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The Fireplace and Indoor Air Quality

Posted on December 05, 2013
by Wendy Stackhouse
Emissions Chart
Image via EPA

When we first moved to Southern California, we were surprised to find that most homes and even apartments had working fireplaces. We hadn’t had one in the much colder climate from which we came. We were thrilled to have the option to experience the beauty and coziness of having a fire in the living room on a cold evening. But should we have been?

According to The Grist:

“Wood smoke emits all kinds of nasties [PDF], including benzene and formaldehyde, but the primary culprit is particulate matter (PM2.5), a mix of tiny particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs when inhaled and wreak all kinds of havoc. The stuff is linked to respiratory illness, chronic lung problems, cancer, and premature death…”

But am I in danger just from having a fire in the fireplace once or twice a week?

Probably not, but there are ways of minimizing the pollution, especially particles, that your fireplace adds to your indoor environment:

Use only dry wood. Very dry. Wood that looks dry can still be as much as 50% water and wet wood makes more pollution. 20% water is your target.

Use aged wood. Wood should have been cut at least a year ago before you burn it in your fireplace or wood stove.

Keep the damper fully open. You might think you are getting more heat into the house if you “dampen” the fire, but not that much heat actually gets into the house from a fireplace. Most of it is going up the chimney. If you keep the damper partially closed, what you are getting in the house is more pollution.

Avoid burning on bad air quality days. Keep track of the air quality in your area and decline to burn in the fireplace if you are adding to an already bad situation. The air in your house carrying enough of a pollution load as it is.

Use manufactured logs. Man-made logs can produce as much as 70% less air pollution than wood. According to, “For fireplace burning, these manufactured logs are a good, environmentally friendly alternative to conventional cut firewood.”

It’s a cold week in Southern California and if I were home, I would have a fire in the fireplace. Maybe I’m lucky I’m not, but it will be nice to have one over the weekend when I have time to put my feet up and have some tea!



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