Burning wood to heat homes poses potential health risks OLYMPIA - Colder weather prompts many Washington residents to start firing up wood stoves, fireplaces and other wood-burning devices to heat their homes.
If done right, burning wood can be a cheap way to heat your home. But using poor burning habits; wood that has not been dried properly; and old, inefficient devices can lead to burning up more wood - and money. It also produces large amounts of health-damaging wood smoke - one of the most serious air pollution problems in Washington.
Fine particles in smoke are so small they can easily get into your lungs. Once there, they can cause heart and breathing problems, and even death. People with asthma and respiratory illnesses, children and older adults are most at risk.
Health studies show that people who heat their homes with wood have more breathing problems than those who don't. Smoke particles also invade neighboring homes. Research shows that children in wood-burning neighborhoods are more likely to have lung and breathing problems.
A 2009 analysis (http://www.ecy.wa.gov/pubs/0902021.pdf) estimates that fine particles lead to about 1,100 deaths and $190 million in added health-care costs each year in Washington, according to the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology).
Ecology and local clean air agencies team up to help Washingtonians curb wood-smoke pollution. The agencies use burn bans, education and programs that pay part of the cost of new, cleaner-burning home-heating devices.
For example, since 2007 Ecology has provided about $3.6 million in grant money to local clean air agencies for such change-out programs. As a result, the programs helped to replace more than 2,000 old, polluting devices.
How burn bans work
When fine particle pollution reaches unsafe levels, Ecology and local clean air agencies can call county-wide burn bans in their jurisdictions. These bans protect people's health by limiting wood burning in those areas.
Ecology and the clean air agencies use news media and social media to get out information on burn bans. The information also is available online at waburnbans.net (http://waburnbans.net/) Ecology post notices about its burn bans on the agency's website
Last winter, Ecology issued burn bans in Asotin, Chelan, Columbia, Douglas, Ferry, Garfield, Kittitas, Okanogan, Stevens, and Walla Walla counties.
Burn bans are called in stages:
Stage 1 burn bans are called based on weather conditions and rising pollution levels. No burning is allowed in wood-burning fireplaces, uncertified woodstoves or uncertified fireplace inserts, unless it is your only source of heat.
Stage 2 burn bans are called when fine particle pollution levels reach a “trigger value” set by state law. No burning is allowed in any wood-burning fireplace, woodstove or fireplace insert (even certified models), unless it is your only source of heat.
Violating a burn ban could lead to penalties, including fines.
During Stage 1 and Stage 2 burn bans, all outdoor burning also is banned, even in areas where outdoor burning isn't permanently prohibited. The bans include agricultural and forest burning.
Burn dry, clean wood
Wood needs to be stored for at least six months - and better yet, a year - to be dry enough to burn well. Dry wood creates a hotter fire that takes less work and uses wood more efficiently.
Wet or green wood needs more heat to evaporate the higher water content before the wood can burn and give off heat. That means you need to burn nearly twice as much wet wood to generate the kind of heat provided by dry wood. So you spend more money to buy wood, or invest more time and effort to harvest your own.
Here's how can you get the most out of your wood supply:
Split it. The wood will dry best and burn most efficiently if the pieces are 3½ to 6 inches in diameter.
Cover it. Protect the wood from rain and weather. Stack it loosely - in layers of alternating directions - to allow plenty of air circulation. Store it off the ground so air can circulate underneath.
Give it a year. Wood that has been split, dried and stored under cover for at least a year usually burns best.
Burning undried wood - and burning more of it because it's wet or green - produces more smoke than burning dry wood.
Helpful tools you can use
Ecology's Air Quality Program has posted useful information about using wood for home heating (http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/air/indoor_woodsmoke/wood_smoke_page.htm). Here are a few examples of what you can find:
Washington's wood stove and pellet stove standards.
Lists of wood stoves, pellet stoves and fireplaces that meet those standards.
What you can do to reduce wood smoke pollution.
Helpful videos on how to select a wood stove and how to use it correctly.
Opportunity to sign up for e-mail alerts on burn bans.
Source: Washington Department of Ecology
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