Clearing the air on wood smoke

As winter seems to be dragging on these days, many of us may still be cozying up to our wood stoves.

  • Mar. 9, 2017 6:00 a.m.

As winter seems to be dragging on these days, many of us may still be cozying up to our wood stoves.

There’s nothing quite like wood heat, and while we’re grateful for it, there are also a few things to keep in mind to make sure our coziness isn’t compromising our air quality.

Many people don’t realize that smoke from wood stoves contributes to air pollution in their neighbourhood. It especially affects the very young, the elderly and those with respiratory or heart conditions. During colder months in fact, smoke from wood fires is a leading cause of neighborhood particulate matter pollution, one of the leading air pollution concerns in British Columbia. The problem is exacerbated when this smoke and other pollutants are trapped under a warm layer of air known as an inversion layer. When the air is cold and still, temperature inversions trap wood smoke and other pollutants close to the ground.

For those of us who love wood heat there are a few simple steps we can take to ensure we’re burning efficiently and not smoking out the neighbours:

• Check your chimney — make sure your fire is getting enough air and drawing properly. Add wood gradually to the fire with the air inlet open whenever starting a fire or adding more wood.

• Burn dry wood! This will make is easier for you and on the air. Dry wood burns hotter and more easily.

• Store your wood outside in a place where it can stay dry. If covering with a tarp, leave the sides of the stack open so the wood can continue to dry out.

• Check your appliance. Creosote builds up from wood burning, especially if burning inefficiently. Make sure to give your chimney a good clean to keep your house safe from chimney fires.

The newly updated Solid Fuel Burning Domestic Appliance Regulation (September 2016) will ensure that new wood stoves burn as cleanly as possible and that fuel types aren’t an added source of pollution. Find out more about it here While the majority of us burn in compliance with the updated regulations, they are a good reminder that our actions impact our air quality and that the air we breathe — that our children and neighbours breathe — is critical to our health and quality of life.

For more tips on clean, efficient burning, visit

Jane Wellburn is an educator with the Williams Lake Air Quality Roundable.