Clean Wood Burning, In Our Back Yard
Every year around the middle of February, I start dreaming of spring in earnest. But since spring in Maine is more a state of mind than an actual season (for the last two years we’ve had snow right up to the end of April), I have to find my warmth by other means. Finding a patch of sun and curling up in it like a cat is one option I enjoy. Another is layering lots of wooly clothes. When the temperatures linger in the ones and teens and the sun doesn’t come out for days at a time, though, I find myself trying to warm up in the way of my caveman ancestors—I build a fire.
I’m not very good at starting a fire and even worse at remembering to feed it. I also don’t like the smell of wood smoke lingering on my laundry hanging outdoors or back-drafting into the house, so it’s important to me that my fire burns as cleanly as possible. There are several ways I can reduce wood smoke. Take this quiz and see if you know what it takes to minimize smelly (and unhealthy) smoke:
True or false:
1. To get a clean burn be sure to use freshly cut or “green” wood.
2. Store wood outdoors, stacked neatly off the ground with the top covered.
3. Start fires with clean newspaper and dry kindling.
4. To keep your fire cool and the smoke to a minimum, let wood smolder.
5. Let the fire burn down to coals, then rake the coals toward the air inlet (and wood stove door), creating a mound. Do not spread the coals flat.
6. When reloading your stove, add one log at a time.
7. Always burn the biggest fire your stove can handle.
1. False: Season wood outdoors through the hot, dry summer for at least 6 months before burning it. Properly seasoned wood is darker, has cracks in the end grain, and sounds hollow when smacked against another piece of wood.
4. False: Burn hot, bright fires.
6. False: Reload your wood stove by adding at least three pieces of wood each time, on and behind the mound of hot coals. Avoid adding one log at a time.
7. False: Use smaller fires in milder weather.
How’d you score? If you got more than five right, you’re probably using your wood stove as efficiently as possible. If not, take a look at some recommendations for cleaner wood burning at http://www.epa.gov/woodstoves. One of the most important steps you can take to reduce smoke outside and inside your home and use less wood is to replace an old (pre-1990) wood stove with a cleaner-burning EPA-certified stove, and make sure it’s installed properly by a professional. Non-certified stoves emit between 15 and 30 grams per hour compared to two to seven grams of particles per hour emitted by EPA-certified wood stoves. That’s a lot less smoke to stink up the laundry hanging outside—not to mention your lungs.
This column was submitted by Andrea Lani, an Environmental Specialist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Bureau of Air Quality.