Clearing the air about woodsmoke

How you burn wood in your wood stove or fireplace impacts air pollution.

Chilly nights around Oregon might inspire people to fire up wood stoves and fireplaces – but keep air quality in mind before striking a match.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has a statewide program to promote cleaner burning wood stoves and fireplaces. The goal is to help people emit less air pollution by burning more efficiently. DEQ doesn’t encourage wood stove and fireplace use because of their impact on air quality, but does offer tips if you choose to have a fire.

  • Check before you burn. Do not use wood stoves or fireplaces when there is an air quality advisory or burn ban in your area. DEQ’s Air Quality Index provides information about air quality around the state.
  • Use seasoned wood that has a moisture content of 20% or less. It takes six months to a year to season wood properly. The best way to check moisture is with a moisture meter, which can be found online or at a hardware store.
  • Don’t burn trash. It is illegal in Oregon to burn trash, including cardboard, treated wood and plastics. These materials may release toxic chemicals and damage your wood stove or fireplace.
  • Build small hot fires rather than large smoldering fires.
  • Be smoke free. Wood stoves and fireplaces should be smoke free when properly installed and used correctly.
  • Check your chimney after starting your fire. If opaque smoke is rising from your chimney it means that your fire is inefficient, creating less heat while polluting the air. More airflow along with drier wood will improve fire efficiency.

Your community may have more rules about the use of wood stoves and fireplaces, so be sure to check local regulations.

DEQ also encourages people around the state to consider cozy alternatives to burning wood. Particularly on days with stagnant air caused by inversions, it is best for everyone’s health to not burn in a wood stove or fireplace.

“You need other heat,” whether that’s an extra sweater, a warm drink or an efficient furnace, said Peter Brewer, nonattainment area coordinator for DEQ. Brewer works with communities that don’t meet federal air quality standards due to wood smoke.

Financial help for replacement

​DEQ has funded city and county programs to help homeowners replace old wood stoves with more efficient sources of heat that cause less pollution. Active programs are available in Washington County, Klamath County and, with the aid of the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency, Oakridge.

Why it matters

​Wintertime woodsmoke is a significant source of air pollution in Oregon, including fine particulates and air toxics that have health effects. So, seemingly small decisions, such as building efficient fires and not dampening down wood stoves overnight, contribute to better air quality in a community, said Travis Knudsen, public affairs manager at the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency in Springfield.

“All those kinds of choices are small, minor things to do, but they can result in quite a bit of reduction of smoke from a fire,” he said.

– Dylan Darling, public affairs specialist

Published by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

DEQ’s mission is to be a leader in restoring, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Oregon’s air, land and water.

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