The Environmental Protection Agency this week provided instructions for how people can build a fire in their home for the holidays, and more importantly for the EPA, how to build a fire that doesn't release as much pollution into the air.
"Across the country this holiday season, families and friends will gather around fires in woodstoves or fireplaces," the EPA wrote. "But how you build that fire – and what you burn – can have a significant impact on air quality and health, both inside your home and out."
The EPA said people should start with dry, seasoned wood, and warned that wet or green logs create too much smoke. "How do you tell if wood has been seasoned? Listen for a hollow sound when you strike two logs together," EPA said.
Wood burns best when the moisture content is under 20 percent, and the EPA said people can buy a wood moisture meter to test for moisture content. "You can purchase these meters for as little as $20 at most home improvement retailers," the EPA said.
Once you have the right wood, the EPA has some advice on how to build the fire. "Start a small fire with dry kindling, then add a few pieces of wood," it said. "Be sure there's space between the pieces of wood – and give the fire plenty of air until it's roaring."
Too much smoke means the fire needs more air, or the wood is too wet.
The EPA also said people should never burn garbage, cardboard, or wood that's been treated or painted. "These items release toxic chemicals when burned — and if you're using a wood stove, they can damage it," it said.
The EPA is also taking its own steps through regulation to make sure that wood fires emit as little pollution as possible. Almost a year ago, the agency proposed new standards that wood stoves will have to meet, and the EPA said it expects a final set of requirements will be released in early February.