A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Lung health and wood burning stoves: Tips for reducing smoke in your home

two mugs and a blanket in front of a fireplace / wood burning stoves and fireplaces

Wood burning stoves may be an economical option to heat a home. However, some can make the symptoms of asthma or emphysema worse.

Wood burning stoves may be an economical option to heat a home. However, some wood burning stoves can make the symptoms of asthma or emphysema worse.

Wood smoke contains fine particles that can get deep into your lungs. These small particles, which are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, can contain toxic substances including carbon monoxide, benzene, formaldehyde, acrolein and methane.

“Wood burning stoves let off smoke, which can cause certain diseases to get worse,” said Dr. Craig Wolfe, pulmonologist with Marshfield Clinic Health System. “Those that smoke and are exposed to high levels of dust would experience similar issues.”

While there is research that shows smoke can impact health conditions such as asthma or emphysema, research showing the long-term effects is less clear.

For now, Wolfe recommends taking precautions to reduce smoke in your home. This is especially important if you have people with lung disease, children, older adults, and people with cardiovascular disease or diabetes in your home, as they are at greater risk.

Here are things you can do for each type of wood burning option:

In-home wood burning or pellet stoves

If you have an in-home wood burning or pellet stove, you should purchase one manufactured after 1992. These models burn cleaner than older models because they have to meet federal air quality regulations set by the EPA.

These models should be enclosed to reduce the amount of smoke that is released into your home. Even with a closed stove, you may still have to open the door to replace the wood. This can introduce smoke into your home.

Making sure ventilation is adequate for the stove with no debris in the ventilation will ensure the smoke can be removed as quickly as possible. It also is important that the room with the stove is well-ventilated to ensure the smoke goes out the correct way instead of coming back into the room.

Fireplaces

Fireplaces pose the largest risk because they are typically open to your living space. If this is a primary source of heat in your home, respiratory issues can worsen during the winter months.

“Using a fireplace on a daily basis would be the main concern because you are constantly being exposed,” Wolfe said.

Using a fireplace insert would minimize the smoke being released into the room. You should have your fireplace and chimney inspected yearly by a certified inspector.

Most outdoor campfires are safe as long as you do not have severe asthma or emphysema.

Outdoor wood burning stoves

Having an outdoor wood burning stove is the healthiest way to heat your home with wood. Since the wood is burned outside, smoke rarely enters your home.

No matter the type of wood-burning stove, there are some general rules you should follow.

While smoke is the primary concern with wood burning stoves and fireplaces, Wolfe also suggests making sure you burn dry wood that has been split, covered and stored for at least six months. You also should ensure your wood is not moldy.

If you have a history of respiratory issues and are considering getting a wood burning stove or fireplace, talk to your doctor for more information about how to reduce respiratory symptoms.

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