Concerns With Using Wood Furnaces to Heat a home

A wood-burning furnace or stove frequently inspires nostalgic associations with a simpler age. Wood is a natural material and has been the key source of heat in houses for centuries. From a health standpoint, however, the great old days of cutting wood weren’t so good whatsoever. The damaging effects of wood-burning heat on occupants of residences are documented for over 100 decades. Now’s advanced wood-burning technology readily available in EPA-approved units reduces the adverse effects of cutting wood. But many consumers of wood-burning stoves and furnaces made before 1992 haven’t upgraded to these expensive units and are at risk from adverse health effects related to wood.

Indicators Of Exposure

There’s a simple way to tell if you are being exposed to any of these pollutants associated with cutting timber. If you can smell smoke from the house, you are being exposed. Because today’s low-income homes are more air-tight than residences of the past, pollutants from burning wood may accumulate indoors to amounts hundreds of times more concentrated than you would be exposed to outside. Other short-term signs contain allergy symptoms, watery or irritated eyes and respiratory distress. Children, the elderly and persons who have particular sensitivities may be particularly vulnerable.

Home Sweet Home — Not

Wood in traditional heaters doesn’t fully combust. Byproducts of this incomplete combustion enter the house, along with the benign odor of burning wood. The most notable of these is carbon monoxide (CO). This colorless, odorless and tasteless gas is exactly the same deadly fume that comes out of your car’s exhaust pipe, in addition to a part of cigarette smoke. Chronic exposure to low levels of CO may cause headaches, dizziness, chronic fatigue and confusion. Exposure to more acute amounts in an unventilated house can cause death in a few minutes.

Can Your Family Room Pass The Smog Test?

Nitrogen oxides (NOx) are another ingredient of wood smoke. You might be acquainted with these chemicals in case you read the fine print in your California vehicle smog report. NOx is regarded as a toxic emission from automobiles. When combined with precipitation outside, NOx types acid rain. When inhaled into the moist passages of the lungs as a result of long-term exposure to wood-burning heat, it may damage the respiratory system.

Hold Your Breath

Wood smoke also contains a brew of toxic chemical vapors called volatile organic compounds (VOC) absorbed in the environment and concentrated from the wood. You’ll see them on the warning labels of many products, but they are also discharged to your living spaces when wood is combusted. VOCs include benzene and formaldehyde, toxins known to be carcinogenic.

Tiny Toxins

Dust-like particulates from burning wood may be observable coating surfaces within the house. But it is the things you can’t see that’s of more concern. Microscopic particles of condensed wood tar and other toxins as small as 1 micron — easily small enough to slip through the air filters on your HVAC system– stay airborne and are always recirculated on your breathing air. They’re also small enough to infiltrate deep into your lungs and even migrate to your blood, transporting toxins into the body.

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