Holidays Tips: Wood Burning Fires, Limiting Air Pollution & Healthy Lungs

thanksgiving snowEarly snowfall across many parts of the United States is making Thanksgiving look a lot more like Christmas! Many of our children (and many of us) are already racing outside to play in the snow. When we come back inside, hot chocolate by the wood stove or fireplace is often where memories are made and family stories shared.

Something to think about and talk to the kids in your life: how, where, when and what we burn for heat, cooking or simply enjoyment, can make a significant difference regarding local air pollution and global climate change.

We are therefore thrilled to bring you some important tips from our friends at Clean Air Partners. Share these tips with your family and friends this holiday season.

Clean Air Partners’ Guide to Staying Warm While Being Kind to Your Lungs

woodburningstoveGet Ready: Start the holiday season by choosing an EPA-approved wood burning stove or fireplace insert feature with improved safety and efficiency reduces the amount of toxins released. They produce almost no smoke, minimal ash, and require less firewood. Cleaner wood-burning stoves can reduce your fuel bill in addition to protecting your health. EPA-certified stoves produce only 2 to 7 grams of smoke per hour, as compared to older uncertified stoves that release 15 to 30 grams of smoke per hour.

Know your Wood: Burn only dry, well-seasoned wood that has been split properly. Season wood outdoors through the summer for at least 6 months before burning it. Properly seasoned wood is darker, has cracks in the end grain, and sounds hollow when smacked against another piece of wood. Wood burns best when the moisture content is less than 20 percent. You can purchase a wood moisture meter to test the moisture content of your wood before you burn it. Store wood outdoors, stacked neatly off the ground with the top covered.

Avoid Wax and Sawdust: Do not use logs made from wax and sawdust in your wood stove or fireplace insert – they are made for open hearth fireplaces. If you use manufactured logs, choose those made from 100 percent compressed sawdust.

Start it Right: Start fires with newspaper, dry kindling and all natural or organic fire starters. Never start a fire with gasoline, kerosene, or charcoal starter.

Get it Hot: Build hot fires. For most appliances, a smoldering fire is not a safe or efficient fire.

Maintain Proper Airflow and close off the Chemicals: By removing ashes from your appliance and storing outdoors in a covered metal container you can maintain proper airflow. Keep the doors of your wood-burning appliance closed unless loading or stoking the live fire. Harmful chemicals, like carbon monoxide, can be released into your home.

Know What Not to Burn: Never burn garbage, leaves, cardboard, plastics, magazines, boxes, wrappers, driftwood, plywood, particle board, wood with glue, or wet, rotted, diseased or moldy wood. Never burn coated, painted, or pressure-treated wood because it releases toxic chemicals when burned.

Don’t Set the House on Fire: Keep all flammable household items—drapes, furniture, newspapers, and books—far away from the appliance.

Do Your Housekeeping: Replace your air/furnace filter every month during the heating season to maintain the safe and efficient operation of your heating equipment. Use the Low or Warm settings on your water heater – never turning it above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This will improve efficiency and prevent scalding accidents. Caulk, weather-strip and insulate openings where you think air may infiltrate your home. The most common places where air escapes include doors, attics, windows, plumbing penetrations and electrical outlets.

IMG_3864Stay Informed: Do not use fire pits on poor air quality days. Remember to check the Clean Air Partners air quality forecast before you burn.

For most of us in North America, fire pits, wood burning stoves, and fireplaces are not our main or only daily source for heat or cooking. Yet, according to our friends at The Global Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves:

“Nearly three billion people around the world burn coal or solid biomass (including wood, charcoal, agricultural waste, and animal dung) in open fires or inefficient stoves for daily cooking and heating.”

“In addition to the health burden from smoke inhalation, burning solid fuels releases emissions of some of the most important contributors to global climate change: carbon dioxide, methane and other ozone producing gases such as carbon monoxide, as well as short-lived but very efficient sunlight-absorbing particles like black carbon and brown carbon. Unsustainable wood harvesting also contributes to deforestation, reducing carbon uptake by forests.
Residential solid fuel burning accounts for 25% of global black carbon emissions, about 84% of which is from households in developing countries.”

So, while we give thanks this holiday season and remind our kids about safety and smart tips for keeping warm, consider also what we can do to help the billions of people around the world who could benefit immediately from access to solar lights and clean cookstoves. Not only can we help make their air quality better and more healthy, but by helping people thousands of miles away clean up their air, we can directly help slow down a real and dangerous contributor to climate change, black carbon. So in addition to learning more from our friends at Clean Air Partners, check out what our friends at the Global Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves, and SolarAid, also have to say about combating climate change and promoting cleaner air.


Climate Mama

Photo Credit Wood Burning Stove: Wikimedia

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