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Wood smoke and the air we breathe


Even though wood is natural, we need to be careful about burning wood. Burning wood can impact the health of your family and others around you.

Wood smoke is unhealthy, even at low levels, because it contains an abundance of chemicals, many of which are toxic and also found in tobacco smoke. Exposure to these chemicals can lead to both short- and long-term health effects. Exposure to wood smoke is especially harmful to family members or neighbors with respiratory problems, such as asthma or cardiovascular disease. Find out more about the health effects of wood smoke.

What you can do

  • Minimize your exposure to smoke. Even an outdoor fire can affect the indoor air quality in your home.
  • Be a good neighbor. Always consider those living around you and the direction of the wind.
  • Never burn wood during air pollution health alerts. Sign up to get alerts.
  • Start every season by cleaning and inspecting all indoor wood-burning appliances and chimneys. Look for air leakage, check for proper drafting, and remove the buildup of creosote. Creosote causes more smoke to enter your home and can catch fire.
  • Burn only dry, seasoned wood.
  • Never burn other materials. Anything other than dry fire wood—green wood, construction waste, paper, plastic, garbage, or yard waste—will create even more smoke and is often very toxic.
  • Use only the most efficient appliances. More efficient, more complete combustion produces less air pollution.
  • Find out more about how to burn cleaner with wood on the American Lung Association's Learn Before You Burn webpage.
  • Learn more at Minnesota's Be Air Aware website.

Cleaner alternatives

Learn about your options before heating with wood. Consider things like your location (city or rural), access to fuel choices, cost, and environmental and health impacts. Natural gas is a cleaner fuel choice than wood in terms of the emissions of fine particles and many other air pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and benzene. Though new EPA-certified wood stoves are cleaner than uncertified stoves or fireplaces, they still produce more than 100 times more harmful fine particle pollution than a gas furnace for the same amount of heat.

New U.S. EPA requirements to curb wood smoke emissions from residential wood heaters. In May of 2015, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency New Source Performance Standards for residential wood heaters went into effect. These will make new heaters cleaner-burning, and will improve air quality in communities where people burn wood for heat. New residential wood-burning manufactured since May or built before then but sold on or after January 1, 2016, will have to meet these new standards. In 2020, newly manufactured furnaces must produce even less emissions to be sold, installed, or distributed.

Local laws

Learn about your local laws. Many Minnesota local governments adopted ordinances addressing solid fuel heating devices (SFHDs) such as outdoor wood furnaces (also known as boilers). Some have adopted ordinances to restrict backyard recreational fires. For example, some cities participating in the Green Step Cities program have passed wood smoke related ordinances: Information about model ordinances on GreenStep Cities .

If wood smoke is perceived by your local government to be a broad or ongoing problem, you may be interested in adopting an ordinance that specifically addresses wood burning.

Model ordinances for solid fuel-fired heating devices (SFHDs)

MPCA developed model ordinances to address solid fuel-fired heating devices such as wood boilers or outdoor furnaces to assist local governments in addressing wood smoke complaints. They were also developed in response to requests from organizations and officials for ordinances that are easier to understand and enforce. Local governments can customize these model nuisance and zoning ordinances to meet your community’s needs. See this information sheet and the two ordinances to learn more about these model ordinances.

Spread the word

Many people are unaware of the health effects of wood smoke. If you feel frustrated by exposure to wood smoke from someone in your area, give your neighbor a chance to be a good neighbor. You may find that your neighbor is not aware that they are affecting your property or your health. Here are some resources for what to do if you are being affected by a neighbor's wood smoke.

Problems and complaints

Additional information

During the summer and fall of 2012 the MPCA and partners surveyed residents of Minnesota to see how much wood they burned. Similar surveys have been done since the 1960s. They are part of a long term effort to monitor trends in wood burning and harvesting of wood in Minnesota forests.

MPCA staff can provide further information about wood smoke emissions, and other technical assistance if needed. Contact Susanne Spitzer at 651-757-2752.

Last modified on November 18, 2015 09:28

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