Improving Air Quality in Your Community
This information will help you gain a better understanding of residential wood burning. The topics below address the following questions:
- What is residential wood burning?
- What kinds of pollutants are emitted from residential wood burning?
- How can I help residential wood burners reduce air pollution?
- What other Web sites related to pollution reduction in residential wood burning are available?
During the winter months, some people rely on wood stoves, fireplaces, or fireplace inserts as the primary heating device to heat a house or room. Others enjoy the warmth and ambience of wood heat and only burn wood occasionally. Wood is a renewable resource with some benefits over non-renewable fossil fuels. However, the smoke created from wood burning can contribute significantly to air pollution and public health problems.
Smoke resulting from improperly burned wood contains many chemical substances that are considered harmful such as hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), fine particle pollution (ash), and volatile organic compounds (VOC).
- HAPs are an important component of wood smoke. A group of HAPs known as polycyclic organic matter includes benzo(a)pyrene, which may cause cancer.
- Particle pollution in smoke can damage lung tissue and lead to serious respiratory problems when breathed in high concentrations. In low concentrations, particle pollution in wood smoke can harm the health of children, the elderly, and those with existing respiratory diseases. EPA has created an extensive Web site related to particle pollution.
For more information on the toxicity of these pollutants, check out information in EPA's Health Effects Notebook and on the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). EPA also has more information available at its Air Toxics Web site. Learn more about air pollution from residential wood burning.
- Make Connections
- Get to know local wood-burning equipment retailers. They know best about the types of equipment available for residential wood burning and the regulations with which the equipment must comply.
- Get to know members of your community who burn wood. They can share their concerns about residential wood burning as well as ideas about how to reduce air pollution from wood burning.
- Keep local media aware of progress by sending them updates. Publicity can reward success and attract more public involvement.
- Make a Plan
- One idea is to form a work group that includes local citizens and wood burning equipment retailers to develop and implement workable pollution reduction plans.
- Locate Resources
- Find state, local, and Tribal contacts.
- Use the resources listed on these Web pages to get help with analysis, technical information, equipment, and funding.
- Inform Your Community
- Hold public workshops to inform people on how to burn wood more efficiently.
- Check out Canada's Burn It Smart program for an effective model.
- Provide Incentives
- Use financial incentives to encourage residents to destroy or trade in their old, uncertified, and inefficient wood stoves.
- Manufacturers, distributors, and retailers may offer cash rebates off the purchase price of a new EPA-certified stove. Contact the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association for more information.
- Check out the Great Stove and Fireplace Changeout Program that EPA helped to administer.
- Learn how consumers can get the most from their investment in wood burning equipment
- Select a stove that is certified clean-burning and tested to EPA standards (i.e., those sold after 1990).
- Make sure it is properly installed and inspected.
- Avoid smoldering fires
- Use only seasoned firewood, split to the right size for your stove or fireplace.
- Reduce your need for fuel: make your home even more energy efficient by weatherizing it to minimize leakage of warm air from your home.
- Reward Communities
- Use media connections to provide coverage for successful efforts. Positive publicity can increase a community's standing in the area and motivate others.
- Visibly display awards or certificates within the community to increase interest.
- Learn about the 2001 Clean AIr Excellence Awards sponsored by Michigan (PDF) (p. 17) (18 pp, 400 KB).
- EPA has developed a Burnwise web site that contains extensive information related to reducing air pollution from residential wood burning.
- Learn how governmental agencies have already helped to reduce wood smoke pollution.
Some examples of established programs include the Olympic Regional Clean Air Agency (ORCAA) , Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District.
- In 1988, the EPA issued a rule to control pollution from new residential wood heaters (e.g., wood stoves), which requires manufacturers to produce wood stoves that meet certain quality assurance requirements, including an emission standard.
- The manufacturer must then affix a permanent label to the wood stove as well as a temporary label that informs the consumer about the stove's emission rate and its heating range (for correctly sizing the wood stove for the home).
- Some government agencies have already taken measures to reduce air pollution from wood burning appliances by:
- Restricting wood burning when local air quality is poor.
- Banning or restricting the installation of wood burning appliances in new construction.
- Issuing air pollution emission standards and establishing certification requirements for wood heaters.
- Sponsoring wood stove change out programs.
- Conducting information and outreach efforts.
- The Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association represents represents residential wood burning equipment retailers.
- The Chimney Safety Institute of America is an educational organization related to residential wood burning safety.
- Check out information from the American Lung Association on residential wood burning.
- The ORCAA has information related to residential wood burning education and enforcement.
- Check out the Wood Burning Handbook: Protecting the Environment and Saving Money (PDF) (14 pp, 911 KB) by the California Air Resources Board.
- A Guide to Residential Wood Heating (PDF) (63 pp, 891 KB) by Natural Resources Canada is a guide on residential wood burning.
- Canada has also created An Introduction to Home Heating with Wood (PDF) (10 pp, 141 KB).