Fireplaces are a beautiful addition to any room that can provide warmth and ambiance throughout the cold winter months. However, most homeowners pay more attention to what they get out of their fireplaces than what they put in.
What materials you burn in your fireplace can have a direct impact on fireplace performance. In addition, attempting to burn materials that are not meant for residential fireplaces can pose a safety hazard through unmanageable burning or the release of toxic chemicals.
More popular in rural areas and communities, burning garbage is not a safe way to dispose of your trash. While there are a growing number of waste-to-energy factories in the United States that burn trash to create useable electricity, these plants are specially designed to filter any toxins or chemicals out of the air supply. Homeowners simply do not have the technology to do this, causing the chemical byproducts of whatever is being burned to enter the atmosphere. Backyard burning has been found to increase the risk of heart disease, aggravate asthma and emphysema, and can also cause rashes, nausea, or headaches.
Homeowners should avoid burning green, or freshly cut wood, whenever possible. While green wood will burn, it produces less heat than seasoned firewood because more energy is needed to evaporate the remaining water in the wood itself. In addition, green wood produces large amounts of smoke, which can easily backdraft and fill a room. Finally, burning green wood produces more creosote, a gummy, corrosive, and highly flammable substance that coats the inside of the chimney structure.
While burning used wrapping paper or pizza boxes may seem like an easy way to dispose of them, it can actually create a chimney fire. Paper burns extremely quickly, which can cause an enormous increase in the amount of flames if too much is put into the fireplace. These large fires cannot be contained by the firebox, causing flames to travel up the chimney or out into the room.
In addition, most wrapping paper and other printed products are not designed to be burned. While companies based in the United States use approved chemicals and dyes in their paper products, most printed paper produced outside the country does not. Because of this, colored wrapping paper may produce toxic chemicals when burned. Instead of burning them, wrapping paper, cardboard, and other paper products should be recycled or thrown away in the regular trash.
After removing old fencing, decking, or playground equipment, many homeowners believe that using the old materials as firewood is an appropriate way to recycle them. However, any wood that has been exposed to glue, paint, stain, varnish, or other chemical treatments should never be burned. The EPA recommends that homeowners “never burn coated, painted, or pressure-treated wood because it releases toxic chemicals when burned.”
Although Styrofoam burns quickly, putting it into the fireplace is an environmental hazard. When burned, Styrofoam and other packing foams erupt in a cloud of toxic black smoke, releasing chemicals that can damage the nervous system and lungs. In addition, the melted foam particles can stick to the inside of the firebox and chimney structure, creating a future fire hazard if they were to reignite.
Instead, homeowners should only burn properly seasoned firewood in their fireplaces. While different species of trees have different burn characteristics, being dry is by far the most important characteristic of any potential firewood.
While regular cleanings and maintenance are an important part of fireplace upkeep, many homeowners fail to realize that the firewood they use can also impact the performance of their wood burning appliances. Although the type of firewood you use is ultimately a personal preference, there are many different factors to keep in mind before making a large firewood purchase for the season.
Hard woods versus soft woods
All firewood can either be categorized as a hard wood or a soft wood.
Hard woods: Hardwoods are heavy, dense woods from trees whose leaves change color in the fall. Because of this, hardwoods are known for creating more heat, having longer lasting fires, and creating more coal beds. The most popular hardwoods are often varieties of elm, birch, maple, and oak.
Soft woods: Softwoods are most commonly identified by their needle leaves, and includes species such as firs, spruces, pines, and evergreens. Softwoods are quick to ignite and produce more smoke than most hardwoods. Because they burn at a lower temperature, softwoods are often popular choices for fires during the milder temperatures of fall and spring.
Most homeowners favor hardwoods for the bulk of their fires, but many keep a small amount of softwood around to be used as kindling when starting a fire. Likewise, softwoods are extremely popular with those who use their wood burning appliances for smoking meats due to their strong flavors.
Another factor to consider when shopping for firewood is where it was grown and harvested. Because tree killing insects and bacteria can still reside on firewood, transporting wood long distances can expose local trees to dangerous infestations. As a general rule, homeowners should try to buy firewood that was grown less than 50 miles from their home, while many experts agree that less than 10 miles is ideal.
Packaged, heat treated firewood is generally considered safe to move, and is ideal if you’re looking to purchase wood before an out-of-state camping trip. This wood is usually labeled with the USDA APHIS treatment seal.
Importance of proper seasoning
Equally important to the type of firewood you buy is how long it has been seasoned for. Seasoning is the process during which freshly chopped firewood is allowed to dry when exposed to sun and wind. This practice removes the majority of the water from the wood, reducing the moisture content from as high as 50% to as little as 15%.
Seasoned firewood ignites faster, burns hotter, and creates less smoke than freshly cut firewood. Most firewood should be seasoned a minimum of 6 months, while many experts agree that when done properly the seasoning process can take up to a year. Even wood that has been cut from dead or fallen trees still needs to be seasoned.
What to avoid
Although it may seem like an excellent way to recycle, old wood from decking, fencing, or playground equipment should not be used as firewood. Unlike regular firewood, these woods are typically treated with stains, paints, or other chemicals to make them more resistant to the elements. Because of this, burning pretreated wood can release a cocktail of poisonous substances into the air.
If you have a chimney, you should have it inspected and cleaned annually in order to prevent fires and make sure it is running efficiently. When your chimney is not cleaned, a highly flammable substance called creosote builds up. Creosote can cause chimney fires and block ventilation, allowing hazardous toxins to enter your home. The professionals at Lords Chimney can inspect and clean your chimney to ensure safety and efficient fires for your home.
Lords Chimney, like any chimney servicing company, is very busy between September and March, especially in the winter months. Therefore, the best thing to do is to get a head start on chimney service before it gets cold and service appointments get backed up. You can do this by scheduling an appointment during Lords Chimney’s less busy months between April and August. Not only will you better be able to get an appointment that fits your schedule, but you will be ready for winter when it hits.
When a professional from Lords Chimney arrives, he or she will be checking to make sure your appliance is properly installed, your appliance and flue are compatible, there are no missing components of your chimney, you are using a fuel compatible with your chimney, you don’t have creosote build up, you do not have water damage, and that there are no blockages in your flue. The technician will also write you a report explain the chimney’s condition and will inform you of any potential problems you should be aware of and have fixed.
The technician from Lords Chimney will start the inspection by first looking at the inside of your chimney. He or she will then go on your roof and inspect that portion of your chimney. Next, the technician will cover your floor for protection before using video equipment to take a closer look at your flue, helping to determine whether your flue needs a cleaning and whether it has cracks. He or she will then clean the flue and chimney if needed. You will then receive the written report and the technician will clean up.
Lords Chimney also provides three levels of chimney inspections. The first level is a visual examination to search for deterioration and structural soundness as well as to check for other problems noticeable to a well trained eye. The second level uses a camera to get a more detailed look at your chimney and any problems it might have. A second level inspection should be performed after a fire or natural disaster, before ownership of a property is changed, and before you make changes to your heating system. The third level of inspection is rarely used, as it is only needed when a problem is found in a level one or two inspection that cannot be easily solved. A third level inspection requires portions of the chimney to be removed to check concealed areas of the chimney.
Call Lords Chimney as soon as possible to prepare for winter and guarantee yourself a clean and safe chimney!