Q: I love a fire in my fireplace, but I hear it’s not the best thing for air quality. Is there anything I can do to make building a fire less polluting?
A: It’s sad but true that a cheery fire in your hearth spews out not-so-cheery particulate matter, carbon monoxide and other chemical compounds. Not only that, a fire offers lousy energy efficiency; more heat is sucked out of your home and through the chimney than is produced by the flames. Still, a few tweaks can help minimize these problems.
Since a hotter fire gives off fewer emissions, strategies that maximize temperature will make your fire burn cleaner and heat more efficiently. To that end, many experts recommend an EPA-certified fireplace insert, which is essentially a wood stove that fits inside your fireplace (they start at around $800).
If you’re not willing to forgo the snap, crackle and pop of an open flame, though, you might consider an EcoFire grate (650.330.1051), which positions logs to maximize air circulation and has an attached electric blower that acts as a bellows. This will run you about $500 to $600.
If you’re only an occasional fire-builder, you might be content to simply use more eco-friendly fuel. A company called GoodWood (summitviews.com) makes logs of compressed wood chips and sawdust reclaimed from millwork and forest-trimming operations. These are $10 each and burn hotter and cleaner than cord wood — they emit fifty percent less particulate matter.
And there’s always the Java Log (java-log.com), which is made of spent coffee grounds. Weird as the idea sounds, these $5 logs are a more efficient, less-polluting option. (And yes, they do smell a little like coffee.)
This article originally appeared in Plenty in December 2006. This story was added to MNN.com in June 2009.