Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Your Heat, Your Health, Your Choice

Decisions you make about how you heat your home make a difference for air quality, your health, and the health of your neighbors. Different fuel choices come with an array of environmental, economic, and health considerations.

 

 Clean Heating Choices

 

If you are considering a wood stove or fireplace insert for your home, or upgrading your old wood stove to something that heats cleaner and more efficiently, take a few minutes to determine which device and fuel choice best fits your needs. The links below provide an overview of some of the various fuel options to help you make the best choice for your family, home or business.

See here for a comparison chart of how much pollution different heating sources emit:

Heating choice comparison chart — annual emissions (PDF)

Natural Gas and Propane

Other than electricity, natural gas and propane are cleanest choices with regard to air quality for home heating. Natural gas and propane also offer many economic, health and convenience benefits for heating your home or business.

Benefits:
  • Adaptable. Fireplaces can be easily adapted to natural gas or propane.
  • Easy to use. Clean, easy fire ignited, extinguished and adjusted with the flick of a switch.
  • Ambience. All the romance of a wood fire – without the smoke.
  • Rebates available. Many utilities offer rebates to offset the cost of making the switch.
  • OK to use during both Stage 1 and Stage 2 Burn Bans.
More on Natural Gas/Propane:

Electric Heat

Electric fireplaces provide the ambience of a wood fire without the smoke and hassle.

Benefits:

  • No pollution
  • Easy to install. Just plug it in.
  • Easy to use: Switch on, switch off.
  • Low operating costs and little maintenance.
  • Portable. Many electric fireplaces can be moved to other rooms or other residences.
  • OK to use during both Stage 1 and Stage 2 Burn Bans.

Oil Heat

Heating with oil is an efficient, air-friendly option.

Benefits:

  • Less polluting than pellet stoves and wood.
  • Economical. Oil heats fast and efficiently, and rates tend to be comparable to natural gas.
  • OK to use during both Stage 1 and Stage 2 burn bans.

For more information, visit Pacific Northwest Oil Heat Council.

Pellet Fuel

Pellet fuel is a biomass product made of renewable substances – typically recycled wood waste. Clean-burning pellet stoves are an efficient and affordable alternative to wood-burning.

Benefits:
  • Economical. For just pennies an hour, pellet stoves deliver cozy, constant heat.
  • Efficient. One pack of pellets provides several hours of steady heat.
  • Cleaner than cut wood. Emits significantly less wood smoke pollution than wood fires.
  • Easy to use. The auger automatically delivers the fuel to provide the heat you want. A battery back-up, available on many units, runs the auger during power outages.
  • OK to use during Stage 1 Burn Bans.

Note: Cannot be used during Stage 2 Burn Bans.

For more information:

Pellet Fuels Institute

Certified Wood Stoves

If you choose to heat with wood, opt for an EPA-certified wood stove or wood-burning fireplace insert. Used properly, they burn about 60 percent cleaner than older uncertified stoves or fireplaces.

Benefits of a certified wood stove:
  • Efficient. Advances in technology mean newer certified stoves deliver more heat more effectively.
  • Affordable. Certified wood stoves come in a range of prices to meet different needs and budgets.
  • About 60 percent cleaner than uncertified wood stoves and fireplaces, when used properly. See Burning Basics for more information.
  • OK to use during Stage 1 Burn Bans.

Note: Certified wood stoves cannot be used during Stage 2 Burn Bans.

To find out whether a stove is EPA-certified, look for a label on the back or on top if you have a fireplace insert.

For more information:
Manufactured Logs

Manufactured logs, typically made of compressed sawdust or other organic matter, provide a cleaner alternative to wood for open-hearth fires.

Benefits:
  • Cleaner than wood. Manufactured logs produce up to 70 percent less air pollution than wood and less creosote buildup in your fireplace. The Agency has conducted emission testing of manufactured logs. For more information on this study, click here.
  • Efficient. One log burns for 2–4 hours, depending on the type you select.
Notes:
  • Not all varieties are suitable for wood stoves and fireplace inserts – check the guidelines on the wrapper to ensure compatibility with your device.
  • Cannot be used during Burn Bans.

Fireplaces

The traditional, open-hearth fireplace (one without an insert) is known for providing ambiance. It may be effective at setting the mood, but it is inefficient at providing heat. A fire in an open fireplace also generates the most air pollution than any other wood-burning device.

Inefficient

Traditional fireplaces are extremely inefficient, as low as 5 percent (PDF). While it heats the area directly in front of it, it is sucking the air from inside your home and sending it up the chimney; a process called the chimney-effect. Whatever heat you had in your home will be replaced by cold air being sucked in through any leaks around windows, doors, etc. So while the heat from the fire may make you feel warmer in the room where the fireplace is located, overall you are cooling the house down.

Major polluter

The simple design of the fireplace – basically it is a large opening to the outside – makes it a big polluter. See Heating Emissions Chart.

As the fire burns the wood, smoke containing toxic, fine particles is immediately released into the indoor and outdoor air. Modern technology used in certified wood stoves or fireplace inserts actually captures and burns the compounds in wood smoke (an after-burner), resulting in cleaner emissions (and heat). Thus, the incomplete combustion from a fireplace fire generates a significant amount of wood smoke (opacity), which is strictly regulated to protect public health. Click to learn more about the opacity law and health effects of wood smoke.

What to do

A fireplace should really be considered for ambiance only. For an efficient heating device, we strongly recommend installing a fireplace insert that uses natural gas, propane, pellets or wood.

If you decide to use your fireplace, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Check for burn bans before lighting a fire. Click here to sign up for notification of burn bans and other air quality news.
  • Use manufactured logs (aka "fire log") which can burn up to 70 percent cleaner than fire wood.
  • If you burn wood, use only dry, cord wood that has been seasoned for at least one year (less than 20-percent moisture).
  • Don’t burn garbage, including junk mail, cardboard containers, or holiday wrapping paper – it’s against the law.
  • If you want to add the "glow" of a fire, and aren't trying to produce heat, try lighting candles instead of burning wood. Candle holders made especially for a fireplace are available.

Additional resources: