Should you stop burning wood in your fireplace?

For many years, burning wood in a fireplace was the one of the only ways to heat a house. Sitting by a wood fire seems cozy and may stir memories in many of us. In recent years though, wood has been shown to have detrimental effects on health and the environment.

Health hazards

When you burn wood in a stove or a fireplace, some of the particles emitted from the chimney inevitably re-enter your home. The particles are so slight that closing doors and windows does not stop them from coming into your home. Fine particle pollution inside your house reach at least fifty to seventy percent of the outdoor levels. Wood smoke is quite similar to cigarette smoke. Both types of smoke are carcinogenic. Wood smoke contains not only particulate matter, but also carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and nitrogen oxides that can cause permanent damage to the lungs. Smoke from a wood-burning fireplace also interferes with normal lung development in children and places children at higher risk of bronchitis and pneumonia.

Other health-related risks of burning wood in your fireplace:

  • Exposure to wood smoke damages the protective layer of cells in the lungs that cleanse the airways.
  • Depressed immune system is possible.
  • Can cause coughs, headaches, eye, and throat irritation in healthy people.
  • Brief exposures are not safe for people with asthma, COPD, or cardiovascular disease.
  • The nose and respiratory system are unable to filter out the tiny particles found in wood smoke.
  • The carcinogenic chemicals stick to the tiny particles in the smoke, then those particles go deep into the lungs.
  • The chemicals in the lungs increase risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • For people with heart disease, the tiny particles can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and other cardiovascular symptoms.
  • Wood smoke particulate matter is similar in toxicity and DNA impact as vehicle exhaust particles.
  • Infants and toddlers who live around wood fireplaces are more likely to get ear infections.
  • Wood smoke can be more of a threat to people in the surrounding area than those sitting directly by the fire.
  • Some ultrafine particles can pass into the bloodstream!

Tips for your health if you decide to burn wood in your fireplace

  1. Maintain & clean – If your fireplace is efficient and has a good updraft, the people sitting by the fire are not exposed to the particles and risks of the wood smoke.
  2. Burn only dry, seasoned wood. (Seasoned wood – split and stacked in an open area, exposed to sun and wind for between six and twelve months)
  3. Start the fire with dry newspaper or kindling.
  4. Seal the leaks in walls and floors to reduce the re-entry of smoke.
  5. Use HEPA air filters
  6. Never burn household waste

Environmental impact of burning wood

Wood burning is the single biggest source of hazardous particle pollution during the winter months. Wood smoke pollution creates more particle pollution than vehicles and industry. Wood smoke is one of the most significant sources of toxins. Air quality is negatively impacted by wood smoke from fireplaces.


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