide Detector: When wood is not burned completely, the resulting smoke contains a number of chemicals, one of which is carbon monoxide (CO).
  10. Do your housekeeping:
    • Replace your air/furnace filter every month during the heating season to maintain the safe and efficient operation of your heating equipment.
    • Use the Low or Warm settings on your water heater. This will improve efficiency and prevent scalding accidents.
    • Caulk, weather-strip and insulate openings such as doors, attics, windows, plumbing penetrations, and electrical outlets.
  11. Stay Informed: Do not use fire pits on poor air quality days.

Clean Air Partners has engaged nearly 5,000 participants (residents, partners/sponsors, and businesses/organizations) who have committed to take VERY small actions to reduce their impact on the environment and exposure to air pollution during unhealthy air quality days. Clean Air Partners (for 17+ years) has educated about the health risks associated with poor air quality and the impacts everyday actions have on the environment.