February, 2008
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Healthier Homes, Cleaner Environment: Reduce Pollution From Woodburning Stoves


According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Web site, a properly installed, correctly used wood stove does not release smoke into your house. If you smell smoke, that means the health of everyone at home could be affected.

The EPA advises the public as follows:

A properly installed, correctly used EPA-certified wood stove releases significantly less pollution into the environment. A fire that is burning properly produces little or no smoke from the chimney. If you see a lot of smoke coming from a chimney, thats air pollution. It can affect the health of everyone in your neighborhood.

A healthy indoor environment

Breathing smoke is not healthy. Wood smoke contains a mixture of gases and fine particles that can cause burning eyes, runny nose and bronchitis. Fine particles can aggravate heart or respiratory problems, such as asthma, in people of all ages. Even limited exposure to smoke can be harmful to human health, particularly to the health of children, the elderly and those with chronic

To protect your health and that of everyone who shares your home:
  • Use a properly installed, vented EPA-certified wood stove.

  • Have the wood stove cleaned and inspected annually.

  • Use safe, efficient wood-burning practices.

Follow the additional precautions below:

Never burn household garbage or cardboard. Plastics and the colored ink on magazines, boxes and wrappers produce harmful chemicals when burned.

Never burn coated, painted or pressure-treated wood because it releases toxic chemicals when burned.

Never burn ocean driftwood, plywood, particle board or any wood with glue on or in it. They all release toxic chemicals when burned.

Never burn wet, rotted, diseased or moldy wood.Only bring into your home the amount of wood needed for a day to reduce the chance of allergy-causing mold spores circulating indoors.

A clean, healthy outdoor environment

Wood smoke results from incomplete burning. When released outdoors, it becomes air pollution. EPA-certified wood stoves burn wood more completely; therefore, they emit 60 percent to 80 percent less pollution. In some parts of the United States during a typical wood-heating season, wood smoke can account for about 80 percent of the air pollution in a residential area. Visit AIRNow (www.airnow.gov) to see the air quality forecast for your area.

Visit the index section of AIRNow to find state or local air pollution agencies to determine if there are local woodburning restrictions.

Read AIRNow Inversions to learn more about restrictions on wood burning during a temperature inversion.

Wood stove owners can help prevent pollution by following the practical recommendations for buying, installing, operating and maintaining their wood stoves as recommended by the EPA.

The chemical composition of wood smoke

Wood smoke contains harmful chemical substances such as carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), dioxin and inhalable particulate matter (PM). Some of the VOCs are irritating, toxic and/or cancer causing. One of the biggest human health threats from smoke, indoors or outdoors, comes from PM. Wood smoke PM is composed of wood tars, gases, soot and ashes. Toxic air pollutants are a potentially important component of wood smoke. A group of air toxics known as polycyclic organicmatter includes potential carcinogens such as benzo(a)pyrene.

Cleaner alternatives to wood

There are cleaner heating alternatives such as stoves that use vented natural gas or propane, pellet stoves, and oil or gas furnaces. EPA provides information on the relative emissions from several heating alternatives.

Changeout campaigns: How they work

As part of its Wood Stove Changeout Campaign, EPA is working with partners in several locations to provide attractive incentives for wood stove owners to switch to an EPA-certified wood stove. EPA hopes to expand this program over the coming years.

During a wood stove changeout campaign, consumers receive financial incentives (rebates) to replace older stoves with either non-wood burning equipment (for example, vented gas stoves), pellet stoves or EPA-certified wood stoves. Approximately 10 million wood stoves are currently in use in the United States, and 70 to 80 percent of them are older, inefficient, conventional stoves that pollute. Because EPA-certified wood stoves emit approximately 70 percent less pollution than older, conventional wood stoves, a successful changeout campaign will reduce local particulate emissions.

The costs of many local changeout programs, including advertising, are covered by a partnership of government agencies, gas utilities, and wood stove manufacturers, distributors and retailers. In some areas, the rebates to consumers amount to 10 percent to 15 percent of the purchase price of the new stove. If you are an air quality program official, EPA has developed a how-to guide for implementing a wood stove changeout campaign in your area.

EPA has collaborated with our partners to support several Wood Stove Changeout Campaigns since the summer of 2005.

For future campaigns, EPA is likely to target locations in the United States that are designated PM2.5 nonattainment areas, where wood burning contributes to high PM2.5 concentrations locations with Community-Based Air Toxics Programs.

The cost of a new wood stove, including installation, can vary widely depending on the make, model and options for venting to the outdoors. However, a basic model can usually be purchased and installed for approximately $1,000 to $3,000.

Case studies of wood stove changeout campaigns

Summaries of past programs in several communities in California, Washington state and Idaho can be found on the EPA Web site in the Wood Stoves section at www.epa.gov/wood stoves.

Youll also find links to current programs in California, Pennsylvania, Montana and Nevada. Communities from rural to metropolitan are participating.

For instance, in southwest Pennsylvania [greater Pittsburgh], the Southwest Pennsylvania Air Quality Partnership and its partners are encouraging people to voluntarily make the change and have arranged special discounts at participating retailers. Seventy-five new stoves were made available free of charge to low-income households; other households will receive a discount of up to 10 percent on new stoves. Most of southwest Pennsylvania is not meeting the health-based air quality standard for particle pollution and the 40,000 wood stoves in the area contribute to that pollution. The goal is to replace as many wood stoves as possible. The Partnership expected the campaign to include replacement of at least 1,000 wood stoves and fireplace inserts with cleaner-burning equipment between September 29 and October 27, 2005, with more replacements in future years as additional funds became available.

Libby, Montana is not meeting the health based air quality standard for particle pollution. It is unique in that wood smoke is the primary source of its particulate emissions. To help Libby meet the particle pollution standard, Lincoln County, Montana. — in partnership with the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. EPA — has initiated the “Lincoln County Wood Stove Changeout.” As of January 2007, nearly 1,000 of the 1,100 stoves have been replaced, and before and after air monitoring will be conducted to demonstrate the impact of the changeout on air quality.

For additional information on local efforts, visit the pages for Air Quality Program Officials.

More information on changeout campaigns

If you are interested in finding out more about EPAs upcoming changeout campaigns, in particular, how to obtain support for organizing a local changeout program, contact Larry Brockman, Team Leader, Great American Wood Stove Changeout at 919-541-5398 or


Recycle or Donate Your Unwanted Electronics

Its going to take several clicks, but you can find out where to donate or recycle your old computer and other electronic products on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Web site under eCycling (www.epa.gov/ecycling).