Before you start throwing cords of wood into your wood stove, you should ask yourself this important question: are wood burning stoves bad for your health?

As a classic fixture in older homes, the wood burning stove is finding its way into the modern, tightly weather-proofed American home for a variety of reasons. These reasons range from the economic to the artistic, with some owners installing it for cheap heat production and others because they want to enhance designer flair while some are intrigued by the combination of functionality and aesthetics.

It turns out, the ideal place to get cozy with a fire may not be so ideal for your health. Why might wood burning stoves be bad for your health?

• First, burning wood causes smoke, and since your home is an enclosed space, some amount of wood smoke may remain there for a while. Even if there are plenty of openings such as a chimney for the smoke to escape, not all will easily pass, and this is where the problem begins.

• Wood-smoke contains microscopic bits known as particulate matter. Particulate matter can easily be inhaled into the lungs or even find their way into the heart. The effects of particulate matter on the lungs and heart have been largely ignored until relatively recently. In the last decade or so, researchers have discovered that these tiny specks can cause the lungs to develop scars and the arteries in the heart to harden.

• Another harmful substance found in wood smoke is carbon monoxide. This substance is a colorless and odourless gas that, in large amounts, can be fatal. It is even more dangerous when concentrated in enclosed spaces such as the inside of a tightly sealed home.

Besides the health concerns, homes are also at risk of being burned to the ground. How? First, wood burning stoves that are poorly maintained and frequently checked run the risk of explosive combustion and starting a fire. Also, unchecked leaks in a chimney or exhaust pipe may allow the escape of combustible exhaust into the surrounding area. Second, continuing to burn wood in a stove, insert or fireplace can result in the build-up of creosote in the chimney. Creosote is a gummy and foul-smelling substance that can be easily ignited and burns at almost 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It is a result of incomplete combustion of wood gasses. The accumulation of creosote is certainly dangerous since it easily ignites and can turn into an uncontrollable chimney or flue fire.

With all these potential disadvantages, homeowners with stoves, inserts and fireplaces are encouraged to take a few simple precautions to protect themselves and their families. Measures include:

1. Checking, maintaining and cleaning the wood stove regularly,

2. Burning only the recommended wood which is properly seasoned,

3. Avoiding short, small fires (which encourage the formation of creosote) followed by long, intense and very hot fires,

4. Making sure the wood-stove is certified by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Safety precautions that must be seriously considered are:
1) installing carbon monoxide detectors,
2) installing and maintaining fire extinguishers,
3) purchasing “chimney fire flares” which quickly snuff a chimney fire.

Are wood burning stoves bad for your health? If you do not clean it and maintain it. The manufacturer’s installation instructions were not followed. If you persist in burning green wood while making short-term, low temperature fires. Definitely; any wood appliance is a risk of “life and limb” when simple precautions and maintenance are not followed! Enjoy a warm and cozy atmosphere with your loved ones. The best place to begin is to research customer and professional reviews of wood burning stoves. Safety first and take the necessary precautions, then the wood stove becomes a very pleasurable feature of your home.

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