With all of the media concerning cleaning up the air with regard to wood stove smoke and the Bay Area Air Quality Management Districts “winter spare the air days” floating around I wanted to shed a little light on the differences in wood burning. Not all wood burning is the same, the “winter spare the air nights”, which end Feb 28th by the way, and all of the BAAQMD information tell you that no matter what you burn all wood burning is the same and that is why they simply don’t want you to use anything on those nights.
The simple fact is that today’s clean burning EPA Certified wood stoves produce extremely small amounts of particulate matter when they operate. Open burning fireplaces and older non EPA certified units are gross polluters, the particulate matter that they expel into the air is sometimes 100 times greater than an EPA certified unit. ONE just ONE open burning fireplace, of which there are probably thousands in Santa Rosa alone, when in operation puts out 75-100 grams an hour of particulate matter into the air. A new EPA certified unit gives off on average 3 grams per hour with some units under 1 gram per hour.
Think about it this way, most people don’t use their open fireplace for heat and don’t use them that often. Lets just take holidays and a few other days and call it 20 times per year and pick an amount of time realistically that you might use the fireplace, lets say 5 hours a day for those 20 days. That would be 100 hours total for a year. Using the low 75 grams per hour number that would be 7500 grams of particulate produces from those 20 fires. Use a clean burning EPA certified unit in that same house to heat the home for the winter and lets see what we get. Typical winter time 4 months of burning. 120 days at on average 10 hours a day for heating purposes equals 1200 hours at an average 3 grams per hour of particulate matter. Do that calculation and what you get is 3600 grams of particulate matter. Same fireplace, same house, one unit burns for 100 total hours and produces twice the particulate matter of the EPA unit used for 1200 hours.
What is happening is because no distinction is being made between clean burning and dirty burning, homeowners who are interested in alternative heating and cleaning up the air are being scared off by the fact that nothing is deemed as GOOD wood burning. The reality is that if everyone in Santa Rosa that had an open burning fireplace or non EPA certified unit burned for those same 20 days that we talked about above the air would be way dirtier than if every single one of them burned a new clean burning EPA certified unit each and every day of the winter.
Bottom line is there is a clear difference between what should burn and what shouldn’t, there is an obvious difference between what puts out pollution and what doesn’t. Clearly all wood burning puts out some level of smoke, and no one is going to try to argue that there is good smoke, I am not going to stick my face above even the cleanest burning chimney and breath deeply, but come on we can’t just group everything together as one. Really on a “winter spare the air night” no one should be able to light a match, matches are wood burning and give off particulate matter.
We have 38 wood burning stoves on our showroom floor is we burned every single one of them for an hour they would produce about 120 grams of particulate matter. If we burn just 2 non EPA unit they would produce 150 grams in that same hour. Put those numbers in homes, 2 homes producing more pollution than an entire neighborhood of 38. If everyone, even the people who don’t currently use their fireplaces installed clean burning units and then started using them daily the air would have less particulate matter than it does now with 10 times the amount of units in use.
Homeowners who make the choice to upgrade to clean burning EPA certified units should be PRAISED non vilified for making a choice to clean up the air. Burning wood the right way in the right appliance will actually clean up the air, FACT. Do not be scared off, wood burning can be and is good for the air that we all breath when done the right way.