Getting the most out of your firewood

Summer is over and the chilly nights are here. You may be getting ready to fire up your wood stove or fireplace as you settle in for the winter. Before you do, however, take a moment to learn about temperature inversions, air quality burn bans, and how to get the most out of your fire while protecting your health.

Poor air quality can result in a burn ban

Calm winds and an inversion result in poor air quality
During the winter, a weather pattern called an inversion can trap stagnant air and unhealthy wood smoke close to the ground. 

If air quality reaches unhealthy levels, an air quality burn ban may be called by your local clean air agency, Ecology, or tribes. Check for an air quality burn ban in your area at or find your local authority.

Air quality burn bans have two stages

  • Stage 1 burn ban
    • No use of uncertified wood stoves or fireplaces is allowed.
    • No outdoor burning, agricultural, or forest burning is allowed.
  • Stage 2 burn ban
    • No burning indoors or outdoors is allowed. Air quality burn bans do not apply if wood is your only source of heat. 

Only burn dry, seasoned wood

split, stacked, seasoned and covered firewood
Dry, seasoned wood provides up to 44 percent more heat than fresh cut or wet wood. Not only does that save you money, it creates less smoke and air pollution. Follow these tips to get the most out of your fire:

  • Split your wood as soon as you get it.
  • Stack your wood so it has airflow.
  • Season your wood for at least 6 months.
  • Cover your wood to keep it out of rain and snow.

A good burning fire should have minimal smoke coming out of the chimney and should be easy to see through. Filling your stove up with wood doesn’t make a fire hotter — by overfilling your stove, you rob the fire of oxygen, thereby producing less heat, wasting wood, and creating more unhealthy smoke.

Use the right wood stove for your home

Ecology regulates the types of wood burning devices that can be sold, resold, exchanged, or given away. These devices must meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Washington’s stricter certification standards. Use a stove that is certified in Washington, the right size for your home, and properly installed. Never install, sell, or even give away a non-certified wood stove.

If your stove isn’t certified, you should replace it, or consider switching to a natural gas or electric device. Check with your local clean air agency for grant programs to help offset the costs of replacing a wood stove with a certified model, or switching your heat source altogether. 

Health effects from wood smoke

Wood smoke is one of the main sources of air pollution in Washington and can cause health problems for everyone. Wood stoves, fireplaces, and other wood burning devices put out hundreds of times more air pollution than other sources of heat, such as natural gas or electricity. The smoke and soot from burning wood contains fine particles and harmful gases, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and organic compounds. The particles are so small that they lodge deep in your lungs when inhaled and can cause serious health problems, including:

  • Burning eyes
  • Runny nose
  • ​Coughing
  • Respiratory infections
  • Asthma attacks
  • Bronchitis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Heart attacks and cardiovascular disease
  • Stroke

Kids, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with existing lung or heart diseases are the most sensitive to air pollution. Households that burn wood for heat are at greater risk for respiratory illnesses. Learn more about how wood smoke harms your health.

Now that you are prepared, go ahead and make some hot chocolate, break out your fuzzy slippers and have a movie marathon night in front of your nice, safe, warm fire.