Victoria has a thoughtless neighbor and a few misconceptions

Greetings. I was searching the net for statistics on heating costs with wood VS oil and found your site. You are kind enough to post feedback on your site re: wood heat experience.

The only experience I have is that I'm still recovering from the respiratory damage I suffered from my next door neighbor's wood stove, which he burned 24/7 last year.

Through closed windows, the putrid smoke crept into my clean oil heated house. A few months into his burning season, I began treatment in a pulmonologist's office (often) and was placed on an inhaler for my lungs and a steroid nose spray to try to heal the staph infection that developed on and inside my nose and respiratory system due to the caustic smoke I was forced to breathe in my own home. I had to have lung function tests and blood work done to rule out carbon monoxide poisoning, because my meter read just below 50ppm inside my home, and at 50 it's time to leave. I did have to leave my home at the height of this invasion, to stay with friends where I could inhale fresh air instead of someone's wood smoke. I can't say enough about reasons NOT to burn wood. I'm living proof of the damage wood smoke does to your health.

Without being too lengthy - we have an outdoor wood boiler (OWB) not too far down the road. Their next door neighbor's smoke alarm kept going off because of the OWB smoke, so they had to disconnect it. Their 2 ferrets who lived in their garage died after about 6 months exposure to the constant, noxious wood smoke. The husband spent 3 weeks in the hospital last "SUMMER" with a lung tube to treat pneumonia - who gets pneumonia in the summer? The wife is now on advair. The little girl was hospitalized during this past winter for about 8 days with such a severe asthma attack that she almost died.

So, good folks at how can you promote information that says wood smoke is harmless? Can you in good conscience look someone in the eye and say wood is good?  But selling wood is your livelihood, so maybe you can. 

The right to breathe clean, fresh air belongs to everyone, and should not be compromised by burners. Thanks for this opportunity to let me "vent". 

Victoria, New York, USA      April 13, 2009 



Hi Victoria,

Thanks for your note. Over the years, we have received many messages from people who have been victimized by other people's wood smoke. In every case we have sympathized with their plight and made recommendations on how to deal with the problem. Our mission statement includes this: 

"Recognize that wood is most sustainably and economically used as an energy source at the urban fringe and beyond, and that one household’s woodburning activities can be considered appropriate only if they do not interfere with another household’s enjoyment of their home and property"

We provide an entire article to help people decide if wood burning would be environmentally appropriate for them.

We do not minimize the impact of high concentrations of wood smoke. This is from our article on wood smoke:

"It turns out that the human nose is almost unbelievably sensitive to these aromatic hydrocarbons. Maybe you have experienced this: you are cross-country skiing or snow shoeing far from the nearest house when out of nowhere comes that wonderfully spicy scent of wood smoke. Your nose can detect the most minute concentrations of these compounds in the air and in most people it elicits fond memories of hearth and home. Some say our highly developed response to the smell of burning wood is a form of ancient homing instinct that we still carry around in our genes. But, at what airborne concentration does wood smoke change from being a pleasant smell to being unhealthy air pollution? The technical answer is probably meaningless to most people, but they sure know when they've inhaled enough, and it isn't much." 

You wrote: "So, good folks at how can you promote information that says wood smoke is harmless?"

Did you find a place on the site where we say wood smoke is harmless? If so, I'd like to know where.

And you wrote: "Can you in good conscience look someone in the eye and say wood is good?" 

Like all other energy sources the appropriateness of wood is contextual, as we state clearly in the introductory paragraphs on our front page. So yes, we can look someone in the eye and say, subject to a number of conditions, that wood is good. Can you look me in the eye and tell me that nuclear electricity or fuel oil or natural gas or coal is good without condition or reservation? I hope not.

Then you wrote: "But selling wood is your livelihood, so maybe you can."

Where did you get that? Cal and I are both essentially retired from the wood heating business and we do for free, so you can't honestly make the argument that we hold our views just because it makes us a lot of money. Money has nothing to do with it. What we are is very experienced users who volunteer to help other people to burn wood better. 

We are happy to carry on a dialogue with those who oppose wood burning, but we find that most of them are zealots who don't want dialogue, they want a ban. They oppose wood burning. We oppose wood smoke. They live in a simple world of black and white, good and evil. We live in a much more complex world in which it is acknowledged that all energy sources cause impacts and that we all must be accountable for our energy consumption and its impacts. We will keep trying to maintain a dialogue, but we don't have many critics who are willing to discuss and resolve problems. They would rather vilify those who don't share their extreme views. 

I am sorry to hear about your problems with a neighbor. I would submit that you have a very thoughtless neighbor and that has caused you to campaign against wood heating. We campaign against bad wood heating equipment, bad wood fuel and the bad operating practices of thoughtless people. We campaign against wood smoke, which we think is more responsible and productive in the long run. 





Victoria responds:


Thank you for your quick reply to my email. I want to take time and respond to the points you've brought up. I do want to thank you for your polite response and tell you that although I am a strong opponent of wood burning and the smoke it creates, I am not a zealot who does not want dialogue.

However, I don't feel dialogue is enough, nor is it working. I've been using dialogue with my town board for over a year, yet here I am, complaining to you, because my situation has not improved. I don't mean to take my frustration out on a stranger John, but living among wood burners is making my life miserable. I've lived here 33 years - longer than anyone in this area, yet I have less rights. Clean, smoke free air is my right that should supersede their right to burn. 

Therefore, I naturally take any opportunity to get my point across to proponents of wood stoves and more so, OWBs. I feel we are fighting big business, politics and campaign donations. If town and federal officials were forced to exist as many of us who live with the invasion of someone's wood smoke on a daily basis, I have a strong feeling there would be a lightning-quick resolution of this problem. I live in the middle of a group of homeowners who burn wood stoves. It's horrible. It's spring - my home is stuffy inside, yet I cannot open a window for the fear of one of them lighting up. I live in constant apprehension and discomfort in the "sanctity" of my own home. 

This is no way to live, John. We are not a third world country who must rely on wood for heat and hot water. To behave like one promotes a defeatist attitude. We are the USA and are better than that. Wood smoke particulates are a killer to humans, wildlife and our planet. 

You know this. There is no excuse to poison our neighbor's air. Until burners and officials realize this, some, like myself, are forced to live in a bubble of "their" noxious smoke that invades my privacy and steals my property rights. 

Your closing line: "We campaign against wood smoke, which we think is more responsible and productive in the long run."

Are we both on the same side then? I'm confused. Because how can one support wood for fuel and wood burning devices when we know burning wood produces harmful smoke?

From your article Ten Good Reasons to Heat With Wood, #10 is offensive: "Some people actually think the only reason we heat with wood is to save money. Poor souls, they miss so much of what is good in life."

This is the main reason I wrote to you in the first place. Burning wood and breathing wood smoke is NOT the good life. It's actually shortening your life. 






I don't smell wood smoke inside or outside my house. If you lived next door, you might not know I heat with wood. We maintain that responsible wood burning is not the problem. Smoke is. 




Shirley is not too happy with 

I was directed to this site, which I had never heard of before, by an email. I am astounded that in this day and age there are still people promoting wood burning! And, to beat all, insinuating that burning wood does not cause health effects nor cause environmental damage. How on earth can you explain your total lack of knowledge? 

And then you have the nerve to say that you go to Burning Issues for comic relief? Believe me, there is no comedy to be found there, only scientific facts and many people who are looking for help because of wood burners destroying their health and property. I can only assume that you have ulterior motives with a site such as this. 

Shirley Brandie   March 1, 2009 



Hi Shirley,

I won't try to defend our position or change your mind for obvious reasons, but I will pass your message on to friends and colleagues as a good example of one side of the discussion of wood burning issues in Canada. I'll post it to our web site's feedback section so visitors get an insight into the thinking of those who oppose wood heating. 

With around three million Canadian households burning wood for heat and enjoyment, you have a very big task in convincing them all to give it up. I don't think you are aware of it, but we could be among your most influential allies in the effort to reduce wood smoke, having worked at it online for over twelve years. Here is an example of our advice: 

"In general, wood heating works best at the urban fringe and beyond, but even using that criteria there are limits. For example, if your nearby urban area has frequent air quality problems in winter, you might want to consider other options that have less local impact. If you're unsure about whether wood heating would be suitable where you live, consider this: if all your neighbors also decided that wood heating was a good idea, would it make your area a less pleasant or healthy place to live? If so, look for other options."

This is from our mission statement

"Recognize that wood is most sustainably and economically used as an energy source at the urban fringe and beyond, and that one household’s woodburning activities can be considered appropriate only if they do not interfere with another household’s enjoyment of their home and property"

I think our approach will ultimately prove more effective at reducing wood smoke impacts than attacks on the integrity of the millions of people who choose to heat with wood, but I could be wrong. Time will tell. Thanks for your note.




Shirley responds:


Hi John, 

Thanks for your response and the links that you sent. I appreciate your taking the time to respond so quickly. 

My goal is to eliminate wood burning in residential areas, having gone through a horrid 3 years of having almost 24/7 smoky conditions which made our life almost unbearable. If more people would be considerate of their neighbors this whole issue probably might never have surfaced. Here's hoping that this will come to be a reality as people realize that they need to be aware of how and what they are burning. 

Thanks again,





If you lived next door to me you probably wouldn't know I heated with wood, except maybe for the row of firewood standing in the yard. We are definitely allies of yours in the effort to stop irresponsible people from burning wood badly and making their neighbor's lives miserable. Many afflicted neighbors have contacted us and we have supported them in every case.

From what you have said, it seems that you are opposed to bad wood burning, not all wood burning, which is exactly the position we take and have acted on for years.