Bay Area residents rethinking wood-burning fireplaces for the holidays

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As fireplaces heat up for the holiday season, some could experience the equivalent of the bad air the Bay Area saw during the recent wildfires. That has some people rethinking how they heat their homes.

After all the smoky air we breathed in during the Camp Fire, people are more attuned to air quality than ever before.

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Behind the magical glow of that wood-burning fireplace is the awful reality of the particulates it's spewing out. The number one contributor to wintertime air pollution in your neighborhood and inside your home is wood burning.

Kristine Roselius with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District says the air quality in your living room is affected by a fire burning. "We've done some testing and it does become unhealthy at times especially during the startup and when the fire is winding down."

She says if you're walking through your neighborhood and smell smoke from fireplaces, you're breathing in bad air - fine particulates that can go deep in your lungs.

Dr. Mary Prunicki is an expert in how air pollution impacts our immune system. She's an instructor at Stanford's Sean Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research. She says "the smaller particulate matter PM 2.5 or smaller will go into your lungs and then it will cross into your bloodstream so it can cause inflammation in several organs of your body."

RELATED: Scientists study what 11 days of wildfire smoke could do to our bodies long-term

That includes your heart and lungs. Those who love their fireplace and remember the smoky air from last month are inundating stores with requests for gas fireplace inserts which don't generate particulates. Greg Harris owns the Buck Stove store in Walnut Creek. "It's very busy. People want them and they want them now for the holidays. So we have several crews out and they go six days a week," said Harris.

A gas fireplace insert and installation can cost between $3,000 and $5,000. The prediction is we will see fewer and fewer fireplaces that burn wood. Restaurants are installing gas inserts as are hospitals, which are using them to replace fish tanks that were found to harbor bacteria. One big problem - no one knows if Santa can get down a gas fireplace insert.

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