Making My Fireplace Asthma-Friendly

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Oh, we’re not done with the fireplace/Christmas/Asthma Girl question just yet. If I’m going to recreate my internal debate about woodburning fireplaces here where you can read it, I guess I’d better also include information about lessening the particle pollution from your wood fire (and mine), should you find yourself in the same position.

Here’s the thing. Burning wood requires 2 kinds of precaution–one to avoid triggering your child’s asthma with indoor particulate pollution and the other one for ensuring your community’s good air quality.

For Cleaner Air Inside Your Home

1. Always burn dry, seasoned wood. Damp wood creates more smoke and does not burn efficiently.

2. Always clean out the ashes from your old fire before you build a new one.

3. Keep the fireplace doors shut. Using just the screens lets more heat in your house, but it also lets in more particle pollution.

4. Keep the flue in good working order and make sure your chimney is clean. Just don’t clean it yourself, please. Call a professional.

To Lower the Impact of Your Fireplace on the Environment

1. Never use a woodburning fireplace as your main heat source. It’s just not efficient enough. Most environmental sites suggest using woodburning fireplaces only on special occasions.

2. If you want to have wood fires more often than that, look into EPA certified fireplace inserts that help your fireplace burn better and pollute less. What they do is convert your fireplace into a heat source that mimics the cleaner, more efficient EPA certified woodstoves.

OR

3. If you’re building or renovating a home, choose a natural gas or propane fireplace.

Really, neither solution is perfect. In option 2, a woodburning fire is still a woodburning fire, filter or no. And natural gas and propane may burn cleaner and produce fewer airborne particles, but they still come from dirty fossil fuels (propane is a petroleum derivative). Choosing a fireplace that burns non-renewable fuel over one that pollutes more feels counter-intuitive to me, like trading one evil for another, although there’s no question that option 3 is the better choice for asthma.

Know what I’d really like to see research on? The impact of burning environmentally friendly wood alternatives like the Java Log in an EPA certified fireplace or woodstove. That might be interesting. Unfortunately, I doubt many people–including me–could afford the logs at $3.29 a pop.

**Information taken from
The EPA
The Chimney Safety Institute of America
The Sierra Club
City of Palo Alto website.
New York Times Java Log article (pdf)