Contributed by High’s Chimney Service, a 30+ year old Washington DC chimney repair and service company.
It’s no secret that you create pollution when you burn something. Wood is no exception to this rule. Most people would be surprised to learn just how much you can reduce your pollution when you use your fireplace with a few simple tips.
1. Know your Enemy
First, it is helpful to know about the air pollutants you should be concerned with. Particulate matter is the fine particles left behind when something is burned; it is the equivalent of soot. When airborne, particulate matter is often visible as dark smoke and contributes to respiratory conditions. Carbon Monoxide is a poisonous gas that results when there is not enough oxygen to produce a complete burn. There are other harmful gasses that might result when you burn contaminated fuel — volatile organic compound (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides are particularly notable.
2. Only clean, natural firewood is firewood
Not all wood should be considered firewood, and only firewood should be burned (other than your kindling). This excludes things like:
- painted or stained wood (which will release VOCs)
- pallets (which are treated with chemicals that typically contain formaldehyde and arsenic.)
- wood with glue on it
- driftwood (the chlorine from the salt causes carcinogenic gasses)
- wood with heavy pesticides
- moldy, rotten, or diseased wood
- any treated wood
- glossy paper or paper with colored ink (magazines are a no-no; black and white newspaper is ok)
- any trash, including Styrofoam, plastic, and rubber
3. Only Use Seasoned firewood
Seasoning, or curing, wood means leaving the wood to dry properly for at least 6 months. The reason you want seasoned firewood is that it will burn much more efficiently. Wet wood produces a lot of smoke, and you want to avoid that.
4. Burn hot, but smart
A hot fire burns the wood efficiently. The most smoke is produced when a fire is starting and when it smolders, because these times are when the fire is cool. Try to start the fire quickly. And never let a fire smolder, especially overnight (that’s just asking for trouble). A decent-sized fire is recommended, because a small fire won’t get hot, but a very large fire may get wild and dangerous.
5. Get your Chimney Inspected Regularly
There are many chimney problems that can affect the environment inside and outside of your home. For example, chimneys with cracks, leaks, or inadequate liners can have inefficiencies and will not keep the fire as hot. An inefficient fire system wastes energy, which means more fuel needs to be burned, which means more pollution. Chimneys might also have air flow issues, which can be caused by improper venting, creosote buildup, or other problems. Lack of proper air flow can prevent complete combustion, resulting in inefficiencies and possibly even carbon monoxide. There really are too many problems here for average homeowners to check themselves.
Reducing the pollution coming from your chimney is actually pretty simple. In addition to helping the environment, these tips can help keep your family safer and save you money in firewood and chimney repair and maintenance costs.