HARTFORD — With the arrival of frigid temperatures across Connecticut, many residents are turning to wood to heat their homes. But did you know that one old, inefficient wood stove can emit as much air pollution as five dirty, old diesel trucks? The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is urging residents to protect their health and that of their family, friends and neighbors by employing “best burn” practices. Properly burning the correct type of wood limits exposure to wood smoke, which is a hazardous air pollutant.
Wood smoke is a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic matter burn. In addition to particle pollution, wood smoke contains toxic air pollutants, such as: formaldehyde, benzene, acrolein and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Wood smoke can cause severe health impacts and significantly contribute to poor air quality days in many areas across the state.
Exposure to air pollution from wood smoke can cause adverse health effects for everyone, but may especially affect children, teenagers, older adults, people with lung disease (including asthma and COPD), individuals with heart disease, people with obesity or diabetes, outdoor workers, and individuals with limited access to medical care. New or expectant mothers may also want to take precautions and limit their exposure to protect their health and the health of their children. Particle pollution is known to trigger asthma attacks; impair lung development in children; increase symptoms of COPD and cause burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses such as bronchitis. For people with heart disease, particle pollution is linked to heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, heart failure and stroke. Additionally, wood smoke can increase the risk of lung infections, likely including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. According to the CDC, individuals who have or who are recovering from COVID-19 may be at greater risk of adverse effects from exposure to wood smoke due to compromised heart and/or lung function related to COVID-19.
Based on the impacts associated with inhaling unhealthy levels of wood smoke, DEEP recommends residents use these “best burn” tips to reduce wood smoke pollution:
Not all wood is the same. To reduce particle pollution, only burn dry, seasoned wood. Softwoods, such as pine or Douglas fir, need at least six months to dry, and hardwoods, such as oak, need at least a year. Never burn garbage, plastic, tires, or treated lumber because they emit other toxic pollutants in addition to particle pollution.
Don’t burn wet wood. Burning wet wood creates excessive smoke and the wood burns inefficiently, meaning the heat literally goes up in smoke. Buy an inexpensive moisture meter at a hardware store to test the moisture content of your wood and only burn wood if the moisture content is 20% or less.
Newer is cleaner. Old wood stoves are bad polluters and less efficient than newer ones. Newer, EPA-certified wood stoves and fireplace inserts (wood stoves designed to fit into a fireplace), reduce air pollutants by 70% compared to older models. Additionally, EPA-certified wood stoves and fireplace inserts are up to 50% more energy efficient, use one-third less wood for the same heat, and help lessen the risk of fires by reducing creosote build-up in chimneys.
Provide sufficient air to the fire; never let it smolder. A smoldering fire is neither safe nor efficient.
For more information, visit DEEP’s Wood Burning in Connecticut webpage.