Do you heat your home with a wood-burning stove or furnace? If so, you should be aware of these health risks, and what you can do to help mitigate them.
Ahhh…there’s really nothing like a warm, crackling fire on a cold night! Unfortunately, wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, and furnaces can pose a threat to your health, as described in the article below. While those with asthma or other respiratory disorders are most at risk, exposure to wood smoke has also been linked to lung cancer.
But don’t panic – there are things you can do to minimize your risk. Especially if you rely on a wood-burning stove as your primary heat source on your homestead during the winter, you will want to keep a few cautionary tips in mind.
Here are some of the health risks posed by using a wood-burning stove to heat your home – and a few tips to help reduce your risk:
Wood smoke from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves contain fine particles and gases that can pose a serious health threat to you and your family. The smoke emitted from wood burning contains the following:
- Fine Particles: These particles are so small that several thousand of them could fit on the period at the end of a sentence. They reach the deepest recesses of the lungs and accelerate hardening of the arteries, negatively affecting heart function.
- Nitrogen Dioxide: This odorless gas that can irritate your eyes, nose and throat and cause shortness of breath. In people with asthma, exposure to low levels of NO2 may cause increased bronchial reactivity and make young children more susceptible to respiratory infections. Long-term exposure to high levels of NO2 can lead to chronic bronchitis.
- Carbon Monoxide: This odorless, colorless, poisonous gas interferes with the delivery of oxygen throughout the body and may cause headaches, dizziness and, at higher concentrations, death. Those with cardiac and respiratory disease may be more sensitive to lower levels of this gas.
- Toxic Compounds: These include such compounds as formaldehyde, benzene, methyl chloride and methyl ethyl ketone (a wide range of compounds that usually have no color, taste or smell.) Some cause direct and negative health effects by penetrating deep into the lungs.
- Carbon Dioxide: This greenhouse gas contributes to global climate change.
A Few Suggestions
Whether it is to have a nice romantic evening with a loved one, or to warm those toes after playing in the snow, chances are you will find yourself lighting the fireplace or wood stove this winter. And you CAN go ahead and enjoy doing so. But before you do, here are a few suggestions offered by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey that you should follow:
- Only use an EPA approved fireplace or wood-burning stove.
- Don’t allow those with respiratory conditions such as asthma or allergies to be exposed to a fireplace or wood-stove for too long.
- Make certain there is adequate ventilation to offset any smoke that is emitted (open windows a crack if need be).
- Avoid using a chemical accelerant, like lighter fluid, to ignite the fire.
- Properly maintain your fireplace or wood stove.
- Have your chimney cleaned annually to help prevent fumes from backing into the house.
- Be certain the room is aired out and dust and vacuum the area thoroughly after it has been used.
- Don’t use a fireplace or wood-burning stove as the only source of heat.