I was cleaning the ash and half-burnt logs out my fireplace and found myself coughing as I was scooping up the ash, so I did some research on whether fireplace remains could be bad for my health.
I also looked into other types of fireplaces and whether they would be harmful to my health, as well as if fireplaces could be aggravating my allergies such as my asthma.
So are fireplaces bad for your health?
The risks posed to your health from fireplaces is low. Wood burning fireplaces and stoves can be bad for your health because the burning of wood releases smoke and other harmful gases. Gas fireplaces release carbon dioxide as a by-product, which can also be harmful to your health if breathed in higher concentrations. Ventless gas fireplaces and propane fireplaces burn the fuel cleanly enough for there to be a negligible trace of harmful gases. Electric fireplaces don’t release any harmful substances into the air, and so pose less risk to your health than other types of fireplaces.
It’s important to understand the risks associated with using a fireplace in your home, as knowing what each type of fireplace produces is one of the first steps to helping to reduce to the risks to your health.
Understanding Which Fireplaces can be Bad for Your Health
Electric fireplaces don’t produce any by-products when heating your home because they don’t use a combustible fuel. As such, electric fireplaces don’t release any harmful gases like carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, meaning that the risk they pose to your health compared to other types of fireplace is much lower.
Unlike wood-burning fireplaces, electric fireplaces don’t leave behind any ash, which can be bad for your health if disturbed and breathed in.
Furthermore, electric fireplaces don’t require a chimney or flue, and so there isn’t a risk to your health from breathing in tiny particles that may be disturbed when they’re cleaned.
The flames within electric fireplaces also aren’t real. If you have young children or pets then you can rest assured that they are safe being around an electric fireplace.
Gas fireplaces burn either natural gas or propane, both of which produce carbon dioxide as well as other byproducts harmful to people. Higher concentrations of carbon dioxide can be harmful to us humans as it can displace the oxygen in your body and reduce the effectiveness of your respiratory system.
Unlike wood-burning fireplaces, gas fireplaces do not produce any smoke.
In contrary to popular belief, carbon monoxide is not a regular byproduct of burning gas, but can be released if the gas isn’t quite fully burnt. This can be caused by a fault or blockage in your gas fireplace leading to a lack of air supply getting to the flames.
As such, make sure to get your gas fireplace periodically checked by a professional to help mitigate the risks of any harmful gases being produced or released from your gas fireplace.
Gas fireplaces also produce a real flame.
Wood-Burning Fireplaces & Stoves
Like myself, many people love the smell of a traditional wood-burning fireplace, but the burning of wood in fireplaces has come under scrutiny in recent years. The burning of wood can release harmful smoke and gases into the atmosphere, as well as into your home.
In the same way burning gas does, the burning of wood releases carbon dioxide as one of the main waste gases. Again, this gas is only bad for your health in high concentrations.
Much like gas fireplaces, a lack of air supply to a wood fire can cause carbon monoxide to be released, which can cause long lasting health issues if inhaled in excess.
Wood-burning stoves help to contain the gases within the stove and exhaust them straight up the chimney flue. Gases from open wood-burning fireplaces are at more at risk of circulating within your home if your chimney hasn’t been cleaned.
Is Wood Smoke Harmful?
The Department of Ecology for the State of Washington released a publication in 2012 outlining how wood smoke can be harmful to your health.
The report explains that tiny particles, gases and chemicals are released into the air when wood is burned, and that when these are breathed in they can irritate your respiratory tract, and may even cause more serious illnesses such as cancer.
The most dangerous part of wood smoke is the dangerous ‘fine particles’ that can be lodged within your lungs for long periods of time.
The US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) outlines that these fine particles can also cause asthma symptoms to be made worse, and may cause burning if they get into your eyes.
It’s also noted the more efficiently you burn the wood, the less smoke is created.
Tips for Reducing the Risk of Using Fireplaces in Your Home
Many of us love having a fireplace in our homes, and there are a few things that we can do to reduce the risks when using them:
Make sure that there is adequate ventilation in the room, especially if using an open fireplace. A lack of air can stop the fire from burning properly and therefore releases more smoke.
If you want to burn logs in your home, consider only burning split, dry wood, and try not to add too may logs at once to make sure that they burn completely.
Renew your fireplace insert. Newer fireplace inserts are made to stricter regulations, and are therefore cleaner-burning. This means that there are a fewer number of contaminants being released, and subsequently less risk being posed to your health.
Keep the fire hot. Keeping the fire roaring reduces the smoke produced and increases the heat released into the room.
Clean the chimney. Get your chimney professionally cleaned at least once a year, even if you don’t use the fireplace very often to make sure that the chimney is working safely and efficiently. Find out more here.
Make sure to have working detectors. Having both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are important safeguards against these harmful gases. Periodically check your detectors to ensure that they are working correctly.
Keep the right fire extinguisher near your fireplace at all times.
Keep combustible items away from your fireplace.
Are Fireplaces Bad for Your Health?
As long as your fireplace is well installed, maintained and looked after, the risks posed to your health are low.
Be sure to understand the risks associated with the types of fireplace in your home, and to follow general and manufacturers safety guidelines to help you enjoy your fireplace safely.