The first nip of fall in the air, the smell of wood smoke as snow falls: wood stoves are a staple of the Montana landscape and way of life. But you don’t want to let this tradition—and in some cases, essential heat source—impact your health. Here’s what you need to consider when heating your home with a wood-burning stove.
When wood burns, it releases fine particles, also known as fine particulate matter or PM2.5. These microscopic particles can cause complications like a runny nose, burning eyes, and even bronchitis. Burning also generates nasty stuff like carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, and hazardous air pollutants, such as benzene and formaldehyde.
When you smell smoke, you’re breathing in those fine particles. However, some gases, like carbon monoxide, are odorless and can be deadly. Fortunately, there are ways to minimize the pollutants released into your home, which you’ll find below.
That depends. Some of the biggest health risks come from those fine particles, and some people are more susceptible than others to the health problems they cause. They can trigger asthma attacks, strokes, and irregular heart rhythms, especially in people who are already prone to these conditions. Young children and older adults, or people who already have respiratory conditions, are also at higher risk.
At-risk individuals should be more aware of the potential health problems associated with wood stoves, but anyone who uses a wood stove for heating should be alert to the smell of smoke indoors. If you do smell smoke, you’re inhaling fine particles, and it could be a sign that something is wrong with your stove that must be addressed for safety.
It might seem like an easy solution to go with a natural gas fireplace instead of wood. But is gas really better for your health? Like wood stoves, gas stoves emit nitrogen dioxide, which also irritates your respiratory system. Gas stoves should be vented to the outside to keep irritants and pollutants out of your home, just like wood-burning stoves.
The American Lung Association does recommend natural gas as an alternative to wood, so this may be an option to consider if you or someone in your household is particularly sensitive to wood burning.
For health and safety, it’s important to have a stove that’s professionally installed, and EPA approved. If your stove was manufactured before 1992, you might qualify for a Montana state tax credit of up to $1000 to change it out for a new one. New, certified stoves burn hotter and cleaner, heating your home with less impact on your health and the environment. They also help your wallet by burning more efficiently, saving you money in the long run.
Another way to go easy on your health when you use a wood stove is to burn only dry, aged hardwood or pellets. These burn hotter and cleaner than other materials, meaning your home stays heated better and fewer particles are released during burning.
Have a professional clean and inspect your unit as part of your annual routine. If you smell smoke inside your house, that’s a sign something is wrong, and you’re inhaling fine particles. Be sure to have the stove serviced immediately before you continue using it.
Whether you have a wood-burning fireplace, a gas heater, or HVAC, it’s important to install a carbon monoxide detector in your home. Just like smoke detectors, they can save lives.
If you have questions about the potential impacts of wood smoke on your health, the doctors at Community Health Partners can help. Contact your nearest CHP clinic today to get connected with one of our health care providers.