(Last Updated On: March 24, 2023)

Fireplace Smoke and How it Affects Your Indoor Air Quality


becky dotson

By Becky Dotson

12 min read

There aren’t many things cozier than sitting by a wood-burning fireplace on a cold, snowy day or around a campfire on a cool night. But, unfortunately, there’s more than warmth coming from that fire.

Wood-burning fires can put out a lot of smoke. And smoke is more than just a haze in the air. It’s full of particle pollution, some of it so small it can’t be seen with the naked eye. But these particles are small enough to be breathed in, enter your lungs and cause all kinds issues.

fireplace smoke and indoor air quality

How is fireplace smoke harmful?

There’s no denying how warm a wood-burning fireplace can be, but it also produces emissions that are generally considered harmful to our health. Wood-burning can be a significant source of pollutants that enter the space around us and lead to poor air quality. It’s easier for the small particle pollution from smoke to travel into your body, deep into your lungs and even your bloodstream. The immediate result can be burning eyes, a cough or a runny nose.

Over time, consistently breathing in these pollutants can cause serious health issues. In the short-term they can lead to coughing, wheezing or an asthma attack. It can also cause illnesses like bronchitis, pneumonia and other respiratory issues. Over the long-term they can aggravate chronic heart and lung conditions and even trigger heart attacks and lung cancer.


Who does it affect most?

Anyone with a pre-existing cardiovascular or pulmonary condition is more at risk, but it’s important for everyone to limit exposure to wood-burning smoke. Children, whether they have underlying conditions or not, or at a high risk. Their lungs are still developing and their lung growth can be hindered by long-term exposure to smoke. Children also breathe in more air per pound of body mass than adults do, so that means they’re breathing in more pollution than their parents.

But you don’t have to be predisposed to serious conditions to have trouble from burning wood. If you’re prone to allergies, it can tend to cause more chronic issues for you. Asthma sufferers may end up having more attacks, wheezing and shortness of breath.


How can I make my home safe?

Plenty of Americans burn wood for heat, as well as use it for cooking. The EPA estimates there are about 10 million wood stoves currently being used in the U.S. As many as 65 percent of them are older and inefficient. One way to know if your stove is not working properly is being able to smell smoke when you’re burning wood. You shouldn’t smell smoke from a fireplace or stove and if you do, then you need to have it inspected and fixed. Making sure your equipment is in good, working order is important.

As mentioned, many of the stoves and fireplaces in America are older and the older they are, the less efficient they may run. You can start making safer, healthier improvements by changing out the fireplace insert. If yours was made before 1992, it will not burn as clean as it should. Newer models follow more stringent federal air quality regulations and burn cleaner.

If possible, you should consider changing out the entire unit. That can certainly be costly, but the EPA does run change out campaigns periodically where you can get financial incentives to replace your older wood-burning stoves and fireplaces with cleaner methods of heating. And when looking for a new model, make sure the one you choose follows the new, cleaner and more efficient government standards put in place in 2020.

If the cost to change out your heat or cooking source isn’t an option, there are ways to make wood-burning in your home safer and cleaner. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers these suggestions:

  • Don’t use freshly cut wood, burn dry wood instead. Wood that has been split, covered and stored outside for at least six months is considered dry.
  • Have a certified professional inspect and clean your fireplace and chimney every year. Routine maintenance will ensure there are no cracks, gaps, unwanted drafts or dangerous buildup.
  • Install a tight-fighting door on your fireplace instead of using a screen.
  • Make sure the room where the fireplace is located is well-ventilated.
  • Don’t burn plastic, garbage or pressure-treated wood in your fireplace or stove.
  • Start fires with newspaper or small pieces of dry wood.

It’s also worth purchasing an air purifier. Air purifiers can pull the smallest of particles out of the air, helping you and everyone in your home to breathe better. Be sure to choose one with a HEPA filter, which are designed to pull more than 99 percent of the smallest contaminants out of the air. You’ll also want to choose one with an activated carbon filter – they will pull any smoke smell out of the air. Be sure and place the purifier in the room with the fireplace, that way it can be most effective in pulling impurities from any wood-burning residue out of the air.

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