The Warmth and Charm of Wood Fires


Dan Marten, KP News

Relative emissions of fine particlesAs the weather turns colder, thoughts turn to the pleasure of sitting by a fire and sipping a hot drink or reading a book. On the Key Peninsula, residents are surrounded by forests and a ready source of wood for burning to provide heat. It seems natural and efficient to use this resource for comfort. 

There are other considerations as well. 

Fireplaces are very inefficient, so inserts were invented to improve the heat transfer to the living space. Glass doors can provide the visual experience of a fire. Many use a freestanding stove to heat the house. But there is risk of fire, so stoves need to be installed correctly with proper distance from surrounding structure and furnishings, and with proper stovepipe to prevent fires in penetrations of the attic and roof. 

Many advertisements for “dry” firewood can be seen locally. Freshly cut wood has a high moisture content and is not suitable for burning until some of that moisture has dried out, a process that can take up to a year. Most firewood is not tested for moisture content, and moisture contributes to unhealthy products of combustion. Pellet stoves or manufactured logs provide a cleaner alternative.

The Environmental Protection Agency requires certification of wood stoves to ensure low emissions; and these regulations were updated in 2015. “Woodstoves sold in the United States will be required to have a permanent label indicating they are EPA-certified to meet emission limits in the final rule. This label will signal to consumers that the heater meets EPA standards.” The State of Washington has made it illegal to “buy, sell, exchange or give away uncertified devices,” according to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA). 

PSCAA offers a $350 buyback reward to help Pierce County residents replace old but working wood stoves or fireplace inserts. 

The PSCAA states that excess smoke from wood burning devices is “not only rude to your neighbors, it’s illegal.” The key is to burn small, hot fires and give the fire plenty of air. 

The Key Peninsula is not included in the Pierce County Smoke Reduction Zone, since air on the peninsula is generally cleaner than air in the zone. However, the agency declares burn bans when air quality falls below safe limits. These are different from the fire safety burn bans issued by the KP Fire Department. 

There are two stages of air quality burn bans. A Stage 1 ban prohibits outdoor burning, use of fireplaces or uncertified wood stoves and inserts. Pellet stoves and EPA-certified wood stoves and inserts are allowed. Stage 2 bans prohibit all wood burning. People with no other adequate source of heat must apply for exemptions from PSCAA. 

Washington has mandated that the following materials are never to be burned in a solid fuel burning device: garbage; treated wood; plastic and plastic products; rubber products; animal carcasses; asphaltic products; waste petroleum products; paints and chemicals; or any substance which normally emits dense smoke or obnoxious odors. 

The PSCAA provides guidance for the use of wood stoves and applications for wood stove exemptions at or at 206-343-8800.

A list of wood burning devices that meet state standards is available from the Washington State Department of Ecology at 

Correction: The print edition version of this article mentioned that PSCAA offers a $1,500 replacement program for old but working wood stoves. That program is only available in Snohomish County. We apologize for the error.