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Since wood is cheap fuel, home owners may not consider energy conservation or better
insulation as economical. However, insulation and weatherization go a long way, no
matter what fuel you choose to heat your homes. Check out Energy saver 101 for more resources.
If you do choose to use firewood to heat your home be aware that like any fuel, wood
has its drawbacks, among them possible harmful emissions.
The most important pollutants of burning firewood are particulate matter (PM), soot
or black carbon, potentially carcinogenic compounds. In addition, wood burning generates nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide.
Wood combustion contributes to both indoor and outdoor air pollution. Known as PM2.5, fine particulate matter is smaller than 2.5 micrometers (µm) in size. Its small
size allows the pollutants to penetrate into the deep lungs.
Short-term exposure to small particulate matter leads to coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and irritation in the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, and can have serious health effects in people with asthma, heart disease, or other
underlying health issues.
Long-term exposure can lead to asthma, chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function,
increased cancer risk, reduced immune function, and heart disease, and has adverse
effects on the physical development of young children. 80-90% of the dust from wood
burning has grain size range below 1 µm.
Soot from wood burning is considered to be as harmful to health as soot from diesel
Carbon monoxide combines reversibly with the oxygen-carrying sites on the hemoglobin
molecule with an affinity 200 times greater than that of oxygen. The CO-bound hemoglobin
molecules accumulate as exposure to carbon monoxide continues. Because of this, fewer
hemoglobin particles are available to bind and deliver oxygen, thus causing damage
of organ tissues and resulting in death. At low concentrations, CO causes exhaustion,
chest pains, and nausea, with symptoms mimic other illness.
High concentrations of CO lead to:
Each year carbon monoxide from household appliances, including wood stoves and other
types of heaters, kills roughly 500 people and sends another 15,000 to emergency rooms
in the United States. Among the total unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, the
highest number of deaths occurred in winter months each year.
Get wood-burning appliance resources