February 27, 2024

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EPA New England Provides Tips for a Healthier Heating Season

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BOSTON (Nov. 16, 2022) – During the winter, many people seek to avoid high heating costs by turning to wood as a fuel. However, many wood heaters are inefficient and emit more pollutants into the air than heaters that burn oil or natural gas or those that run on electricity such as heat pumps. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is sharing tips for a healthier heating season.

Older or inefficient wood heaters emit fine particles and other pollutants, including carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), black carbon, and air toxics, such as benzene. If you smell smoke in your home or see smoke coming out of your chimney, that’s an indication that the heater is emitting harmful air pollutants. Exposure to fine particle pollution has been linked to asthma attacks, acute bronchitis, an irregular heartbeat, heart attacks, and premature death. People who are more vulnerable to exposure to wood smoke include children, older adults, and those with heart or lung disease, and/or related risk factors such as diabetes or obesity.

Because about 11.5 million homes use wood as a primary or secondary heat source, there are many older, polluting wood appliances throughout the country. EPA encourages wood-stove changeouts and use of energy-efficiency incentives whenever possible. The best wood heaters are EPA-certified and are listed at EPA’s Burn Wise website. This database also includes hydronic heaters (wood-fired indoor and outdoor boilers). However, hydronic heaters are generally less efficient than certified wood stoves or other home-heating devices (e.g., gas heaters, heat pumps) and some produce excessive amounts of smoke that can negatively impact nearby residences.

Here are some tips from EPA for a healthier heating season:

  • Consider pollution levels and health effects, as well as cost, when selecting a heater.
  • Upgrade to an EPA-certified wood stove or a cleaner technology, such as an air-source heat pump (also known as mini-splits).
  • Store your firewood properly for increased heating efficiency and to reduce pollution – cover stacked wood to keep it dry and allow air flow to encourage proper drying.
  • Only burn split, seasoned wood which burns hotter and cleaner.
  • Use a moisture meter to check wood moisture content, which is best at about 20 percent. For an overview on how to properly use a wood moisture meter, checkout EPA’s Test Your Wood Moisture Meter website.
  • Check air quality in your area at the Air Now website and, if possible, avoid burning wood during air quality alert days.
  • Have your heating system inspected annually with particular attention to vents and chimneys.
  • Reduce your heating needs and bills by insulating your home; caulking around windows, doors, and pipes; and adding weather-stripping to doors and windows.

Outdoor fire pits and fireplaces are also popular during the fall and winter. While these fires are a source for cooking, warmth, and recreation, be aware that these are sources of air pollution and can affect the health of your family, neighbors, and community. Please consider local air quality at the Air Now website and avoid outdoor burning air quality alert days.

In addition to replacing older wood heaters with EPA-certified models, EPA encourages use of energy-efficiency incentives whenever possible. Funding assistance or rebates that support renewable energy and energy efficiency in New England, and across the country, are listed at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency website.

For more information visit EPA’s Burn Wise website.

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