One of the simplest joys in cold weather is building a fireplace to warm your home. The ambiance created by a fire’s glow is a necessity for many homes this time of year, and while we can’t imagine a holiday season without a lit fireplace, we need to recognize the consequences it can have on our health.
It’s difficult to believe that something so fundamental as fire can jeopardize our health, but the truth is smoke caused by burning wood produces a harmful particle known as Fine Dust (PM2.5).
Fine Dust is much different from the traditional dust we see around our homes–it’s actually particulate matter that can be found in the air. Fine dust is incredibly small–a single particle has a diameter of fewer than 2.5 micrometers, which means you can easily fit 40 fine dust particles across the width of a single strand of hair. This particulate’s small size renders it practically invisible; it can only be detected with an electron microscope.
Unlike larger (and more visible) dust particles, PM2.5 are able to bypass your nose and throat and be absorbed by your lungs and bloodstream. Exposure to Fine Dust can have detrimental health effects, and has been known to lead to coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, irritation of the eyes/nose/throat, and can trigger asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory problems. Scientific studies have also linked exposure to an increased risk for heart attack, stroke, certain cancers, and birth defects.
The World Health Organization has found that each year, close to 4 million people die prematurely from illness attributable to household air pollution–and one of the leading causes of indoor air pollution throughout winter is an increase in fine dust released from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves.
So how can you keep your home safe and still enjoy your fireplace?
Here are a few steps you can take to have a safe and comfortable winter:
1. Have your chimney inspected
Before you begin using your fireplace for the season, have your chimney cleaned and inspected by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep.
2. Check for airflow
Before lighting a fire, always check to make sure you have proper airflow moving up your chimney so smoke does not get trapped inside your home.
3. Use the right wood
The type of wood you burn can greatly affect how many harmful particles are released in your air. If you can, opt for manufactured fire logs instead of wood, since they burn much cleaner. If you must burn wood, make sure it has been dried for at least 6 months. ®
4. Ensure clean air
Ideally, you should ventilate your home after and during you burn your fire by opening a few windows to allow for fresh air–but that can pose a challenge during the cold winter months. However, there is always the option to run an air purifier with a HEPA (particulate-absorbing) filter to help keep your air clean.
5. Understand what’s in your air
The best solution for keeping your home safe and ensuring you are breathing the healthiest air possible is with the help of an air quality monitor, like Awair 2nd Edition. Awair 2nd Edition tracks invisible fine dust and chemicals and gives you personalized recommendations to stay safe and healthy.