Fireplaces might add the ambiance of warmth and tranquility to your home, but that cozy, crackling glow also conceals an ash pan of potential problems. Cinders, ash, volatile resins and creosote that are not routinely cleared from the fireplace can pose a dangerous fire hazard. Plus, what do you do if you don’t want to have a fire burning? How can a homeowner maintain their fireplace correctly and safely while preventing their heating dollars from going up in smoke?
Don’t use chemicals.
Fire and chemicals don’t mix! Never use gasoline, kerosene, or charcoal starter. Don’t burn painted, pressure-treated, or plywood. These can give off a whole slew of toxic chemicals that could enter your living space.
Avoid using wet, rotten, diseased, or moldy wood.
Only start fires with dry kindling, newspaper, or pine cones. Pine cones contain natural resins that burn quickly and are hot enough to ignite firewood. Dry wood also burns more completely than wet.
Check the moisture content.
Moisture content determines how much creosote will form in your chimney. Use wood that has been seasoned for 12 months and has a moisture content of less than 20%. Firewood moisture meters are available from most home centers.
Only use local firewood.
This prevents the spread of tree diseases and insect pests to your neighborhood. The emerald ash borer has killed 50 million ash trees in the US just by being moved around in firewood.
Store your wood properly.
When you buy firewood, store it for use next year. That way, you can be sure it’s properly dried. Store your freshly cut and stacked firewood off the ground. Keep it covered on top but leave the side open for air to circulate.
Choose the right wood.
Different types of wood burn differently. Oak and other hard woods generally burn long and hot. Soft woods, like pine, will burn fiercely hot but very fast. If soft woods are not properly dried, the water content in their resins can release high amounts of creosote.
Keep your fireplace clean.
This allows better air flow and cleaner combustion. Wood burning fireplaces emit 28 lbs of particulate emissions (soot and ash) per MMBtus of heat output.
Always keep a fire extinguisher handy.
A single spark can start a house fire —so it’s best to be prepared.