Cleaning Up the Woodstove: How to enjoy the fire while reducing harmful smoke

by Alex Roslin
Cottage Life
October 2010
[AR: This story won an award of merit in the environment category from the International Regional Magazine Association.]
We heat with wood eight months of the year at our home in the rolling Appalachians of Quebec’s Eastern Townships. How could we not love it? The crackle, the dancing flames, the smoky bouquet, the snug ambience—no wonder sparking a fire is the first thing cottagers do on an off-season weekend.
So we followed the news closely when, in April 2009, the City of Montreal banned all new installations of fireplaces and woodstoves. (Wood-pellet stoves are still legal.) In BC, where constricted mountain valleys collect thick clouds of woodsmoke, the Town of Golden prohibits new installations of woodstoves and fireplaces, and replacements for existing devices must be high-efficiency, low-emission models certified by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). Houston, BC has gone a step further, requiring removal of non-certified units by the end of 2010.
The problem is the toxins that stoves and fireplaces exhaust outside, which then make their way back inside. Wood­smoke contains at least 100 dangerous pollutants, including particulate matter (commonly called soot), carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other toxins, that can lead to headaches, asthma, and lung cancer. Environment Canada says burning wood in a non-EPA-compliant stove for nine hours releases as much particulate matter as a car driven 18,000 km. The question is, how can cottagers enjoy the fire while reducing health hazards?

[Read the entire story at the Cottage Life website here, and visit my investigative journalism blog here.]