There’s nothing like a wood-burning fireplace to add ambience to a room. But the byproducts of burning wood indoors could be harmful to people with asthma or other respiratory sensitivities or could lead to long-term health problems if the fireplace is old or not in top condition. Children under 18, older adults, people with diabetes, heart disease, asthma or other lung diseases are the most vulnerable to the effects of wood smoke, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
But you don’t have to stop burning wood. You can just burn it a little bit smarter. Here are a few tips to help you enjoy the comfort of a fire and safeguard the indoor air quality of your home.
1) Upgrade your fireplace: If you have a masonry-built wood burning fireplace that is drafty and inefficient, consider updating it with an energy efficient fireplace insert. “It is a fairly simple process to transform these fireplaces into energy efficient powerhouses,” says Jeni Forman of Quadra-Fire. “Professional installation can be completed within four to six hours, and it could make your fireplace up to 85 percent more efficient.” The cost of adding an insert, including installation, can be as low as $2,900 for gas and wood-burning units, and $3,200 for pellet-burning inserts.
2) Install a stove: All of the newest wood stoves are certified to strict EPA standards that cut emissions, both inside and outside, by more than 70 percent compared to uncertified stoves. Natural gas and propane-fueled stoves and fireplaces are also some of the cleanest burning fuel options available. Phase 2 certified outdoor wood hydronic heaters, units that burn wood or pellets to provide heat and hot water to homes, are 90 percent cleaner than unqualified models.
3) Switch fuels: Install a fireplace that burns something other than wood.
Biomass: Biomass fuels are derived from renewable and sustainable sources such as wood, pellets, corn, and switch grass that are alternatives to fossil fuels. Some biomass fuels are even considered carbon neutral, or better, utilizing waste products from other industries such as cherry pits and sawdust.
Gas: Natural gas and propane remain two of the cleanest burning fuel options due to very low emissions.
Electric: For decorative purposes, an electric fireplace uses very little energy.
4) Burn Wood Responsibly: Burning household garbage, plastics or any material that has been chemically treated can release toxins into the air, no matter how new or fuel-efficient a product is. Use only the fuel recommended for your product for the cleanest heat.
5) Use a HEPA filter: Recent medical studies indicate that high-efficiency particle filters can remove pollutants from the air in rooms with wood-burning stoves. The studies indicated HEPA filters removed enough airborne particulate matter from the air to have a measurable effect on the health of the home's occupants.
In December 2010, the Residential Energy Efficiency Tax Credit was amended and extended for another year. If you choose to burn wood and want to purchase a new, more efficient wood-burning stove, you may qualify for a federal tax credit.
- Provides $300 for the purchase of a qualified biomass-burning stove between Jan. 1, 2011 and Dec. 31, 2011.
- Any wood- or pellet-burning stove that meets the 75 percent efficiency rating qualifies.
- Professional installation costs are included as long as installation is required for the proper and safe operation of the stove.
Learn more by visiting the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) or EPA's Energy Star's Federal Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency.
For more information, see our Indoor Air Quality Research Center.
(Photo courtesy of Heat & Glo)
Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.