Just as wildfires pollute the air in summer, wood stoves have a huge effect on air quality and health during the winter months.

Wood smoke contains a complex mixture of gases and microscopic particles which can get into your eyes and respiratory system causing health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose and illnesses like Bronchitis. Particle pollution can trigger asthma attacks and impair lung development in children. For people with heart disease, it can be linked to heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, heart failure and stroke.

While it may not be readily apparent, stoves manufactured before 1990 are inefficient, waste firewood, pollute neighborhood air and create dust. The benefits of a new stove far outweigh the cost and can actually save you money in the long run. The initial investment for a new stove is approximately $1,000-$3,000 before installation. Some local governments and agencies offer incentives for replacement.

Options for more efficient heating with less smoke include gas stoves, pellet stoves or EPA-certified fireplace inserts.

There are significant benefits of a new stove:

  • Saving money. New stoves can be as much as 50% more efficient and can burn 1/3 less wood than older stoves.
  • Increased safety. New stoves decrease creosote buildup which in turn reduces the risk of a home fire.
  • Reducing air pollution.  New stoves can cut air pollution by as much as 70%.
  • Protecting your health. New stoves decrease harmful particles by as much as 70% and help reduce levels of toxic pollutants.

To give you perspective:

  • Changing one old, dirty, inefficient stove is roughly equivalent to taking five old diesel trucks off the road.
  • Twenty old wood stoves can emit more than one ton of fine particle pollution during the winter months.
  • 70% of smoke from chimneys can actually reenter both your home and your neighbor’s home.

If a new stove isn’t an option, there are steps you can take to make your wood burning cleaner and more efficient:

  • Don’t burn wet wood; it creates a lot of smoke and burns inefficiently. The moisture content should be 20% or less. (Inexpensive moisture meters can be found at hardware stores.)
  • Burn dry wood that has been split, stacked, covered and stored for at least 6 months. Softwoods like Douglas fir need six months to dry and hardwoods like oak need at least twelve months.
  • Provide sufficient air to the fire; never let it smolder.

For more information, go to www.epa.gov/burnwise