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Beware the Hazards of Wood Smoke

Family and friends relaxing in front of a roaring wood burning fireplace. It makes a beautiful picture, but most people fail to see the dangers that lurk beyond that peaceful scene. There are many reasons why people burn wood. Some people just want to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere, while other people burn wood to supply additional heat to their homes. Little do they know that the atmosphere and heat they are enjoying could actually be harming the health of their families and innocent neighbors and destroying the air quality in the environment. Here are some facts that you may not know about burning wood.

Everybody knows that when you burn wood you create smoke. While most people would agree that it is an irritating inconvenience they question whether wood smoke is really “that dangerous”. While the composition of wood smoke can vary depending on the type of wood being burned, generally speaking it will contain more than 100 different chemical compounds. Among these compounds you will find a large number of toxins and carcinogens including carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, dioxin and arsenic. The health hazards caused by cigarette smoking and second hand smoke have been broadcast for years and many public areas are now designated as smoke free to protect the health of the public. A fact that may surprise you is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that wood smoke is 12 times more carcinogenic than cigarette smoke and can attack the lungs and cells of the body up to 40 times longer. To simplify this in an example, a single fireplace that burns 10 pounds of wood during a single hour (which is a reasonable burn time) will produce 4,300 times more airborne carcinogens than 30 cigarettes.

The greatest health threat wood fires produce is the fine particulate matter in the smoke. Wood burning produces tiny particles of matter to which the chemicals and toxins attach. This dangerously small particulate matter is able to penetrate deep into the lungs where it is nearly impossible to cough up and toxins and carcinogens are able to pass directly into the blood stream. Once in the blood stream these toxins and carcinogens begin to attack the cells and organs. While it is true that most smoke is vented out through the chimney, a significant amount of the fine particulates remain inside the home. Also the smoke vented out through the chimney releases the fine particulate matter, toxins and carcinogens into the environment where they can remain airborne for up to 3 weeks and can infiltrate your neighbor’s home even through high efficiency doors and windows. Fireplaces and wood stoves are estimated to cause about 35% of fine particle pollution, the most dangerous form of air pollution, in the United States as a whole. Chimney emissions are basically an extreme version of second hand smoke. In many communities where wood burning stoves and fireplaces are commonly used for heating homes the government has had to place strict regulations on wood burning in order control air pollution levels.

Exactly how can wood smoke affect your health? Fine particulate matter carried in wood smoke can damage the lungs and weaken the immune system which can lead to asthma, allergies and respiratory illnesses. The toxins and carcinogens released into the bloodstream can attack the cells and organs of the body causing cancer and lung disease. The particulate pollution from wood smoke can affect lung development in children and increase the risk of becoming afflicted with or causing complications in people who have asthma, respiratory infections, bronchitis and pneumonia even causing premature death in extreme cases. A survey by the Center for Disease Control found asthma to be the leading cause of absenteeism from school. The EPA has also advised citizens suffering from heart disease that even short term exposure to wood smoke has been linked to the onset of heart attacks and arrhythmia’s.

While your neighbor’s actions are not under your control, there are measures that you personally can take to protect your family and preserve the environment. If you insist on burning wood you should be careful about the wood that you burn. Only untreated wood that has been stored in a covered area for at least 6 months should be burned to reduce toxic emissions. Also avoid burning matter other than wood such as trash and colored papers as this can produce dangerous chemical emissions. These measures will not eliminate the toxins and pollution, but can reduce them by a significant amount. You can also convert your wood burning fireplace to a fuel fireplace that burns natural gas or propane. These fuels burn much cleaner than wood, reducing fine particulate pollution and creating better air quality. The American Lung Association, however, warns that these fireplaces must be properly vented to reduce exposure to emissions produced by these fuels containing compounds such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. Electric fireplaces are another alternative though they lack some of the ambiance of a real flame fire. Converting your wood burning fireplace into a gel fuel fireplace is another option to consider. Although these fireplaces are not recommended for use as a “primary” heat source they burn a fuel made primarily from isopropyl alcohol that mimics the popping and crackling sounds and the flame of a wood fire without emitting any toxins, carcinogens or particulate matter into the air making them an extremely safe, environmentally friendly alternative.

The next time you decide to have a fire consider a safer alternative that matches your intended use or need and leave the air cleaner for everyone to enjoy.

Green Cleaners For Wood Furniture

Almost every home contains at least one piece of wood furniture and in most cases, wood furniture makes up the majority of our living pieces. This is because wood is both durable, beautiful and today’s wood furniture is often sustainable. So how do you keep your wood beautiful and durable without disrespecting that sustainable feature? You can successfully clean wood furniture in a green way and still maintain the beauty of your furniture. By using an old homespun formula for a wood cleaner and polish, you will be able to help your furniture maintain its moisture with a soft shine and natural glow. These formulas are especially wonderful for antiques and will keep the natural look for your finer old pieces. The best part is that most of the ingredients you need are likely in your cabinet already.

Whether you have a brand new prized wood furniture piece or you just want to begin cleaning your existing pieces in a green fashion, the first step is to get rid of surface dirt and old polish that have developed and accumulated over time. Furniture that’s been kept in storage will probably have a layer of debris, mold or grime that requires removal. It is important to clean it well but to also be cautious not to wipe any gritty soil into the wood surface. You can avoid this by sweeping away the loose dirt lightly with a soft broom. If the piece of furniture is wicker, rattan cane or carved wood, use a vacuum with a brush attachment first. This process will get rid of any surface debris that has collected.

Spray-on and rub on furniture polish can build up over time and dull the shine of your wood furniture. This can also make it more difficult to deep clean. To remove that layer of old polish you can boil two cups of water with two teabags. Let the water cool to room temperature as hot water will likely warp and permanently damage your furniture. Dampen a rag with the tea-water mixture and clean your wood furniture. Rubbing down the wood furniture, the tea will remove the dirt and built-up polish easily and without using chemicals.

For wood floors or for making large quantities of cleaner for a bunch of wood furniture, some folks use vinegar mixed with water. This is made by combining two cups of vinegar per gallon of water and whipping vigorously. This is a cleansing solvent that dries speedily and attractively. You can also add natural olive oil to the mix also, about 1 tablespoon. If you decide to add olive oil, bear in mind that oil and water don’t mix, so keep your whisk convenient to agitate the cleaner as you are using it.

Keeping your cleaning green can also be accomplished by using a soft cotton cloth dipped into that same mixture. Use the cloth by rubbing the wood all over gently and until dry. The cloth should be heavy with your green clean formula. You can use one cloth to wet and one cloth to dry. Not only does this help to loosen dirt from the furniture, it adds moisture to the wood as well. If you have a damaged area or a dry spot in the wood, the damaged area should be pre-moistened to avoid additional damage while cleaning. It is best to add moisture and improve the condition of the wood by rubbing a small amount of olive oil into the spot and letting it sit for a few hours before cleaning it.

Your furniture should have a nice, warm satin appearance after the first application. Utilizing this method every time will allow you to recondition the furniture. This is a simple, efficient formula for green cleaning and conditioning solid wood furniture. Remember that this formula only works on actual wood. Coated woods, veneers, MDF, or vinyl coated materials won’t respond to this formula.

The fruits of your green cleaning labor will be better-looking wood furniture that you and your family will relish for years to come. Likewise by using these tips you will be able to clean and condition solid wood furniture while adding to a green life style.

How to Identify Quality Wood Types For Furniture

Wooden furniture is made from many types of wood. However, good furniture has some standardized characteristics that include durability and beauty as its primary qualities. And these qualities are instilled in the furniture by the use of good types of wood. So, the foremost rule for identifying quality wooden furniture is to assess the wood type used for making it. How this can be done? Here are some pointers to consider when looking for quality wooden furniture.

Hardwood v/s Softwood- Basic Types of Wood for Furniture

Wooden furniture is made from both types of wood- hardwood as well as softwood. Hardness of the wood makes a durable wooden furniture. However, if you go by literal meaning of both the terms, you can be disappointed because not all hardwoods are hard, and not all softwoods are soft. Hardwoods come from flowering trees such as maple, cherry, oak, ash, walnut, and mahogany where as softwoods come from conifers like pine, spruce, redwood, and cedar. Hardwoods are more strong and stable type as compared to softwoods but there are exceptions too (gum is one of its example). So, we come to a conclusion that although wooden furniture made from hardwoods are more durable, the furniture made from softwood are also not that bad, especially if you want decorative carved furniture.

Wood Grain & Color- Check for Quality Here!

The grains of any type of wood are determined on the basis of annual growth rings on a tree. There are many types of woods that have subdued and others that have clearly defined grains. These grains can again be of any type- straight grains, stripes, swirls, waves or curls, ripples, eyes, or with mottled effects. Colors of woods too range from white and pale yellow to red, purple, and blackish brown. You should check grain and color of the wood to identify the wood quality.

Hardwoods generally have a more fine textured grain as compared to softwoods. The wood types that have distinctive patterns are considered more valuable than woods with subdued or indistinct patterns, If you see that a wooden furniture piece has weak looking grained wood then it might have been stained to give them some character.

Tips for Checking Wooden Furniture for Quality

There are two possibilities where you might get a wooden furniture with compromised quality. One, you may get wooden furniture made from veneers & inlays and second, you might bring furniture made with two or more types of wood. Veneer is made with a thin layer of good type of wood glued to a base of less expensive wood or plywood. When more types of wood are used, the quality wood type is used for more visible portions like table top or body of chair and cheap wood is used for lesser visible portions like table and chair legs.

  • To check whether your wooden furniture has veneer, look at the edge of the wood surface- a thin layer glued over a base wood will be seen there.
  • Compare the unfinished surface (like under the table top or chair seat) with the finished wooden surface. If there is some difference, it might be veneer.
  • Similarly, look for signs of staining at the legs of furniture pieces to make out whether it has been made from different combination of woods. Staining and finishing of cheap woods are essential if they have to be matched with quality wood types!