Are Fire Pits Bad for the Environment? 

With summer in full swing, the appeal of a backyard fire pit is in full swing too! Backyard fire pits continue to grow in popularity as a coveted garden feature, and for a good reason. Not only do they create a perfect hangout space, but they add ambiance and the appeal of the outdoors to your home. However, recent studies raise the question, “are fire pits bad for the environment?” 

Today, we will answer the question, “are fire pits bad for the environment?” In addition, we will discuss the impact fire pits have on the environment, your health, and ways you can keep enjoying your cozy flame while reducing your environmental footprint. 


Environmental Impact 

A complex mixture of fine particles and gases makes up the smoke from burning wood. Particle pollution or particulate matter is the name of these fine particles. As a result, fire pits often become a significant source of fine-particle air pollution, especially in metro areas. 

It is currently impossible to determine to what extent fire pits impact the environment. However, we know that geography and topography play a significant role in how harmful wood smoke is on a community-wide level. For example, communities positioned in deep, steep-walled valleys must be careful when lighting a backyard fire. This is because the air tends to stagnate in valleys meaning fine-particle air pollution stays put longer. This is especially true if air quality is already poor. 

Lingering smoke isn’t only a problem in valleys but also can pose a problem in wide-open spaces. Lingering smoke is especially a problem during the frosty winter months when the low temperature limits airflow. Limited air flow might pose a problem as what better time to light a cozy backyard fire pit than when the temperature drops. Washington State Department of Ecology states that 10% of wintertime air pollution statewide results from fine particles from wood smoke from wood-burning stoves. 

Another potential environmental risk for a backyard fire pit is negligence that can ignite deadly forest fires. Many communities sit near forests where a wayward spark could be devastating. Forest fires disrupt transportation, impact communication, gas, water, and power supplies, and damage regional air quality. They also result in lost property, animals, crops, resources, and people. Therefore, it is vital to pay attention to burn bans in your area and practice fire pit safety.


Health Impact

Assessing the bigger impact of backyard burning via fire pits on local and regional air quality is difficult. However, it is not difficult to see the impact wood smoke has on one’s health. If you’ve ever sat by a wood fire, you’ve most likely experienced the wind shifting and the smoke annoyingly blowing in your direction. You might have even tried the old folks’ tale of yelling, “I love white rabbits!” at the gray plume. When a fire burns, it releases smoke (obviously). According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), particulate matter (fine wood particles) range from irritating to harmful. 

The fine particles enter your respiratory system, potentially aggravating chronic heart and lung diseases. Some studies link the particles to premature deaths in people suffering from these ailments. Therefore, the EPA recommends individuals experiencing congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, angina, emphysema, or asthma avoid wood-burning fires due to the smoke. In addition, the fine particles irritate your eyes, causing burning and your nose, causing running. 

Children are also at higher risk when exposed to wood smoke. This is because children’s respiratory systems are still developing, and their lungs breathe more air (and consequently air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults. Please limit children’s exposure to wood smoke for these reasons. 


Ways to Reduce Your Impact

Sadly, your fire pit will never be perfectly environmentally friendly because it is impossible to prevent wood-burning fuel from smoking. However, if you’re anything like us, you love the warm draw of a cozy fire pit. If you love that flame, too, there are a few ways to reduce the number of harmful particles in your smoke and improve your fire pit’s eco-credentials.

Choosing the correct fuel makes a world of difference in the smoke emitted by your fire pit. Seasoned wood is the best firewood to burn. Given time to dry out, seasoned wood has a moisture content below 20%. You don’t need to buy seasoned wood. Simply, having a dry place to store your wood will cause it to season over time. You want to ensure you allow the wood to dry for the right amount of time (roughly 6 months) and stack it in a place with good airflow so it can dry properly.  

If you need a fire pit ASAP and don’t want to wait to season your wood, you can purchase kiln-dried wood. Kiln-dried wood is essentially seasoned wood. The big difference is a large industrial kiln has sped up the natural drying process. A kiln is a furnace or oven for burning, baking, or drying.

For one important reason, seasoned wood is the best to burn in a fire pit. The dry wood burns hotter, so the fire pit provides more heat and less smoke. On the other hand, any wet wood (wood with over 20% moisture content) will produce more smoke when it burns because the moisture causes incomplete combustion. In addition, never burn green wood (wood that is recently cut and is not dry), construction waste, plastic, yard waste, or garbage. These types of fuels will create more smoke, and the chemicals in them can be toxic.  

Another tip is to chop large chunks of wood into smaller pieces. This reduces the amount of smoke your fire pit has by causing it to burn more efficiently. Finally, never light your fire pit on days where air quality is poor, and air pollution is high. 

There is no reason to give up your beautiful wood-burning fire pit completely. By simply being aware of smart burning practices and choosing the correct fuel, you can enjoy the ambiance of your fire pit with a clear conscience. We are all for a cleaner burn. Here at Fire Pit Art, we believe in creating quality fire pits to add to the ambiance of your backyard space while educating our customers on how to make your fire pit safe for yourself and your neighbors. Contact us today to learn about our one-of-a-kind quality custom designs!

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