Summer is over and the chilly nights are upon us. You may be getting ready to fire up your wood stove or fireplace as you settle in for the winter. Before you do, however, take a moment to learn about temperature inversions, air quality burn bans, and how to get the most out of your fire while protecting your health.
Poor air quality can result in a burn banDuring the winter, a weather pattern called an inversion can trap stagnant air and unhealthy wood smoke close to the ground.
If air quality reaches unhealthy levels, an air quality burn ban may be called by your local clean air agency, Ecology, or tribes. Check for an air quality burn ban in your area at ecology.wa.gov/burnbans or waburnbans.net.
Air quality burn bans have two stages:
- Stage 1 burn ban
- No use of uncertified wood stoves or fireplaces is allowed.
- No outdoor burning, agricultural, or forest burning is allowed.
- Stage 2 burn ban
- No burning indoors or outdoors is allowed.
Only burn dry, seasoned wood
- Split your wood as soon as you get it.
- Stack your wood so it has airflow.
- Season your wood for at least 6 months.
- Cover your wood to keep it out of rain and snow.
Use the right wood stove for your home
Ecology regulates the types of wood burning devices that can be sold, resold, exchanged, or given away. These devices must meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Washington’s stricter certification standards. Use a stove that is certified in Washington, the right size for your home, and properly installed. Never install, sell, or even give away a non-certified wood stove.
If your stove isn’t certified, you should replace it, or consider switching to a natural gas or electric device. Check with your local clean air agency for grant programs to help offset the costs of replacing a wood stove with a certified model, or switching your heat source altogether.
Health effects from wood smoke
Wood smoke is one of the main sources of air pollution in Washington and can cause health problems for everyone. Wood stoves, fireplaces, and other wood burning devices put out hundreds of times more air pollution than other sources of heat, such as natural gas or electricity. The smoke and soot from burning wood contains fine particles and harmful gases, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and organic compounds. The particles are so small that they lodge deep in your lungs when inhaled and can cause serious health problems, including:
- Burning eyes
- Runny nose
- Respiratory infections
- Asthma attacks
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer
- Irregular heart beat
- Heart attacks and cardiovascular disease
Now that you are prepared, go ahead and make some hot chocolate, break out your fuzzy slippers and have a movie marathon night in front of your nice, safe, warm fire.
By Kim Vaughn / Air Quality