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Wood-Burning Stove Safety

Megan T. Sandel, specialist in healthy housing and teen health at Boston Medical Center and Children's Hospital, shares how to pick the right kind of logs for your wood-burning stoves and fireplaces.

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Q: I love my wood-burning stove, but I'm concerned about breathing in smoke. Are some types of wood better to use than others?

A:Yes. Choosing the right type of wood can go a long way toward reducing levels of smoke, chemical fumes, and fine particles in indoor air. For best results, use untreated hardwood logs that are 3–6 inches thick and are completely dry ("seasoned").

Well-seasoned logs generally have loose bark, visible cracks in the ends, and a grayish color. Dry yard clippings and newspaper also are relatively safe to burn. On the other hand, do not burn cardboard boxes, magazine pages, household trash, fresh wood, or engineered or treated wood such as particleboard, pallets, plywood, and house shingles. These items tend to produce lots of smoke and/or release chemicals when burned, which can lead to lung irritation.

Finally, it's important to make sure your stove ventilation system is cleaned regularly to prevent fumes from backing up into your home (and to prevent fires, too).

Check out our expert advice on maintaining wood-burning stoves and fireplaces.

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