Staying Warm: Fireplaces, Hot Flashes, & The Complete Works of Jane Austen

Mind you, we love old houses, but they tend to be cold in winter. Although they are comfortable and built to last, they come with concomitant problems, like drafty windows.

The best way to stay warm at our house is to huddle under a blanket on a chair as far away from the windows as possible.  We distract ourselves by reading and rereading The Complete Works of Jane Austen (always a pleasure!), or knitting the scarf we’ve worked on intermittently since that knitting class in 2006.  

When we want to get really warm, we struggle into our gear and head to the nearest library or coffeehouse with a fireplace.  It is de rigueur among itinerant readers to frequent coffeehouses with fireplaces. All the best people do. We order a latte with two shots of espresso, flop down in a big chair in front of the fireplace, and lose ourselves in Persuasion.

Half an hour later, we’re too hot.  We find ourselves flushing and sweating.   It’s not a hot flash!  It’s the fireplace! At home I look up fireplaces and realize it is a  gas fireplace, not a wood-burning fireplace. 

Later I asked a scientist friend whether burning gas or wood pollutes less. “Gas pollutes less,” he said.  Apparently burning gas emits less soot, particulate matter, and other air pollutants.

And this excerpt from an EPA article says the following:

The smoke from wood burning is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles (also called particle pollution, particulate matter, or PM).  In addition to particle pollution, wood smoke contains several toxic harmful air pollutants including:

• benzene,

• formaldehyde,

• acrolein, and

• polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

The more efficiently you burn wood (e.g., using an EPA-certified wood stove and dry, seasoned wood) the less smoke is created.

Well, it’s complicated.  I prefer Jane Austen to science.

And so I return to Bath with Anne Elliot and hope the rooms are not too smoky.

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