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Winter & Indoor Air Pollution

Indoor air pollution is not always the first thing we think about when we hear the word “pollution”. While outdoor pollution continues to be a forefront issue affecting our health and our environment, indoor air quality is not often discussed in the same context. Especially in New England, many households use woodstoves and fireplaces as primary or supplementary heating sources. Unfortunately, smoke and soot from wood-burning stoves and fireplaces can be a significant source of air pollution both outside and inside the home, negatively impacting your health and the environment.

Smoke from a wood stove is generated by incomplete combustion. When purchasing a wood stove, make sure you are purchasing an EPA-certified, clean-burning model with design features that promote complete combustion to reduce the number of harmful air pollutants released into the air.

Margaret Karagas, the principal investigator here at the New Hampshire Birth Cohort Study, worked with a team of other researchers to learn more about the health effects associated with using wood stoves in fireplaces in the home. To learn more, the team of researchers collected 7-day indoor air samples in 137 homes of pregnant women in Northern New England, using a micro-environmental monitor. They found that homes with wood stoves, particularly those that were older and non-EPA-certified or burning wet wood had higher concentrations of indoor air combustion-related pollutants.

Exposure to air pollution is associated with respiratory disease, and children are particularly vulnerable. As compared to adults, children’s lungs are still developing, and children inhale a larger relative amount of air pollutants because of their smaller body size, higher respiratory minute volume per unit body weight, and higher activity level.

What can you do?

The type of wood and type, age, and condition of the wood stove impact the magnitude and composition of air pollutants. The state of New Hampshire currently has a wood stove changeout program to help provide funding to people who have older wood stoves, which have been shown to burn less effectively and produce poor indoor air quality. Check out this website to learn more: link.

While burning wood can be a more cost-effective way to heat your home it is important to have your wood stove or chimney evaluated by a professional to ensure it meets current standards for effective use. This can also help prevent “backdrafting”. "Backdrafting" occurs when a woodstove puffs smoke into the living space instead of up and out the chimney. It's always a bad sign. Wood smoke should never enter your living space. An inadequate or clogged chimney can cause a backdraft. Like all fuels, wood needs oxygen to burn.


Check out the EPA’s list of best burn practices:

  • Season and dry wood outdoors for at least 6 months before burning it.

  • Start fires with clean newspaper and dry kindling.

  • Burn hot fires.

  • Never burn garbage, plastic, or pressure-treated wood, which can produce harmful chemicals when burned.

  • Learn more about best burn practices.

Have a certified technician inspect and service your appliance annually.

  • Have your chimney annually cleaned by a certified chimney sweep. Nearly 7 percent of home fires are caused by creosote build-up in the chimney.

  • A properly installed and maintained wood-burning appliance burns more efficiently.

  • If you smell smoke in your home, something is wrong. Shut down the appliance and call a certified chimney sweep to inspect the unit.

  • Learn more about correct installation and maintenance.

Keep your home healthy by upgrading to an efficient, EPA-approved wood-burning appliance.

  • Today's wood-burning appliances burn cleaner and produce less smoke inside and outside your home.

  • Efficient wood-burning appliances burn less wood, saving time and money.

  • Learn how to choose the best appliance for your needs.

Remember to check your local air quality forecast before you burn.


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