With temperatures forecast to drop this week, fireplaces and wood stoves will be lit up across our community, sending smoke into the air.
Wood-burning fireplaces can be a pleasant source of warmth and comfort when the air gets crisp, but for some people, fireplace smoke can literally take their breath away.
Wood smoke contains hundreds of chemical compounds and some of them can harm children and teens, as well as people with heart or respiratory disease. Pollutants in wood smoke can cause the eyes, nose and throat to burn with irritation, and cause headache and nausea in some people. In addition, walking in neighborhoods where fireplace smoke is heavy can cause irregular heartbeat, chest pain and shortness of breath in susceptible people. Smoke can make asthma symptoms worse and cause higher rates of lung inflammation and pneumonia in young children in homes where wood-burning fireplaces are used.
Fireplaces aren’t very efficient home heaters. It feels warm close to the fire, but since most homes aren’t perfectly insulated, cold air seeps in under doors and through cracks around windows, while the hot air rises and escapes up the chimney.
If flues are not properly installed and maintained, particles released during wood burning can escape into the home. The Environmental Protection Agency says several of the pollutants emitted by wood burning have demonstrated cancer-causing properties similar to cigarette smoke.
To reduce your risk of harm from using a wood-burning fireplace, follow these tips:
- Have chimney cleaned seasonally to reduce creosote buildup.
- Purchase and maintain smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.
- Burn hardwoods like oak, mesquite and pecan instead of soft woods like cedar, fir or pine. The wood should be split and dried for at least six months.
- Use smaller pieces of wood. They burn more efficiently and are a better source of heat.
- Allow enough room inside the fireplace for air to circulate freely around the wood.
- Never burn plastics, painted wood, or charcoal in a fireplace. They will release toxic materials into the air.
- Check your chimney from the outside. If you see smoke, your fire is not burning hot enough. Give the fire more air, and then check again. Never let the fire smolder.
- Check before you light a fire to see if local air pollution levels are elevated. If they are, avoid using the fireplace on those days, if possible. Get pollution information at www.airinfonow.org or call (520) 882-4347.
- Remember... If you can smell smoke, you are breathing smoke! Learn more at EPA Burnwise.