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6a00d8341bf7d953ef0128766e2dd7970c-640wi  TRENTON - With colder weather taking hold and the official start of winter less than a week away, the Department of Environmental Protection is urging New Jersey's residents to be thoughtful of their neighbors when burning wood for heat.

"There's nothing quite like cozying up in front of a fireplace or wood stove when the weather is really cold, but wood smoke contains pollutants - and some of your neighbors may not be able to tolerate it," said DEP Assistant Commissioner Nancy Wittenberg. "If you are going to use a fireplace, wood stove or even a wood boiler, there are some steps you can take to minimize your impact on the environment, your neighbors, and your own health."

Wood smoke contains fine particles that can cause health problems, especially for sensitive populations. Pollutants from the burning of wood can be trapped near the ground during the winter by dense, cold air.

A properly installed wood-burning appliance should be smoke-free, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. If you see or smell smoke, you may have a problem. When burning wood in a stove or fireplace, follow these guidelines for a safe and cleaner fire:

* Allow wood to season for at least six months before burning it. Seasoned wood is darker, has cracks in the end grain and sounds hollow when smacked against another piece of wood.

* Wood burns most efficiently when its moisture content is below 20 percent; wood moisture meters can be purchased to test the moisture content.

* Store wood outdoors, stacked neatly off the ground with the top covered.

* Start fires with newspaper and dry kindling and keep them burning hot.

* Regularly remove ashes to ensure proper airflow.

* Never burn garbage, cardboard, plastics, wrapping materials, painted materials or other materials in your stove or fireplace.

* Also remember to keep anything flammable - including drapes, furniture, newspapers and books - far away from any wood-burning appliance. Keep a fire-extinguisher close by. 

* Check your local air quality at prior to burning wood.  If the air quality in your area is poor, consider other heating alternatives. 

State regulations and local ordinances in some municipalities prohibit the emission of visible smoke from outdoor wood boilers. These boilers heat a fluid that is circulated in homes and buildings for heating purposes. Under state regulations, these boilers may only emit visible smoke for three minutes every half-hour to allow for fire-starting.

In deciding how to heat your home this winter and reduce your exposure to fine particles from wood smoke, consider upgrading to an EPA-certified wood stove or fireplace insert. The newer equipment will reduce air pollution and is much more energy efficient. 

A 30-percent federal tax credit is available for the purchase of qualified wood- or pellet-burning stoves is available through Dec. 31. 

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