Smoke Gets in Your Eyes…

When a lovely flame dies, smoke gets in your eyes… Everyone knows this popular standard, most famously sung by Nat King Cole. We think of the soft crackling and romanticism of a roaring fire with its surrounding warmth, but there is another side to it. As the cold weather begins, we should be more aware of this. But can the pleasant smell of burning wood be so harmful?

Well, it is. Winter smog in urban areas is largely caused by wood heating during the winter. This smog can result in a number of cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases, and cause and aggravate asthma and emphysema symptoms. An old wood stove by itself emits as much pollution (calculated in terms of particles) as four recently EPA certified stoves (the certification standard now mandatory for wood stoves). Moreover, the ambient air in the house can be contaminated with a far too high concentration of carbon monoxide from the stove. Aeration, caution and moderation are important.

Okay, fine… Quebec is a northern province, and, like all cold places, energy requirements are high. To not fall prey to an increase or dependency on energies over which they do not have control (electricity/heating oil/gas), people are more often turning toward heating with wood, sometimes for comfort, sometimes to save money. Many have a large lot and can, for the price of a weekend of work, heat for a long time at no cost. Heating with wood is part of the customs and traditions of our country and is also a renewable source of energy. Therefore, we should know about it and avoid abusing it.

In insurance, most companies will consider a wood fireplace as a decoration and will not increase insurance premiums for such a system: Most insured use their fireplaces only from time to time, so they are not a major risk for an insurance company. However, insurance companies will generally increase the insurance premium by 15% for any installed wood stove, granule stoves or anthracite stove. Some people use these stoves constantly through the cold season, making them far more than a simple decorative item. The risks for the insurance company are thus higher, which explains the related increased premium.

In closing, here are a few tips to staying warm in the winter safely and securely:

  • Regularly have a chimney sweep clean your chimney, even if you do not use your fireplace regularly (at least once a year)
  • Every day, air out the house for a few minutes to provide fresh air (and oxygen) indoors
  • Consider replacing old wood stoves with more recent, more efficient ones
  • Choose environmentally friendly logs
  • Do not burn waste, varnished or painted wood or processed wood that could contain arsenic
  • Do not use your fireplace or wood stove excessively to reduce unnecessary particle emissions
  • Do not store wood indoors
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