NJDEP – Press Release 22/P002

Contact: Caryn Shinske (609) 984-1795
Lawrence Hajna (609) 984-1795

(22/P002) TRENTON – As New Jersey settles into winter, residents are reminded that basic safety practices can reduce the impacts of wood burning on the air quality in their homes and neighborhoods, announced today the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, Shawn M. LaTourette.

Burning wood in fire pits, wood stoves or outdoor wood boilers can help reduce energy costs, but also emit small particles and other air pollutants. However, common sense measures can significantly reduce these effects while safeguarding public health.

Short-term exposure to wood smoke can make some people’s lung or heart problems worse. Children, adolescents, the elderly, and people with lung conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or heart problems are most susceptible to the effects of wood smoke.

“We encourage the public to follow common sense steps for building fires that provide warmth but limit exposure to air pollutants that can affect others,” said Frank Steitz, director of the Quality Division of the air of the DEP. “Following these guidelines will go a long way to addressing both health and safety.”

Residents who plan to burn wood as their primary means of heating their homes this winter may consider switching to a wood stove or fireplace insert certified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The new equipment will reduce air pollution and is much more energy efficient.

The DEP recommends these guidelines for home wood heating:

  • Let the wood dry out before burning it by letting the wood sit outside for at least six months. Seasoning allows moisture to evaporate from the wood, allowing it to burn more efficiently. Seasoned wood is darker, has cracks in the end grain, and sounds hollow when struck against another piece of wood.
  • Use a wood moisture meter to test the moisture content of wood, which burns more efficiently when its moisture content is below 20%.
  • Stack the wood carefully pictureground and cover it to protect the wood from rain and snow. Store wood to be used around the house a safe distance from fireplaces or stoves.
  • Light fires with newspaper, dry kindling, or all-natural fire starters, or install a natural gas or propane log lighter in an open fire pit. Never light a fire with gasoline, kerosene or charcoal.
  • Build hot fires. A smoldering fire is neither safe nor effective for most appliances.
  • Remove ashes regularly to ensure adequate air circulation. Ashes should be placed in a covered metal container, stored outside on a non-flammable surface.
  • Never use a stove or fireplace to burn trash, cardboard, plastic, packaging materials, painted materials, or pressure-treated wood.
  • Do not burn driftwood, plywood, particle board, glue-covered wood, or wet, rotten, diseased, or moldy wood.
  • Use locally cut firewood to reduce the risk of carrying invasive forest pests onto your property. For more details visit www.dontmovefirewood.org.
  • Choose logs made from 100% compressed sawdust. Check your wood stove or insert’s user instructions before using artificial logs, as many wax and sawdust logs are designed for open fireplaces only.
  • Keep anything flammable – including curtains, furniture, newspapers and books – away from any wood-burning appliance.
  • Keep an accessible and recently inspected fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Have the chimneys swept annually by a certified chimney sweep. Nearly 7% of house fires are caused by the accumulation of creosote in the chimney. These fires can spread extremely quickly and are often signaled by flames shooting from the chimney or a dull roar reminiscent of a freight train or airplane.
  • Keep the doors of a wood-burning appliance closed unless loading or fueling the actual fire. Harmful chemicals such as carbon monoxide can be released into your home.
  • Consider using a HEPA indoor air filter in the same room as a stove or fireplace. These filters can reduce indoor particulate pollution by up to 60%.
  • Check local air quality forecasts at www.airnow.gov/ before lighting a fire. If the air quality is unhealthy, please consider other heating methods.

Residents should be aware that state regulations and some municipal ordinances prohibit the emission of visible smoke from outdoor wood-burning boilers.

Wood-fired boilers heat a fluid that is circulated through homes and buildings for heating purposes. Under national regulations, these boilers can only emit visible smoke for three minutes every 30 minutes.

For more information on safe wood burning, visit www.nj.gov/dep/baqp/woodburning.html or www.epa.gov/burnwise/.

To learn more about the Air Quality Division, visit www.nj.gov/dep/daq/

Follow Commissioner LaTourette on Twitter and Instagram @shawnlatur. Follow DEP on Twitter @NewJerseyDEP, Facebook @newjerseydep, Instagram @nj.dep and LinkedIn @newjerseydep.
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PHOTOS/Top: DEP. Bottom: EPA Burn Wise website