Generally wood stoves and fireplaces are not clean from an air emissions perspective; even when the burning devices are EPA approved they are likely to create localized degradation and air quality impact if used in dense residential areas. The smoke resulting from starting a fire from cold, even following best practices, visually supports the conclusion that wood heat is not a clean choice for heating your home. Wood heating stoves and fireplace inserts are also not easily operated, and subject to misoperation even when the intent and knowledge to properly operate exists. Studies suggest that the Poly Organic Material, Particulate Material and partially combusted gases contained in wood smoke cause cancer, as well as irritation to the respiratory system and reduced lung capacity in maturing children. You should take extreme measures to avoid any smoke escape into your home.
Federal law requires EPA approval of any wood stove or fireplace/insert sold after 1988 (indicated on display tag). There are two types of devices: "catalytic" and "non-catalytic". The catalytic wood heaters are generally slightly cleaner, but depending on the manufacturer and model may have higher emissions than many non-catalyst stoves or inserts. The catalyst must be bypassed during fire start up and heat up, and then the flue gas redirected after startup through a honeycomb catalyst. The catalyst may deteoriate or need maintenance if the stove is not operated properly. Catalyst may last as little as two years before needing replacement. The non-catalyst stoves are more durable, but also require attention and skill to start up and attain the high temperatures in the firebox necessary to control emissions. Newer EPA-approved wood burning stoves and inserts are markedly cleaner than old stoves, and produce markedly more heat from the same amount of wood. If you must burn wood the upgrade is a good investment in your health and wood use.
During startup of wood heating devices the emissions are not controlled, and you are more likely to impact neighbors and your own family's health.
All wood burning heaters should be operated and serviced following manufacturer’s recommendations, and the chimney swept on an annual basis. You should obtain a building permit and ensure fire safe installation prior to installing a wood heating device.
Seasoned hardwood burns cleaner than softwoods, and should always be the choice for wood heating your home if you must use wood to heat. Softwoods (pine) should be used when starting the fire. Never use green or wet wood, and never burn treated, painted, glued wood or garbage. They are illegal to burn, result in markedly increased toxic emissions, and can cause maintenance problems including metal cracking and corrosion of the stove or chimney.
Please consider alternative fuels such as wood pellets, propane, and substitute stoves and fireplaces with central systems utilizing geothermal or other heat pumps. There are many alternatives available for any need and circumastance.
Tips on Wood Heating and Air Pollution, Prinatable Brochure (Acrobat)
The following links provide more information and perhaps a differring perspective on wood heating devices.
EPA Certified stove list: http://www.epa.gov/woodstoves/technical.htm
EPA Wood Heat & Your Health: http://www.epa.gov/woodstoves/healtheffects.html
EPA Basic Information: http://www.epa.gov/woodstoves/basic.html