During winter in the northeast, many people seek to avoid high heating costs by turning to wood as a cost-saving, renewable source of energy. Unfortunately, wood heaters often are inefficient and can emit considerable amounts of pollutants into the air. EPA-certified stoves, however, are cleaner and more efficient than uncertified models. EPA maintains lists of EPA-certified stoves and EPA-qualified wood-fired hydronic heaters (also called outdoor wood boilers) on its Burn Wise website (www.epa.gov/burnwise). Older and less-efficient hydronic heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces can produce excessive amounts of smoke that can negatively affect nearby residences.
Residential wood combustion can emit fine particles and toxic pollutants at levels that can harm your health, particularly if the appliance is operated improperly or if it is an older technology appliance such as the air-tight stoves of the 1980s. Particle pollution is especially a concern because it can cause serious health effects. Exposure to particles can aggravate lung disease, causing asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and may also increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. For people with heart disease, particle pollution has been linked to heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, and stroke.
Regardless of the type of in-home wood heater used, you should not smell smoke inside your home or see smoke coming out of your chimney at times other than during start up. Everyone can take measures to save money and protect their health and the health of their neighbors.
Here are wood-burning tips to follow:
• Upgrade to a cleaner burning appliance, (e.g. an EPA-certified wood stove or wood pellet appliance.
• Split wood, and season it outdoors, exposed to the air, for at least six months before burning it.
• Wood burns best when the moisture content is less than 20%. Inexpensive meters are available for testing moisture content.
• Never burn household garbage, trash, cardboard, plastics or foam.
• Never burn painted or pressure-treated wood, ocean driftwood, plywood or any wood that contains glue such as thin wood paneling, or particleboard. All emit toxic fumes when burned.
• Keep the doors of your wood stove closed unless loading or stoking the fire to avoid releasing harmful chemicals, like carbon monoxide, into your home.
• Start fires with all-natural fire starters, newspaper and dry kindling.
• Do not let a fire smolder – this increases air pollution and does not provide heat.
• Have your heating systems inspected once a year with particular attention to vents and chimneys – don’t just rely on a carbon-monoxide alarm.
• Reduce your overall heating needs and heating bills by caulking around windows, doors, and pipes to seal air gaps; installing weather-stripping doors and windows, as needed; and finally, improving the insulation in your home.
EPA recommends that people replace their old wood stoves with EPA-certified stoves, professionally installed. Although many wood stoves manufactured since 1988 are EPA-certified, heaters such as most pellet stoves were exempt from this requirement. EPA is currently updating standards for residential wood heaters to strengthen emission limits for new stoves, to remove exemptions, and to add other types of wood heaters (e.g., hydronic heaters). The new standards are expected to be phased in over a five-year period beginning in February 2015 and will apply only to new wood heaters. They will not apply to existing wood heaters in use in people’s homes. The proposed standards will reduce particle pollution from new stoves and heaters by 80%, providing health benefits for everyone.
– EPA’s efforts to update clean air standards for wood stoves www2.epa.gov/residential-wood-heaters
– EPA info on cleaner wood burning appliances; good burning practices; wood stove change-out programs; and other actions that EPA, states, and municipalities have taken to reduce emissions from wood heaters www.epa.gov/burnwise.