Wood can be burned for enjoyment or as a source of heat. When wood is burned, many different chemicals and pollutants are released into your home and outdoor air. Indoor wood burning appliances include: fireplaces, woodstoves, cook stoves, masonry heaters, pellet stoves, furnaces or boilers.
Breathing in wood smoke can affect your health, especially if you are vulnerable. Children, the elderly and those with underlying health issues are most at risk. Good wood burning practices can help keep you and the environment safe and healthy.
Indoor Wood Burning and Air Quality
The smoke from woodstoves and fireplaces contains over 100 pollutants. Even when using dry, seasoned wood (air dried wood that contains less moisture content), burning releases significant amounts of smoke which may remain in your house and just above homes because of short height of chimneys. This can cause odour, nuisance issues and health problems for not only you, but also for those in your surrounding area.
While poor air quality events, happen more often in the summer, emissions from wood burning can contribute to poor air quality even in the winter. Some of the most significant pollutants found in wood smoke include:
- Particulate matter – can cause and/or worsen health problems such as lung irritation and inflammation because it can be drawn in deep into the lungs.
- Polyaromatic hydrocarbons – this group of chemicals are harmful to human health because they are a possible cancer risk and may also cause irritation to skin and the lungs.
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – these chemical compounds can cause respiratory irritation and inflammation. Some VOCs released from wood-burning appliances, such as benzene, may act as cancer causing agents.
- Dioxins – are released in very small amounts when wood is burned. When materials containing chlorine, such as plastic, garbage, wood treated with pentachlorophenol, pesticides, or even bleached paper, is burned, chlorinated dioxins may be produced. Chlorinated dioxins are toxic and may cause cancer, so exposure may increase cancer risks over the long term.
Indoor Wood Burning and Health Impacts
When wood is burned, the smoke that is released contains chemicals and other fine particles that are harmful to your health. Children, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions are more at risk to the effects of wood smoke.
Short term health impacts may include:
- eye, nose and throat irritation
- dizziness and fatigue
- worsening of asthma symptoms
- lung irritation and inflammation
Many wood smoke pollutants have been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as probable or possible human carcinogens (cancer causing chemicals).
Tips for Indoor Wood Burning
Reduce emissions from wood burning by taking the following actions:
- Only burn dry, seasoned wood. Seasoned, dry wood burns quicker and produces more heat. This means that fewer emissions are released which can harm health.
- When purchasing a wood burning appliance or insert, check with the store or your contractor to make sure it is EPA or CSA Approved/Certified.
- EPA certified or CSA approved refers to an approval given to a wood appliance or insert, based on specific emissions standards set out by the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States. A CSA approved stove or insert is the Canadian equivalent to the EPA approval. EPA/CSA certified wood burning appliances are more efficient in burning wood and they also reduce the amount of pollutants released.
- When changing an existing and/or purchasing a new wood burning appliance, consider a different heat source (natural gas, electric, etc.).
- Do not burn wood on poor air quality days.
- Keep an eye on your fire. Watch for excessive smoke, burn according to manufacturer's directions for your appliance, be a good neighbour and try not to impact others.
DO NOT BURN:
- Garbage, plastic, magazines, rubber, cardboard or Styrofoam
- Treated wood (coated with preservatives or paint), plywood or particle board
- Wet, rotted, diseased or moldy wood
For More Information
For information on open air burning, please check with your local municipality.