Improving Air Quality in Your Community
This information will help you gain a better understanding of questions homeowners may have about residential wood burning. The sections below provide more information on this topic.
- Why do residents who burn wood need to reduce air pollution?
- What are the health effects of wood smoke pollution?
- How can homeowners reduce wood smoke pollution?
- How can homeowners get the most out of their investment in wood burning equipment?
- How have government agencies already helped to reduce wood smoke pollution?
- During the winter months, some people rely on wood stoves, fireplaces, or fireplace inserts as the primary heating device to heat a house or room. Others enjoy the warmth and ambience of wood heat and only burn wood occasionally.
- The smoke created from wood burning can contribute significantly to air pollution and public health problems such as asthma and other respiratory ailments.
- The Department of Energy has more information about heating with wood.
- Learn more about the need to reduce wood smoke pollution from the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District in California.
Smoke resulting from improperly burned wood contains many chemical substances that are considered harmful such as hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), fine particle pollution (ash), and volatile organic compounds (VOC).
- HAPs are an important component of wood smoke. A group of hazardous air pollutants known as polycyclic organic matter includes benzo(a)pyrene, which may cause cancer.
- Particle pollution in smoke can damage lung tissue and lead to serious respiratory problems when breathed in high concentrations. In low concentrations, particle pollution in wood smoke can harm the health of children, the elderly, and those with existing respiratory diseases. EPA has developed an extensive Web site related to particle pollution.
- Learn more about the potential health impacts of wood smoke pollution from the American Lung Association.
For more information on the toxicity of these pollutants, check out information in EPA's Health Effects Notebook and on the Integrated Risk Information Systems (IRIS). EPA also has more information available at its Air Toxics Web site.
Making changes in wood-burning practices can stop pollutants at the source and increase heating efficiency. By improving these practices, people burning wood can decrease emissions, reduce heating costs, and protect family and public health. Learn more about the health impacts of wood smoke pollution and how those who use wood-burning appliances can reduce these impacts. The Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association has lots of information about how homeowners can heat their homes more cleanly and efficiently.
- Examples of changes in wood-burning practices include:
- Considering Cleaner Fireplace Fuels
- Replace old, dirty wood stoves with cleaner and more efficient heating alternatives such as gas, oil, propane, or electric heat.
- Burn only clean, dry, and seasoned wood that has been split and dried for at least 6 months.
- Burn hardwood rather than softwoods. Hardwoods are denser and burn more slowly and evenly, which produces less smoke. Hardwoods also provide more heat energy.
- Heating More Efficiently
- Replace an old wood stove, fireplace insert, or fireplace with an EPA-certified wood stove or EPA-certified fireplace insert. Certified stoves use about one-third as much wood and circulate more heat into the home instead of out the flue.
- Install a wood pellet stove, which uses compressed wood waste. It uses excess combustion air to make a fire burn hot and clean. These stoves are considered the most efficient stoves available with efficiency ratings exceeding 80%.
- Stop using fireplaces or install an EPA-certified wood-burning fireplace insert. Fireplaces typically lose more heat from the home than they provide.
- Changing Operating Practices
- Never burn garbage, trash, plastics, rubber, petroleum products, paints, solvents, charcoal/coal, or treated woods. Burning these materials can be toxic and extremely harmful to the occupants of the house and neighbors. These toxins can also foul the catalytic combustor and flue. See the Web site on backyard trash burning for more information about the health impacts related to burning trash.
- Burn small, hot fires instead of large, smoldering fires.
- Use small pieces of wood and do not overload the appliance.
- Clean ashes from the stove. Excess ashes can clog a stove's air intake vent, reducing its efficiency.
- Watch the chimney for smoke. Properly burning fires should give off only a wisp of white steam. The darker and thicker the smoke, the more pollutants the fire emits, and the more fuel it wastes.
- Do not burn wood when the outdoor air quality is poor.
- Inspecting and Maintaining
- Have a professional inspect and maintain the wood heater and chimney on an annual basis. These inspections are essential to ensure safe and clean wood burning.
- Have a professional clean the chimney regularly to remove creosote buildup. Clean chimneys reduce the chance of a chimney fire.
- The Chimney Safety Institute of America can help you located a chimney sweep in your area.
- The Hearth Education Foundation promotes the health, safety, and education, of all facets of the hearth, patio, and barbecue industries.
- The National Fireplace Institute is the certification division of the Hearth Education Foundation.
- Considering Cleaner Fireplace Fuels
- Additional Resources
- California's air Resources Board has developed Wood Burning Handbook: Protecting the Environment and Saving Money (PDF), (14 pp, 911 KB) a wood burning handbook that describes how to burn wood and protect the environment.
- The Olympic Region Clean Air Agency has tips on how to reduce wood smoke pollution.
- Natural Resources Canada has released A Guide to Residential Wood Heating (PDF) (63 pp, 891 KB) and An Introduction to Home Heating with Wood (PDF) (10 pp, 141 KB) as a way to educate wood burning appliance users about the best ways to burn wood.
- Select a stove that is certified clean-burning and tested to EPA standards, i.e., those sold after 1992.
- Make sure wood-burning equipment is properly installed, inspected, and maintained.
- Avoid smoldering fires. For example, do not lower the airflow to the stove at night.
- Use only seasoned firewood, split to the right size for the wood stove or fireplace.
- Reduce the need for fuel: make your home more energy efficient by properly weatherizing it.
Some government agencies have already taken measures to reduce air pollution from wood burning appliances by:
- Restricting wood burning when local air quality is poor.
- Banning or restricting the installation of wood burning appliances in new construction.
- Issuing air pollution emission standards and establishing certification requirements for wood heaters.
- Sponsoring wood stove changeout programs.
- Conducting information and outreach efforts.
- Several state local agencies have already conducted successful wood stove changeout campaigns, including Santa Clara, California, Truckee, California, and Lincoln County (Libby), Montana.
- Check out information about the Great Wood Stove Changeout Campaign, Great Lakes States that happened in 2001.
- EPA is currently working with other organizations to conduct the Great Wood Stove Changeout Campaign.