Thursday, February 28, 2013

Air Time: Wood Smoke and Survival

By Rod Tinnemore, Wood Stove Coordinator, Air Quality Program

Heating homes

Some of the folks who burn wood to heat their homes are barely able to survive financially. I’ve known years in my life like that, so I can relate. For them, burning the wood they can acquire at little or no cost is a necessity, not a luxury. No one wants to have to choose between putting food on their table and keeping warm, especially if there are children in the home.

There are others who may have cleaner heating options yet select to burn wood to reduce their heating bills, to provide additional comfort to family members with medical needs, or simply because they enjoy it. None of these need be a problem IF stove operators burn properly. While I admire thrift, trying to save a dime by heating improperly with wood just doesn’t make sense or cents. I, too, enjoy the extra warmth from wood heat and own a wood stove, but I make sure there is no smoke coming from the stove after start-up.

Regardless of what kind of stove you own or your motives, you can operate your stove to reduce the impact on yourself, your neighbors and the environment. All it takes is preparation and some attention to detail.

Finding solutions

The Air Quality Program of the Washington State Department of Ecology acknowledges this reality and is working hard to find solutions at many levels.
  • We are supporters of innovation, like the National Wood Stove Design Contest, where a staff member is one of the judges. We work with major manufacturers and start-up companies to encourage innovation and help find a pathway toward device certification.

  • We channel grant funds from the Legislature to air agencies conducting wood stove change-out and bounty programs to communities with wood smoke problems.

  • We work closely with EPA to improve that emission standards and test methods for devices that burn wood or pellets.

  • We provide instruction to building inspectors and weatherization staff so they can better understand wood stove issues and needs.
But we can’t solve our wood smoke pollution problems through our efforts alone. It will take all of us, regardless of personal financial resources, to keep the air clean by learning to fuel and operate a wood stove correctly.


You’ll find lots of good information about proper burning on the instructional videos at

If you would like to move to cleaner heating options, contact your local air agency about possible programs in your area.

You’ll find a list of Washington State air agencies online at If you help weatherizing your home to reduce your heating costs, contact Washington’s weatherization program at

Thank you for caring for the air we all share.

1 comment:

CleanAirMeister said...

"A matter of survival?" I hope woodburners' health insurance is paid up, because wood smoke is involved in instigating respiratory and cardiac illness. So as 'a matter of survival,' stay away from wood burning and live longer!