How Green is Your Fireplace?

It’s getting chilly everywhere and I was getting ready to burn our first fire in our fireplace tonight. But alas! I am Mrs. Green and just how green is it? Is this sustainability is action? Eco-friendly?  Enter (miraculously) Beth Gorman’s press release from the Department of Environmental Quality. This applies to all of us – wherever you are in the U.S.  You can have a fire AND make a difference so read down to the good news part!  Fires in the fireplace are just one special thing I don’t want to give up but maybe I will have a few less this year AND burn clean wood.

Pima County Environmental Quality

Media Release

Contact: Beth Gorman                                                             For Immediate Release

                        (520)243-7446                                                                                    Date: November 29, 2010

                        (520) 603-0358 (c)                                                                  Page: 1 of 2

Fireplace Use Can Take Your Breath Away

Tucson, Arizona (November 29, 2010) — Cold nights bring more fireplaces and wood stoves into use in our community increasing the amount of smoke in our air. Wood smoke contains hundreds of chemical compounds, including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter. These compounds can cause health problems, especially for children, pregnant women and people with respiratory ailments and heart disease. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-certified woodstoves, fireplace inserts, and natural gas fireplaces emit significantly less air pollution than traditional woodstoves and fireplaces. Pima County Department of Environmental Quality (PDEQ) suggests that those who use traditional fireplaces for recreational purposes (not as the sole source of heat in their homes) voluntarily reduce the number of fires they light to improve air quality in our community.  

“Wood burning is our oldest way of generating heat, but that does not mean it is the best way,” said Beth Gorman, Senior Program Manager at PDEQ. “Every winter I receive calls from community members who cannot walk in their neighborhood due to the affects of wood smoke on their health,” Gorman continued.

Exposure to the pollutants in wood smoke can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, irregular heart beat, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness and can aggravate asthma and other respiratory diseases. The Children’s Health Environmental Coalition cites many studies that show how children living in wood-burning households experience “higher rates of lung inflammation, breathing difficulties, pneumonia, and other respiratory diseases.”

In addition to causing breathing problems, standard wood-burning fireplaces are an inefficient method of heating and can actually remove more heat from a house than they produce.

¨       Cold outside air rushes in through cracks and leaks in the home to replace the heated air that exits up the chimney.

¨       Combustion gases and particles can enter the home from chimneys and flues that are improperly installed or maintained. The pollution from burning wood can affect the quality of indoor, as well as outdoor air. According to the EPA, several of the pollutants emitted from wood burning have demonstrated cancer-causing properties similar to cigarette smoke.

¨       Pollutants from fireplaces and woodstoves with no dedicated outdoor air supply can be “back-drafted” from the chimney into the living space, particularly in well-sealed weatherized homes. 

Those who choose to use fireplaces or woodstoves can follow these tips for healthier burning:

¨       Burn seasoned hardwoods (oak, mesquite, pecan) instead of softwoods (cedar, fir, pine) because hardwoods burn hotter and form less creosote and smoke;

¨       Use wood that has been split and dried for at least six months;

¨       Use smaller pieces of wood. They burn more efficiently so they are a better source of heat;

¨       Make sure there is enough room in the firebox for air to circulate freely around the wood;

¨       Do not use green or wet woods because they smoke and form creosote;

¨       Never burn painted scrap wood or wood treated with preservatives, because they could release     highly toxic pollutants;

¨       Do not burn plastics, charcoal, and colored paper such as comics, because they also produce toxic             pollutants;

-more-

PDEQ — Smoking Chimneys

Page two

 

¨       Go outside and check your chimney frequently.  If you see smoke coming out, you’re wasting       wood by not burning hot enough.  Give the fire more air and check the chimney again;

¨       Watch your smoke.  If it goes into your neighbor’s yard, you are causing a nuisance and should     remedy the situation; and

¨       Avoid burning wood on days when air pollution levels are elevated. Check www.airinfonow.org or            (520) 882-4AIR for hourly air pollution information.

Residents who heat their homes with non-EPA-certified wood-burning fireplaces or woodstoves may consider replacing them with new ones to reduce emissions and improve heating efficiency. According to information from the Hearth Products Association, fireplaces with EPA-certified inserts and EPA-certified woodstoves reduce emissions by 85 percent when compared to traditional fireplaces and woodstoves.  Natural gas fireplaces reduce emissions significantly more.

If possible, save your fireplace or woodstove for special occasions, as opposed to regular use. Fireplace fires are not an efficient way to produce heat and they can be deadly, if not properly supervised. The safest ways to heat your home, and the cleanest for the air, are through solar power or a central heating system.