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EPA Tips for a Clean and Healthy Wood Burning Season in New England

02/23/2018

The groundhog has come and gone, but New Englanders know that cold seasonal weather will continue for several weeks. Many of us try to reduce high heating costs by burning wood, a cost-saving and renewable source of energy.

Despite the positive effect on our pocketbooks and the aesthetic enjoyment of having a fire in the hearth, there are some less desirable trade-offs associated with using fireplace inserts, wood stoves, or outdoor boilers (also called hydronic heaters). Older wood heaters generally are more inefficient and emit more pollutants into the air than EPA-certified wood heaters or sources that burn oil or natural gas. By following some wood-burning tips, you can help ensure that wood is burned safely and efficiently while protecting the health of your family and neighbors and lowering the risk of a chimney fire.

Wood smoke is made up of a mixture of fine particles and toxic gases that can harm your health. Fine particle pollution isn't healthy to breathe indoors or out, especially for children, older adults and those with heart disease, lung disease or asthma. Exposure to wood smoke increases susceptibility to respiratory infections and, in people with heart disease, has been linked to heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, and stroke.

EPA has tips for New England homeowners who heat their homes with wood heaters:

  • If you have an older wood heater, consider upgrading to an EPA-certified heater (wood or pellet stove, fireplace insert, or hydronic heater) or gas heater.
  • Split and season softwood outdoors for at least 6 months and hardwood for 12 months before burning it. To ensure efficient burning, keep your firewood dry, ideally in a wood shed.
  • Never burn painted or pressure-treated wood, ocean driftwood, wood that contains glue (e.g., plywood), household garbage, trash, cardboard, plastics or foam. All of these products emit toxic fumes when burned.
  • Have a certified professional service your wood heater or fireplace annually.
  • Start fires only with newspaper and dry kindling.
  • Do not let a fire smolder.
  • Make sure your house has adequate insulation and weather stripping to reduce your heating needs.

By using a newer EPA-certified wood heater, and following the tips above, you can ensure that your home is efficiently heated and that you have taken steps to reduce the risk of exposing your family and neighbors to harmful air pollution.

More information:

EPA information about cleaner wood appliances; good burning practices; and other actions that EPA, states and municipalities have taken to reduce emissions from wood heaters: www.epa.gov/burnwise

EPA shares useful research about air pollution and heart health on our Healthy Heart Web page: www.epa.gov/air-research/healthy-heart-toolkit-and-research

By:          Alexandra Dunn, Regional Administrator
                U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, New England Region