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Does Residential Wood Burning Worsen Indoor Air Quality?

Burning wood dramatically reduces indoor and outdoor air quality. How does residential wood burning impact you and your space in particular?

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residential wood burning

Recently, the hashtag #woodburning on Twitter has opened the door to discussions regarding the safety of residential wood burning. Many homeowners are deeply upset by the health and environmental impact wood burning has in their neighborhoods–and rightly so.

During the summer, popular wood-burning practices include bonfires, fire pits, pizza ovens and the like. During the winter, popular wood-burning devices include fireplaces, masonry heaters and hydronic heaters. Year round, wood burning purposes include cooking, heating, as a fuel source or even to burn trash. Unfortunately, these practices are hazardous to all beings, and worsens air quality.

Is Burning Wood Bad For Your Health?

When wood burns, various chemicals are released into the atmosphere, contributing to air pollution.

  • Particulate Matter – Increases the risk of heart attack, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer, among other respiratory conditions. Can lead to premature death. Wood smoke is a significant contributor to PM 2.5 ambient air levels nationwide.
  • Carbon Monoxide – Deprives vital organs of oxygen eventually leading to suffocation.
  • Sulfur Dioxide – Causes inflammation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs.
  • Nitrogen Oxides – Increases susceptibility to respiratory illness and chronic lung disease.
  • Formaldehyde – Causes inflammation of the eyes, nose and throat. Classified as a known carcinogen.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – Causes inflammation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Damages the liver, kidney and central nervous system.

In addition to the aforementioned effects, these pollutants may exacerbate allergies and asthma. They can cause coughing, wheezing, skin irritation, headache, nausea, dizziness, fatigue and even more symptoms. In short, burning wood is extremely harmful for all age groups regardless of pre-existing conditions.

Residential Wood Burning Regulations

In 1988, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for residential wood heaters. These pollution control standards are possible through the Clean Air Act, a federal law that limits air pollution sources. These standards have been amended several times since their establishment. Recent amendments for residential wood burning include regulations for:

  • Newly manufactured pellet stoves, adjustable-rate wood stoves, wood-fired hydronic heaters, wood-burning forced-air furnaces and single burn rate wood stoves now have particulate matter emission limits.

Regulations do not include sources such as:

  • Existing wood stoves and wood-burning heaters
  • New or existing pizza ovens, chimneys, fire pits and outdoor fireplaces
  • New or existing heaters fueled by gas, oil or coal alone

Scientists, IAQ industry experts, doctors and public health experts alike are all calling for stronger wood burning regulations. While larger conversations about wood burning as a fuel source, there is also a focus on oversight for recreational and residential wood burning.

IAQ Solutions for Residential Wood Burning

Whether you burn wood or your neighbors burn wood, it’s important to protect your home’s indoor air quality. Ventilation, purification, filtration and source control are all strategies that will ensure residential wood burning practices do not have as much of an impact on your indoor space. And a healthier home improves your health and the health of those around you.

Upgrade to a balanced, whole-home ventilation system. It is more effective than relying on natural ventilation or spot ventilation for fresh air. The system also provides filtered fresh air, reducing residential wood burning pollutants from circulating in your home. It also ensures a comfortable temperature, without the risk of spreading existing indoor air pollutants.

Consider replacing your current air filter with a higher-efficiency filter, like a MERV 13. This media air filter will catch 70% of smaller particles and 90% of larger particles while maintaining excellent air flow. This will greatly reduce the circulation of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced by residential wood burning.

Another option is to install a whole-home active air purifier to further combat the VOCs produced by wood-burning devices and practices. This air purification system utilizes bipolar ionization to remove the source of pollution, providing you with a breath of fresh air.

Choose Clean Indoor Air

IAQ solutions and control strategies help protect you and your home from sources you cannot personally control. Advocating for greater air quality changes is of course another crucial step in the larger fight for clean air. Choosing to make changes in your own home, such as not burning wood and reducing residential wood smoke exposure is the first step to take.

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