Fireplaces and Air Quality
Indoor air is more polluted than outdoor
When burning any fuel inside your home, it is important to ensure that all dangerous combustion exhausts are vented outside. In the case of traditional wood burning fireplaces, these exhausts include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter. Any and all of these pollutants can cause sickness or even death in sufficient quantities, and so use of proper venting and correct fuel types is vitally important.
Modern high-efficiency fireplace inserts are designed to burn their fuel completely, whether the fuel is wood or gas fireplaces , and to vent the emissions outside. These highly efficient fireplaces produce minimal wastes, and since the inserts are completely sealed and airtight, you can be sure that the low level of wastes that are produced will not find their way into your home.
Of the common pollutants released by residential fireplaces, the most immediately dangerous is carbon monoxide. Since this gas is toxic to humans, a carbon monoxide detector is a very important safety measure for any home with a fireplace. The other major concern that fireplaces present regarding indoor air quality is particulate matter. Particulate matter simply refers to the small, sometimes invisible particles of soot, ash, and various chemical compounds which are released as a result of incomplete combustion. This type of pollution is most common with solid fuels such as wood or coal, and is significantly reduced through the use of a natural gas fireplace, or even cleaner solid fuels such as wood pellets or corn. Fireplaces and woodstoves which are certified under the EPA Clean-burning Wood Stoves and Fireplaces Program are also much cleaner-burning than their older and less efficient counterparts.
If you are concerned that indoor pollution from your fireplace is negatively impacting your health, you can have your fireplace inspected to ensure airtightness and proper combustion. A plugged flue or chimney or one that has experienced serious buildup of creosote can prevent smoke and exhaust gases from being pulled up the chimney, so an annual chimney cleaning is important as well. If you believe that combustion gases are leaking into your home, safety is not something to take chances with. Consider replacement of your fireplace with a high-efficiency fireplace insert instead.