Fireplace or woodstove odors, smells, & dust or soot problems in buildings:
This article explains the impact of fireplaces or woodstoves on indoor air quality in homes. We explain what causes these complaints and we describe how to prevent them.
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This article includes excerpts or adaptations from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction, by Steven Bliss, courtesy of Wiley & Sons. According to Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction :
Traditional open fireplaces and older leaky woodstoves burn very inefficiently and produce hundreds of chemical compounds, including carbon monoxide, organic gases, particulates, and some of the same cancer-causing agents found in tobacco smoke.
Minor spillage of these pollutants occurs regularly, primarily when starting or stoking the fire.
However, the larger concern is when the fire smolders late at night, producing high levels of CO and a weak draft. Backdrafting at this time can be dangerous or even fatal.
Another problem, particularly with fireplaces, is created when the fire is roaring and drawing up to 400 cfm of combustion air.
At this point, its voracious appetite for air can cause backdrafting in other combustion appliances such as a gas water heater.
Also, the need to reheat all the makeup air drags down the fireplace’s heating efficiency to less than 15% and, if the fireplace is allowed to smolder all night, it becomes a net heat loser.
The Jotul woodstove shown at left was traded for a wristwatch. The new owner installed the stove including a fireproof tile-covered barrier between the stove and a nearby building wall. The owner later added the metal heat reflector to the right of the stove to adjust room comfort and heat movement.
Photo courtesy Paul Galow. That woodbox is too close - less than 36" from the woodstove.
Woodstove efficiency has improved dramatically in response to EPA emissions standards (begun in 1988 and updated in 1990), which apply to most freestanding wood stoves and to fireplace inserts with air-supply controls and tight-fitting doors.
To meet these standards, manufacturers use either a catalytic converter, similar to the ones used in cars, or a reengineered firebox.
The new fireboxes have primary and secondary combustion zones capable of reaching system efficiencies of 60% or more and reducing combustion air intake to as little as 10 cfm. If installed with an outdoor air supply, these can be successfully de- coupled from household air pressures.
While many fireplaces are fitted with glass doors, and some have outside air intakes, nearly all of the glass doors leak air. Even with low levels of depressurization, these fireplaces can still backdraft, and the fireplace’s outdoor air supply might become the makeup air for the kitchen range hood or other exhaust fans, drawing fireplace fumes along with it. The best solution is an airtight fireplace insert.
How to minimize pollution, indoors and outside, from wood-burning appliances
-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.
Watch out: several of our clients report, and tests confirmed horrible building odor problems after excessive use of ozone as a "cure" for fireplace or woodsmoke or creosote odors in buildings.
Excessive or improper use of ozone as an "odor killer" in such situations can lead to oxidation of other building materials that then give off chemical or plastic odors that cannot be cured without removing and replacing the materials affected.
See OZONE HAZARDS for details.
Continue reading at FIRE & SMOKE ODOR REMOVAL or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
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