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EPA Tips to Help Reduce Health Concerns and Improve Efficiency When Using Wood Heaters

Release Date: 02/05/2014
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

(Boston, Mass. – Feb. 5, 2014) – With a very cold winter in full swing in New England, many people seek to reduce their heating costs by turning to wood as a cost-saving, renewable source of energy. However, both indoor and outdoor wood heaters may be inefficient and emit more pollutants into the air than heat sources that burn oil or natural gas. By following some wood-burning tips, people can help ensure that wood is burned safely and efficiently, protecting your family’s health and lowering the risk of a chimney fire.

Smoke from residential wood heaters can increase air pollution from soot (also known as fine particle pollution) and toxic pollutants to levels that pose serious health concerns. Particle pollution is linked to a range of serious health effects, including heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks. In some areas of New England, especially in valleys, residential wood smoke significantly reduces air quality in winter months.

To reduce exposure to particle pollution from wood stoves and outdoor hydronic heaters (also called outdoor wood boilers), EPA encourages people to take steps to ensure that wood is burned more safely and efficiently, including burning only well-seasoned wood, and never burning household trash, garbage, or demolition debris.

The best step people can take is to replace their old uncertified wood stove with a cleaner home heating appliance, such as an EPA-certified wood stove, or a pellet or gas stove. These stoves use one-third less wood than older stoves while generating the same amount of heat. They also emit 50 to 60 percent less air pollution than older stoves.

Some homes and businesses are heated with hydronic heaters. These heaters are usually located in outdoor sheds and typically burn wood to heat water that is piped to nearby buildings to provide heat, hot water, or both. Hydronic heaters may also be located indoors and may use biomass fuel other than cordwood, such as corn or wood pellets. EPA notes that most hydronic heaters are less efficient than other home heating appliances, and some produce excessive amounts of smoke that can negatively impact nearby residences. EPA currently has a voluntary program that encourages manufacturers to produce cleaner hydronic heaters. Under this program, some manufacturers have made heaters that are about 90 percent cleaner than typical older units.

Because of the large number of wood appliances throughout the country (about 10 million wood stoves and more than 240,000 hydronic heaters), EPA encourages voluntary change out programs to help consumers upgrade their wood-burning appliances to newer, cleaner units. In New England, since 2009, voluntary change out programs have been implemented in southern N.H., Mass., and Vermont.

Beginning about March 2014, households in Bristol, Plymouth and Norfolk Counties in Mass.; Bristol, Newport, Providence, Kent and Washington Counties in R.I.; and New London and Windham Counties in Conn. will be eligible for funds to replace older woodburning appliances through a program administered by the American Lung Association of the Northeast that stems from a settlement between EPA and Dominion Energy for violations of the Clean Air Act at three of the utility’s power plants in Illinois, Indiana, and Massachusetts.

EPA recently proposed updated standards that would make the next generation of wood stoves and heaters an estimated 80 percent cleaner than those manufactured today, resulting in cleaner air and improved public health across the country. The proposed rule would not affect stoves and hydronic heaters currently in homes or those now being sold in stores. EPA is holding a public hearing Feb. 26, 2014 in Boston to get public input on the proposed standards for the amount of air pollution that can be emitted by new woodstoves and hydronic heaters.

More information:

- How to maximize efficiency and protect your family using any wood stove or fireplace (

- Cleaner wood appliances; good burning practices; wood stove change-out programs; and other actions to reduce emissions from wood heaters: (

- EPA’s current and proposed standards for wood heaters (

- Register to speak at Feb. 26 public hearing in Boston ( )

- YouTube Video: Wood smoke and asthma ( )

- YouTube Video: Best practices for chopping and storing wood ( )

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