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Wood smoke pollution - a serious and growing problem in many Canadian communities

See my 2011 blog post to obtain my updated opinions on the problem with wood smoke.. The following was originally posted in the mid-1990's and is for the historical record only. The post will appear there on July 3, 2011.

Please note: This article is written by me (with the assistance of my wife) as an informed and concerned citizen, this is not my area of scientific specialization, although I have read considerable scientific literature on this topic..

More and more neighbourhoods in Canada suffer from pollution due to wood-burning fireplaces or stoves. Normally people burning wood are not aware of the negative impact. They may even think they are being environmentally conscious by burning wood.

However, wood is far from benign; the particulates and other components of wood smoke generally cause more harm than emissions from other heating sources, especially with certain types of installations and if the wood is not very dry hardwood.

The following references provide lots of information about this topic:

As the references indicate, wood burning may cause more pollution in a city than vehicles. Even one family burning wood in a neighbourhood can cause health symptoms for people downwind. You may know someone who has mentioned that their eyes water or their throat stings when they go out for a walk or run on a winter?s night. This may be caused by improper wood burning. Some of the pollution is undoubtedly making its way inside homes as well.

In addition to the pollution problem, wood burning fireplaces and stoves vent a large amount of warm air from inside your home. If you are using one to try to reduce your heating bill, you may find that it doesn't have the desired effect.

If you decide to continue burning wood, please consider the following:

  • Do you only burn very dry (old) hardwood? ? It is best if wood has been split and left to dry under a shelter for an entire year.

  • Do you make sure your fireplace or stove burns at the right temperature and with the right ventilation to reduce harmful emissions? (see the above references for details about this)

  • Is smoke carried up and away by a tall chimney?

  • Have you considered replacing your fireplace with a natural-gas insert that looks like a fireplace? (These give the ambiance of a wood fireplace, without sucking warm air out of the home)

  • Have you walked around your community from time to time while you are burning your wood to ensure you cannot smell your fireplace or stove? Have you asked your neighbours down-wind whether your wood smoke ever bothers them?

Please note that improper wood burning may also cause fires. In Sandy Hill, where we used to live, a family started burning freshly delivered wood one fall. A few months later they had a chimney fire caused by the creosote buildup.

While enjoying the warmth of our fireplaces this winter, let?s all make the best decisions for our safety and the health of our community.

Last update to this page: Wednesday, 29-Jun-2011 14:22:10 EDT