Many people have not heard of an outdoor wood burning furnace. This is a good thing. Many who know what they are would rather not have ever smelled one.
The definition of an outdoor wood burning furnace (also known as an OWF) is a wood fired boiler that is housed in a small insulated shed that contains a smoke stack. These furnaces carry heated water to homes through underground pipes. This is how the furnaces heat the homes. But some people don’t use the furnaces to heat their homes they use them to heat swimming pools, Jacuzzis or hot tubs.
Why do people use these types of furnaces? Basically, they believe they can save money. The wood is the main source of the heat. Little electricity is used. The water is continually piped over and over again.
But please don’t get excited and think you want one of these. Stop and think first.
What happens when you burn wood? What do you get in return? Smoke. What happens to the smoke that these furnaces make? Your neighbors smell it, your neighbors inhale it.
Is this safe? In one simple answer, NO.
OWF’s are harmful to our environment and to our human health. OWF’s produce a lot of thick smoke. Smoke from these OWF’s contain unhealthy amounts of particulate matter, dioxin, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde and other toxic air pollutants.
Exposure to this smoke from OWF’s can increase respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms. These symptoms can range from asthmatic sensitivity (asthma attacks), lung illnesses and even cancer. Of course, it shouldn’t be surprising that studies have proven that children, the elderly and people with pre-existing cardio or respiratory problems are extremely at risk at being around OWF’s.
What can you do if you are a neighbor of a person owning an OWF and who refuses to listen or worse yet laughs at your complaints? First, you should talk to your local health agencies and see what they have to say.
Unfortunately, the federal government has no standards that have to meet concerning OWF’s, as of yet. But some states, including Connecticut, have some requirements in place concerning OWF’s. These strict standards have a set limit on the opacity limits. If a person operates an OWF and the OWF does not meet this limit, they will be heavily fined and will be expected to shut down their OWF.
The emissions level on an OWF is very high. They are extremely higher than those of indoor wood burning stoves (which are regulated by the federal government). The reasons why are that these furnaces have low efficiency and they do not complete the act of burning.
The state of Connecticut DEP compared emissions from homes heated from natural gas, oil and OWF’s. They found natural gas to be the cleanest.
Why do OWF’s produce so much unhealthy smoke? An OWF system consists of a single closed combustion chamber or a firebox. This system or firebox is surrounded by a water jacket. Before wood combustion is complete, the water quenches the flame. This causes the smoke. Smoke is also caused during the off cycle. When an OWF does not need to generate heat, the air fan is off and the air damper is closed. This starves the fire for air. The fire smolders, creating smoke. When the heat begins again, the dampers open and the smoke is pushed out the stack into the air.
Throughout New England, state regulatory agencies have received many complaints about these OWF’s. Many states are encouraging the EPA to take steps to put standards on all OWF’s, such as a regulatory emission standard.
Please disregard all the internet hype about these OWF’s. They have not been tested. None of the emission promises can be proven. And definitely think twice before building your own OWF.
Who should have an OWF: someone who hates their neighbors, someone who wants to see their neighbors sick, someone who wants to ban their neighbors from enjoying the crisp sunny fall and winter days outside, someone who may someday be banned from using it from the federal or state EPA department?