Pitching In To Improve Air Quality

When we are stuck in an inversion in the Uinta Basin the quality of our air can begin to deteriorate as pollutants become trapped in the atmosphere near the valley floor.  However, we are not victims,  each of us who call the Basin home can take steps towards improving the quality of the air we breathe.  Below are two brief article describing two things that each of should take into account as we work together to improve the quality of the air we breathe.

Practice Clean & Effective Wood Burning

Operating your stove effectively will not only boost the amount of useful heat you get, it will also help make the air cleaner. Why? It comes down to one simple principle: Efficient heat is clean heat.

Use Dry Wood

Sure, we know that dry wood is easier to burn, but did you know that it also provides a lot more heat? Properly dried and seasoned wood, at about 20 percent moisture by weight, has about 12 percent more available energy in it than if you use it when it is freshly cut at 45 percent moisture. On top of that, residential wood stoves tend to burn more efficiently when using dry wood. If at all possible, keep your wood well stacked and under cover in a sunny spot (a tarp will do, but a solid roof is better). If you cut your own wood, let it dry before using; many recommendations suggest a minimum of six months of drying, but one full year or even two is better. While wood suppliers usually will tell you that their wood is “fully seasoned,” many users have noticed that storing it for an extra year makes a big difference in the wood’s moisture content and burnability.

Keep It Hot

One of the keys to high-efficiency combustion is keeping the combustion zone hot, at least 600°C (1,100°F). If it is colder than that, the wood will tend to “smolder” (hot enough for combustible gasses to escape from the wood, but not hot enough for those gasses to burn). If you keep the stove hot by using dry wood and refueling the stove before it cools down, you can ensure that your fuel is as completely combusted as possible, minimizing emissions as well as creosote buildup in the flue.

Don’t Starve the Fire

Many of us were taught that we can “control the heat” by closing down the dampers and limiting the amount of air going into the wood stove. While this may technically be possible, it has the negative side effect of preventing complete combustion of the wood—the oxygen in the air, after all, is a necessary ingredient for combustion (oxygen + fuel at the right temperature = combustion). Heat output from wood stoves is notoriously difficult to control. Your best bet is to vary the rate at which you feed the fire, rather than trying to control airflow.

If you want to operate your stove cleanly and efficiently, resist the urge to damp down the stove except for one important time: when the fire has burned down to only glowing embers and you do not plan to add more fuel (for example, at the end of the day before you go to sleep) is the one time to partially close the damper to limit airflow through the stove. As the fire burns down the amount of air needed drops down, so “banking the fire” by partially closing the damper on the bed of coals reduces the amount of heat drawn out of the house overnight.

Use a High-efficiency Stove

Indoor wood stoves and inserts sold in the United States since 1988 are required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use high-efficiency designs that help ensure that the wood is more completely combusted. Outdoor wood boilers are not covered by this regulation, but voluntary certification programs are available. Check the EPA’s “burn wise” website for lists of manufacturers as well as stoves and boilers that meet high-efficiency standards. Stoves and boilers that were built before 1988 or boilers that do not have an EPA certification are generally not as efficient.

If you have an older stove or one that is not EPA certified, you may want to consider replacing it. It may seem crazy to get rid of an old stove that still works “perfectly well,” but if you do, the improvement in efficiency and reduction in emissions will be significant. You’ll also end up using less wood—saving 30 percent is not unusual.


Wood stoves, boilers, and fireplace inserts are a popular option for home heating, but like most equipment, the way you use them has a big impact on how they perform. Fortunately, it is not too tough to operate wood-fired heating equipment well. If you take a little time to follow the four simple tips outlined above, you will find that not only is your stove running at a higher efficiency, but the air in and around your house will be cleaner as well. Your wallet, and your lungs, will thank you.

Adapted from an article prepared by Daniel Ciolkosz, Penn State Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Reviewed by Corie Podschelne, Hearth and Home, and Ed Johnstonbaugh, Penn State Extension.

Don’t Allow Your Vehicle to Needlessly Idle

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has partnered with Weber State University and Utah State University to examine the impacts vehicle emissions have on air quality on very cold winter days when an inversion is setting in the valley.

Students and investigators from Weber State University’s National Center for Automotive Science & Technology (NCAST) and Utah State University are hoping the findings will help DEQ’s Division of Air Quality develop effective air pollution control strategies.

“We found there is no need to warm up your car,” said Joe Thomas, NCAST director who also is a manager with DEQ’s Division of Air Quality. “You can get up in the morning, start the car and just drive. The best thing you can do for emissions is to not idle your car.”

Thomas said there is a lot of misinformation about idling and starting a vehicle. Car manufacturers even provide remote-start features, which allow drivers to remotely turn on their car and let it sit before they get in and drive.

“One of the things we have found is that driving your vehicle warms it up a lot faster than idling,” said Thomas. “So if you idle a car for a long time, it will take a much longer time period to bring the car to an operating temperature.”

When a car reaches its optimal operating temperature, which takes just minutes in modern cars, the catalytic converter can reduce emissions by 99%. The key is warming them up, which Thomas said is done best by starting the vehicle and immediately driving.

The study also found that more than 75% of combined pollutants from automobiles are emitted during the first three minutes of a cold start, defined as when the engine has been off for more than 12 hours.

“You want to avoid a cold start if you can,” Thomas said. “Try to consolidate your trips, use mass transit, anything to avoid starting the car if at all possible.”

However, once the car has been started, Thomas said there is little reason to idle. Apart from traffic stops and red lights, he recommends turning off the car whenever it is safe to do so.

“If you come to a spot where you would put the car in park, it’s a good rule of thumb to turn it off and restart it when you come back,” Thomas said. “That has no wear and tear on your car. Today’s cars are designed in such a way they can take those quick starts, and the emissions devices in the car have probably already reached their maximum temperature for optimal operation.”

Dr. Randy Martin, the study’s collaborator at USU, added, “For a short stop, say about five minutes, on average, our studies have shown your vehicles emits three to four times more oxides of nitrogen and unburned hydrocarbons during a five-minute idle as opposed to shutting it off and restarting the engine. Carbon monoxide emissions can show even a greater disparity”

Nearly 70 models of cars were tested during the study. Thomas said the selection of cars is a reflection of vehicles registered and driven in the Wasatch Front and Cache Valley.

“The study shows both economic benefits and environmental benefits,” Thomas said. “Wasting fuel and idling doesn’t make any sense because there’s no work done. It’s not only impacting air quality, which is extremely important, but you’re throwing away gas money out of the tailpipe.”

Adopted from Utah Department of Environmental Quality Publications

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