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Fab or Miz: The Fireplace

by Tia on January 25, 2011

in Fab or Miz?

In Greek mythology, fire was a gift from the divine, stolen from Zeus by Prometheus and handed over to shivering humanity. What could be more natural than sitting around a crackling fire on a winter night?  Nothing – I wanted to jump in my fireplace all weekend!!!  As hard as it may be to believe, the fireplace — long considered a trophy,  is acquiring a social stigma. Our tree hugging friends are claiming wood fires are the new plastic. 

This might seem a little insane but the concern about the air pollution and health problems caused by smoke from wood fires are prompting a number of areas across the country to pass laws regulating them. (Akron don't even think about it)  I have mixed emotions about this arguement -the good news for all of you is that the International Hearald Tribune has elequently highlighted the arguement so my jibberish will be kept to a minimum;

Con's of burning a wood fire;

“The smoke from a fire smells very nice,” said Diane Bailey, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco. “But it can cause a lot of harm.” The tiny particles, she said, “can cause inflammation and illness, and can cross into the bloodstream, triggering heart attacks” as well as worsening other conditions.

Not surprisingly, the green community has been sounding the alarm for some time. For the last several years,, an online magazine, has advocated replacing all wood-burning fireplaces with electric ones; an article published in September by Shireen Qudosi, entitled “Breathe Easier With a Cleaner Fireplace,” argued that there is no such thing as an environmentally responsible fire: “Switching out one type of wood for another is still use of a natural resource that otherwise could have been spared,” Ms. Qudosi wrote. And last fall, an article on the Web site, “Cozy Winter Fires — Carbon Impact,” called wood-burning fires “a direct pollutant to you, your family and your community.”

Organizations like the American Lung Association are issuing warnings as well: the group recommends that consumers avoid wood fires altogether, citing research that names wood stoves and fireplaces as major contributors to particulate-matter air pollution in much of the United States.

Con's of burning a wood fire;

In any case, most fireplaces are used far too infrequently to cause any real damage to the environment, said Stephen Sears, the vice president of marketing and member services for the Brick Industry Association, voicing an opinion shared by some. In the East, he wrote in an e-mail, air pollution is at its worst in the summer, and in the West the regulations are an overreaction: “Because it is not realistic to test each unique masonry fireplace in a laboratory” to evaluate its emissions, he noted, “it is easier for some municipalities to arbitrarily limit” the use of all wood-burning fireplaces.

We, personally, light our fireplace MAYBE once every 5 years.  (I wish more but its kind of a PITA (Pain in the tushy but not tushy))  On the total opposite of the fire burning spectrum, my in-laws have a wood burning fireplace that is their primary heat source and their fireplace burns constantly.  I do notice my asthema flares a bit when we visit but they also have a cat so I am not sure which is the major culpret- either way – their home is always WARM and I love it!!! 

Last statistic:  Perhaps not coincidentally, sales of wood-burning appliances dropped to 235,000 in 2009 from 800,000 in 1999, according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association. And the Brick Industry Association, which promotes brick construction, reports that roughly 35,000 masonry fireplaces were installed in the United States in 2009, compared to 80,000 in 2005. Certainly those numbers reflect the economic slowdown, but they may also be affected by growing ambivalence to wood fires.  I personally believe this is a direct reflection of new home construction dwindling.  Developers are just not constructing new homes (thus fireplaces) like before – if there is no new construction – there are no new fireplaces/ bricks/ and masonry……

SO – for those of you who are not going to part with your fireplace but are concerned (me!) – here are some options;  FOR those who still want to build a fire, there are several ways to make it more environmentally friendly, experts say, including using an energy-efficient wood or pellet stove certified by the Environmental Protection Agency or retrofitting a fireplace with an insert (a device, usually made of iron or steel, that fits into the mouth of a fireplace and enables it to heat more efficiently).  OR – of course there is the electric fireplace.

You tell me – is your wood burning fireplace FAB or MIZ!