The popularity of wood burning stoves is very high, many wood burning stoves are suitable for use in smoke controlled areas, and they are generally environmentally friendly as they use a renewable energy source, and they have an old fashioned homely quality that appeals to many home owners. However could we be inadvertently damaging our health when using them? Well quite possibly, as the Chemical Research in Toxicology medical journal has recently published research that shows that breathing in particulate matter from a wood burning stove has a similar effect to breathing car emissions.
What is this particulate matter found in wood burning smoke? And will it effect me? Well Professor Steffen Loft of the Department of Public Health at Copenhagen University believes that the tiny airborne specs of "particulate matter" found in smoke when burning wood is "small enough to be inhaled into the deepest part of the lungs", and that "the particles that come from wood smoke can certainly cause fatal heart or lung disease". Professor Loft also claims that links can be made to asthma, bronchitis, cancer and other health problems too.
It all sounded very damming for the burning of wood and the use of wood burning stoves, however, Prof. Loft did continue on to say that the owner of a wood burning stove should use dry wood, cut into small pieces, and should ensure a good flow of air to the fire to minimise emissions. A German study into wood burning stoves also reached similar conclusions in December in 2010, thus bringing concerns wood burning stoves.
So should we all forget the concept of wood burning stoves all together, well, not quite. The Solar Fuel Association commented on the studies saying that there is very little chance of fumes escaping into a property from a correctly fitted stove.
This is probably the most important point, that the fumes from a wood burning stove could be possibly fatal, but we don't intend on inhaling the fumes. Any stove should be installed by a registered fitter, who will ensure the stove is flued properly. All stoves available to buy should have met standards that ensure smoke doesn't easily escape into a property, many even incorporate additional safety features such as oxygen depletion sensors etc to ensure the users safety and health.
Studies like this sometimes highlight the obvious as many people may assume that all smoke is harmful, but they show us how harmful, and allows us as consumers to make informed decisions as to what fire we use, and what effect using it may have.
By far the most important point raised by the study and reactions to the study is that no matter what stove is being installed, you should have a registered installer do the work, or check the work done, and pass the installation and stove for use. A registered installer will be able to answer questions and provide up to date information on whether a stove is suitable for your home, and will check to ensure the stove works properly in your home once installed.
If you have any concerns about your stove, or wish to get in touch with a registered fitter then visit the HETAS website or give them a call, they are the official body recognised by the UK Government to approve stoves and stove installers. They have an easy to use site, with consumer advice that is informative and easy to understand, and is used by consumers, installers and manufacturers, (even bloggers!) alike.