During winter, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette reminds NJ residents that basic safety practices can reduce the impacts of burning wood on air quality in their homes and neighborhoods.
Burning wood in fireplaces, wood stoves, or outdoor wood boilers can help reduce energy costs but also emit small particles and other air pollutants. Common-sense steps, however, can significantly reduce these effects while also safeguarding public health.
Short-term exposure to wood smoke can aggravate lung or heart conditions. Children, teenagers, older adults and people with lung or heart diseases are most susceptible.
“We encourage the public to follow common-sense steps for building fires that provide warmth but limit exposure to air pollutants that can impact others,” said Frank Steitz, Director of the DEP’s Division of Air Quality. “Following these guidelines will go a long way to addressing both health and safety at the same time.”
The DEP recommends these guidelines for burning wood at home:
- Allow wood to season by allowing the wood to sit outdoors for at least six months. Seasoning allows moisture to evaporate from the wood, making it burn more efficiently. Seasoned wood is darker, has cracks in the end grain and sounds hollow when smacked against another piece of wood.
- Use a wood moisture meter to test the moisture content of wood, which burns most efficiently when its moisture content is below 20 percent.
- Build hot fires. A smoldering fire is neither safe nor efficient.
- Remove ashes regularly to ensure proper airflow. Ashes should be placed into a covered, metal container, and stored outdoors on a nonflammable surface.
- Never use a stove or fireplace to burn garbage, cardboard, plastics, wrapping materials, painted materials or pressure-treated wood.
- Do not burn ocean driftwood, plywood, particle board, any wood with glue on or in it, or wood that is wet, rotted, diseased or moldy.
- Use locally cut firewood to decrease the risk of transporting invasive forest pests to your property. Visit www.dontmovefirewood.org to learn more.
- Choose manufactured logs made from 100 percent compressed sawdust. Check your wood stove or fireplace insert operating instructions before using artificial logs as many wax and sawdust logs are made for open hearth fireplaces only.
- Keep anything flammable – including drapes, furniture, newspapers and books – far away from any wood-burning appliance.
- Keep an accessible and recently inspected fire extinguisher nearby.
- Have chimneys cleaned annually by a certified chimney sweep. Nearly 7 percent of home fires are caused by the buildup of creosote in the chimney. These fires can spread extremely rapidly and are often signaled by flames leaping from the chimney or a low rumbling sound reminiscent of a freight train or airplane.
- Keep the doors of a wood-burning appliance closed unless loading or stoking the live fire. Harmful chemicals such as carbon monoxide can be released into your home.
- Consider using an indoor air HEPA filter in the same room as a stove or fireplace. These filters can reduce indoor particle pollution by as much as 60 percent.
- Check the local air quality forecast at www.airnow.gov/ before lighting a fire. If the air quality is unhealthy, please consider other heating methods.
For more information on safe wood burning visit www.nj.gov/dep/baqp/woodburning.html or www.epa.gov/burnwise/.
To learn more about the Division of Air Quality, visit www.nj.gov/dep/daq/