Nothing compares to the soft warmth of a wood fireplace. Sitting in front of it comforts you and gives you a feeling of well-being. But what about your red and itchy eyes, runny nose and sneezing? Could it be that your fireplace is causing your allergies? In this article, you’ll find explanations concerning these allergies, as well as various ways you can remedy to it.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an allergy as an exaggerated or pathological immunological reaction (as by sneezing, difficult breathing, itching, or skin rashes) to substances, situations, or physical states that are without comparable effect on the average individual.
A person cannot be allergic to the fireplace per se, but rather reacts to the wood used as fuel, and to the dust and smoke caused by it.
Wood-burning fireplaces, even if well vented, can cause some discomfort in people already suffering from a lung condition. The smoke caused by burning wood contains fine particles that make their way into the lungs and can cause, with time, a health risk. Prolonged exposure to wood smoke can aggravate pre-existing conditions such as asthma, pollen allergies and allergic rhinitis.
Wood smoke also contains toxic substances such as methane, benzene and formaldehyde. These substances can affect your lungs when in contact over a long period. People who are at greater risk are children, the elderly, and people already suffering from a lung or heart condition.
Mold is a common allergen. If you are burning humid, rotten or moldy wood, that is the most probable cause of your allergies.
What Not to Burn
In addition to avoiding rotten and moldy wood, there are certain articles that you shouldn’t burn because they release toxic substances in the air which could be harmful to your health, and to your heating device.
Products to avoid are plastic, rubber, driftwood, plywood, particle board and any wood containing glue. Also, stay clear of tinted or painted wood. Never burn household trash, including cardboard and foam, as well as magazines and papers that are color printed.
If you react to wood smoke, it doesn’t mean you need to close off your wood-burning fireplace. Many solutions can help you, and the following points address some of them. You need to analyze your situation and find the solution that best fits your needs and those of your family.
Make sure to burn dry wood only. Your wood should have been cut and left to dry for at least six months. Taking this precaution eliminates any risk of mold. Try and burn mostly hardwood, like maple, oak and beech. Hardwood is denser, which means it produces hotter flames, burns longer and produces less smoke than a softwood like pine, spruce and cedar.
If you have an open-hearth fireplace, have tight-fitting doors installed instead of using a simple screen. It limits the amount of smoke entering the house. If you own a wooden stove, make sure the door closes and seals properly.
EPA Certified Stove
Make sure that your wood-burning stove is EPA or CSA certified. These modern heating devices release 80% less smoke and emit up to 90% less pollution than a non-certified stove. Moreover, a closed stove lets less smoke inside the house and is safer to use than an open-hearth fireplace.
Have your chimney swept yearly to remove creosote build-ups and any debris or animal body that might have gotten in. Have the chimney sweeper inspect your chimney to make sure everything is in working order. This is not only a precaution for your health, but it’s also the law.
Verify that the flu is in good condition, works correctly and that there is proper venting.
Make sure the room in which your fireplace is located is properly vented.
Installing an insert in your open-hearth fireplace will make a huge difference by limiting the quantity of smoke getting into the house. Talk to a We Love Fire partner to find the best insert for your needs.
Gas, Pellet or Electric Fireplace
If you’re still reacting to the smoke or dust coming from your fireplace, you might consider changing your wood fireplace for a gas, pellet or electric one.
Gas fireplaces are closed and don’t emit any smoke, which makes it a very safe option for someone with a pre-existing lung condition or with allergies. You can even put fake logs in it to simulate a wood fireplace. Even though they don’t emit any smoke, gas fireplaces can still affect air quality. Talk to a professional before installing one, and make sure you have a working carbon monoxide detector.
Pellet stoves are another great option. Even if the pellets are made from wood, there are no risks of moisture or mold inside, which makes them a particularly safe fuel.
Electric fireplaces are a sure value since there is no danger whatsoever. No smoke, no gas emission. Their only inconvenience is that they don’t work when there’s a blackout.
If you have an allergic reaction when burning wood in your fireplace, start by checking the condition of your wood. Are your chimney and fireplace clean and in good working order? Are they venting properly?
Your allergies are a reaction to the smoke, which stimulates your pre-existing allergies to external factors like pollen. If need be, limit the use of your fireplace in seasons when allergies are at their peak, like spring and autumn. If nothing works, think about installing an insert or changing your wood fireplace for a gas, pellet or electric one.
No need to deprive yourself of a fireplace. With patience and determination, you’ll find the solution that best fits your needs and those of your family.