In with the New Decade, Out with the Old Method of Heating!

As we close off the last decade and enter into the new year, one can’t help but reflect on what changes we can make in our homes and what policies we can support to protect our health and environment to meet our 2020 and 2050 climate goals. Something as simple as switching out your method of heating may make all the difference in your neighborhood’s air quality, as well as combat climate change. This new year, you can resolve to clean the air by phasing out your use of a wood stove or fireplace and committing to cleaner ways to heat or create ambience in your home. 

Many of us love the coziness of a fire and the warmth of a wood stove and don’t realize that smoke from burning wood is harmful to our health, impacting indoor air quality, outdoor air quality, and even our climate. According to the EPA, just 1 hour of burning 10 pounds of wood generates 4,300 times more carcinogenic PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) than 30 cigarettes. When wood burns, it releases greenhouse gases and toxic pollution into the air, including particle pollution, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, dioxins and toxic gases such as formaldehyde, benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, sulfur oxides, acetaldehyde, and acrolein. The black carbon emitted by wood smoke is also a potent climate pollutant.

Emerging data shows combined woodstoves, chimneys emit particulate pollution at levels similar to a wildfire.

 So Then, What Can I do?

 1. Educate yourself on current regulations.

 At least 11 Oregon counties and municipalities restrict wood burning when air quality is bad– with exemptions for families who use wood stoves as their sole source of heat and for low-income families. See below to learn more about areas and days when wood burning is restricted. 

2. Replace or upgrade your wood stove

 For those who use a wood stove as their sole/primary source of heating and cannot afford to phase out their wood stove, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality recently received increased funding from the state legislature to be able to provide some grant funding to local jurisdictions to help individual households change out from wood stoves to cleaner burning systems. Local jurisdictions offering financial aid currently include:

  • Klamath County – $300,000 for “Woodstove smoke reduction through efficient energy systems”
  • Town of Lakeview – $75,000 for “Town of Lakeview Woodsmoke Reduction Program”
  • Harney County (Burns & Hines) – $25,000 for “Woodsmoke Reduction Project”
  • City of Pendleton – $25,000 for “Woodsmoke Reduction Project” 
  • City of Prineville – $25,000 for “Prineville Woodsmoke Reduction Grant”

Grantees are assessed on a needs basis, based on household income and air quality measures. Moreover, the state of Oregon gives financial assistance for residents that meet certain income thresholds to pay for energy and heat.

Other opportunities to receive  upgrade assistance include:

  • Federal Tax Credits– Congress recently extended the $300 tax credit for replacing an older wood stove with one that is that is EPA-certified to be 75% efficient, until December 31, 2020.
  • Washington County, OR– $500,000 is available through the county’s own program offering rebates of $1500-$3500 to upgrade an older wood stove. Some households qualify for a free replacement, depending on income.

3. Minimize the harm from wood burning

 If you have to burn wood, you can minimize the harm and pollutants emitted:

  • Burn as little and as less often as possible.
  • Never burn treated wood, wood that has been painted or stained, particleboard, plywood or other composite wood products. Those wood products have glue and other chemicals that are released into the air once burned.
  • Do not put in other products aside from dry wood, such as cardboard or trash—burning paper products with plastic or ink will also release more toxic chemicals into the air. 
  • Ensure that wood stoves and chimneys are cleaned properly and regularly.  Doing so will prevent soot and particulate matter from amassing, and minimize the air toxics released into your home. 
  • Season wood at least 6 months.
  • Wood burns best at a moisture content of less than 20%. Wood that is too dry or too wet releases more toxic pollutants. Test wood with a wood moisture meter before you burn it.

Together, we can phase out wood burning and move towards a cleaner Oregon. 

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6 Replies to "In with the New Decade, Out with the Old Method of Heating!"

  • Allegra Rainbow
    January 7, 2020 (3:34 pm)

    Just curious, some old family friends of mine have, ever since I’ve known them, lived off the grid. How would you expect them to heat their place? They live in Myrtle creek technically but they are out a small dirt road on 160 acres. They use a generator for the fridge but it would be too costly to heat their house that way.

    • John
      January 7, 2020 (5:47 pm)

      Try rocket mass heaters. Efficient, warm, inexpensive to use, use very little wood, create almost no pollution:
      https://permies.com/f/260/rocket-mass-heaters

    • Oregon Environmental Council
      February 5, 2020 (9:13 pm)

      Hi there- thanks for your comment. There are exemptions in the wood burning ordinances for rural and low-income communities, and OEC supports that. We are just advocating for folks who burn wood as secondary hearing (ie. they have other means to heat their house) or for ambiance to reduce their burning or to burn cleaner. We are also just hoping these educational materials will encourage folks to upgrade to cleaner burning systems and take advantage of the programs out there.

  • Colleen Taylor
    January 9, 2020 (6:16 am)

    What about wood stoves that use pellets. Are these equally harmful to air quality and indoor air quality.

    • Jamie Pang
      February 5, 2020 (9:15 pm)

      Thanks for your question- EPA certified wood stoves and pellet stoves do burn cleaner than traditional, older wood stoves, and pellets do tend to burn cleaner than wood, although they still emit some toxics. In comparison, they affect air quality more than a gas heater or an electric heat pump, but less than burning wood would.

  • Aylan Smitt
    January 17, 2020 (2:00 am)

    Many manufacturer laim that their stoves produce little pollution and all fail in the real world.