Notes from Twin Peaks: By the fire

Here in Twin Peaks, the temperatures are definitely getting lower, especially at night. With a wood stove as my primary heat source, there is a mixture of pleasure and concern that comes with the territory. The near-daily ritual of building a fire in the evening connects me with something ancient; coming from a different, certainly more modern perspective, I have been considering the implications of burning fires on a regular basis. 

Wood smoke contains harmful chemical substances such as carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), dioxin, and inhalable particulate matter (PM). Some of the VOCs are irritating, toxic, and/or cancer causing. One of the biggest human health threats from smoke, indoors or outdoors, comes from PM. Wood smoke PM is composed of wood tars, gases, soot, and ashes. Toxic air pollutants are a potentially important component of wood smoke. A group of air toxics known as polycyclic organic matter includes potential carcinogens such as benzo(a)pyrene.

While the cabin I am renting has an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) certified wood stove, the fact stands that using it contributes pollution to the air. But this gal also needs heat! Luckily, I have discovered some guidelines to help reduce my impact on the environment (and my personal health, as well as that of my cat companions):

* Wood stoves should be cleaned and inspected annually.

* By burning clean, dry, well-seasoned hardwoods (such as oak or maple), a wood stove will produce less smoke (less pollution). Poplar and birch are also good firewood. Examples of softwoods to try to avoid include: pine, spruce, cedar, fir, larch, douglas-fir, hemlock, cypress, redwood and yew. Unfortunately, these types of softwoods are very common here in Twin Peaks. Worse still, hardwood trees take much longer to grow, while softwood trees usually grow very fast, and are therefore more readily renewable than hardwood trees.

* Never burn household garbage or cardboard. Plastics and the colored ink on magazines, boxes, and wrappers produce harmful chemicals when burned.

* Never burn coated, painted, or pressure-treated wood because it releases toxic chemicals when burned.

* Never burn ocean driftwood, plywood, particle board, or any wood with glue on or in it. They all release toxic chemicals when burned.

* Burn hot, bright fires. An EPA-certified wood stove will burn more efficiently than older non-certified models, and thus much less creosote builds up in the chimney. Creosote is a combustible residue formed by wood gases that are not completely burned. Too much creosote can lead to a chimney fire (how many times did I hear my father speak the words „chimney fire“ when I told him I was using a wood stove?!).

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