Pollution and Wood Burning Fireplaces
Posted by Norman Fong
It was another Spare the air night in the San Francisco area, where it is illegal to burn wood, pellets, or manufactured fire logs. The Spare the Air winter season runs from November 1, 2011, through February 28, 2012.
An article showing how bad wood smoke pollutes during bad air days in the San Francisco Bay Area was surprising. Pretty shocking that 1/3 of fine particulate matter is from wood smoke.
How harmful is smoke from burning wood?
According to Sparetheair.org, “In the wintertime, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) becomes the pollutant with the greatest impact on air quality. Fine particulates can bypass the body’s natural defenses, penetrating deeply into the lungs and even passing into the bloodstream. Prolonged exposure to the fine particulates in wood smoke has been linked with aggravated asthma, lung and heart disease, and increased mortality rates.”
According to a UCSF professor of environmental science, wood smoke releases a lot of bad chemicals, chemicals not that far away from tobacco smoke and smoke from fossil fuel combustion engines. It is also harmful to your DNA. A Vancouver, Canada study found that children were 32% more likely to get ear infections in the areas polluted with wood smoke. Keep in mind that this is a neighborhood problem with the smoke you emit possibly hurting others located downwind of your area.
Wood burning fireplaces emit many times more pollutions than EPA-certified woodstoves or Pellet stoves. If you need to use one, try to improve your fireplace efficiency. Make sure that any fireplace you use has a good updrafts that doesn’t expose people sitting nearby. Also consider a HEPA air filter to clean the air inside your house.
Still want to start a fire?
Really into burning the fire? Consider Enviro-Log instead of wood for your fireplace. It is made from 100% recycled waxed cardboard boxes. No additional petroleum added. The ash can be used as fertilizer or potting soil.
If it is time to upgrade for the upcoming winter season, keep these figures in mind. You can be green and buy a more efficient stove or fireplace. Take advantage of the Federal Tax Rebate too.
EPA has information on Cleaner Burning Wood Stoves.
Improving Fireplace Efficiency
Fireplaces are known to be inefficient ways of heating a home. Some rate fireplaces as being -15% efficient as they suck more heat out than they create. They can create a convection current that can pull heated air out of the room and up the chimney, causing your regular furnace to work harder. Fireplaces also generate a lot of air pollution.
When a fireplace is not in use, make sure you close the damper and that it is shut tight. Cold air can leak into your home through leaks in a fireplace. Consider adding a Top Sealing Damper on top of your chimney to prevent heat loss. A fireplace glass door will also help prevent heat loss from a fireplace. You can also buy blow up Balloon Draft Eliminators that stick in the chimney and prevent air from leaking out. A $50 Black & Decker Thermal Leak Detector can also help you pinpoint air leaks.
If you want to optimize your fireplace’s energy efficient, consider adding a fireplace insert that will prevent hot air from escaping when you are using your fireplace.
Air Pollution linked to low Birth Weight
If you have a child, think twice about using your fireplace. Mothers who were exposed to pollution from coal power plants, vehicles, and factories had a much higher incidence of low birth weight children. Thirty researchers examined three million births from 14 locations around the world. The study was published in 2013 and appeared in the publication Environmental Health Perspectives.
Seoul, Korea had the worst pollution, while Vancouver, BC had the least pollution.
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