Keep warm while curbing wood smoke emissions

You can breathe easy while staying warm this season.

As the overnight temperatures drop, the need for a blast of heat hits residents as they wake up to cold, crisp mornings. For many, that means igniting a fire if their wood stove or fireplace insert. That certainly takes the chill off a cold morning, but if that fire isn’t properly maintained it can pose problems for their neighbors and community.

As one of the primary sources of air pollution in our region, wood smoke poses serious health risks. Fine particles in smoke can be inhaled deeply into lungs and damage delicate tissues. Smoke can trigger asthma attacks, cause difficulty breathing, and make lung and heart problems worse. It’s especially harmful to children, people with heart and lung problems, and adults age 65 and older.

When improperly operated, however, even the best stoves can produce smoke. The following tips can help you prevent air pollution by burning wood smarter.

  • Build small, hot fires. A hot fire will heat the stove enough to burn wood completely, with less pollution.
  • Let It Breath! Make sure your fire has plenty of air. An overloaded firebox, or one with the damper closed down, tends to smolder rather than burn.
  • Relight your fire in the morning. Don’t try to “hold” a fire overnight by dampering down. While it appears that you’re saving wood, you are actually wasting fuel AND creating dangerous creosote build-up.
  • Burn dry, seasoned wood. Burning green wood provides less heat and adds to creosote buildup in your chimney. Remember: It takes at least a year to season green wood.
  • Don’t burn garbage, plastic or treated wood. These materials release toxic fumes. Also, burning garbage is ILLEGAL and could result in fines of up to $14,915 PER OCCURANCE.
  • Step outside and check your chimney. You should see only heat waves. If you see smoke, your wood is not burning completely. Smoke from your chimney means air pollution.
  • Don’t burn on poor air quality days. Use an alternative source of heat. If you have no choice, please be sure to use ALL the tips listed here to burn as cleanly as possible.
  • Additional information available here:

To learn about the health effects of air pollution, check out the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) website at



Media Contact

Dan Nelson

Communications/Outreach Manager