A crackling fireplace creates a cheery place to escape the cold. However, not everything that burns should be tossed right into the fireplace. Many innocent-looking items, including some wood and paper, can lead to house fires or emit a cocktail of dangerous fumes into your home and environment.
For the safety of your family and your home, you should never burn the following items in your fireplace.
Wet firewood can contain up to 45 percent moisture content. The problem is that when wet firewood burns, the water vapor combines with other gases and particles to create creosote, which is highly flammable.
A stray spark or high temperature in your chimney is enough to ignite creosote and start a chimney fire. In fact, creosote buildup is the main culprit of chimney fires. Burning wet wood also produces a lot more smoke, which is dangerous to your health. To dry wood, split it into smaller pieces, dry it before the chilly season and store it in the shade.
Treated or Coated Wood
After assembling your deck or putting up your new fence, resist the temptation to burn the remaining pressure-treated lumber. This greenish or dark brown wood is usually injected with chemicals to help it resist insects, water, rot, and fire. However, the preservatives used in the treatment process are hazardous when burned.
The treated wood’s ash also contains a lethal dose of chemicals. Inhaling the smoke or ash can result in skin irritation, asthma-like symptoms, difficulty in breathing, and headaches. The ash can also contaminate groundwater and soil. Painted, stained, or varnished wood and plywood are just as dangerous as burning treated wood. The proper way to dispose of treated wood is to let your local landfill authorities handle it.
Any woody plant may seem like natural fireplace fodder. Take care, however, as some plants can cause allergic reactions or harm your respiratory system when they’re burned. First, never burn any plant with the word “poison” in the name. That includes poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak.
Most plants lose their leaves in winter, making it difficult to tell if you’re gathering harmless dry shrubs or poisonous ones. To be safe, don’t gather any wood you can’t identify. Even better, only source your fireplace wood from a reputable supplier. If you need low or no-cost firewood, visit a sawmill, talk to tree trimmers in your area, contact locals who have posted about having firewood available, or buy in bulk.
If you’ve been piling up newspapers, magazines, junk mail, gift-wrapping paper, cereal boxes, or old cardboard to light fires in your fireplace, you’re making a mistake. Any type of paper with colored print will release toxic gasses when burned, putting your family’s health at risk.
If you’re looking for a quick way to build a fire without poking and prodding it, you may use twigs, bark from logs, small bits of wood, or dry grass. Black and white newspapers can also work fine when placed under wood kindling. Another reason not to burn paper products is that bits of burning paper can float up and out of an uncapped chimney and cause a fire.
If you have a habit of tossing empty plastic bottles on a roaring fire, it’s time for a change. Burning household garbage, whether in a fireplace, burn barrel, wood stove, or fire-pit is outrightly dangerous for your health and the environment. The smoke and ash produced by these items can expose you to respiratory ailments, internal organ damage, and even cancer.
Today’s consumer products contain plastic and paper treated with chemicals, coatings, and inks. When burned, these items release harmful toxin chemicals, including dioxins, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and heavy metals. Instead of burning trash, make use of local garbage and recycling services and buy items with less packaging.
If you’ve just brought your firewood inside from the freezing cold, it can be harder to get it to light. If you can’t get it started, don’t turn to accelerants like gasoline, kerosene, or barbecue lighter fluid. The fumes produced by these accelerants can be toxic in enclosed spaces.
These accelerants can also produce unexpectedly large flare-ups that can cause burns or start uncontrollable fires. And they could create extremely high temperatures that damage your fireplace. An unnoticed spill near the fireplace could also be catastrophic. To light fires faster, bring your firewood inside so that the logs can warm by the time you’re ready to burn them.
Only Burn Properly Seasoned Firewood
When the temps drop, it’s tough to resist the soft crackle and delightful warmth of a glowing fireplace. However, certain materials—even certain types of wood, should never be burned in the fireplace.
Wet firewood, processed wood, color-printed paper, packaging, trash, and fire accelerants are some of the things you should never burn because of the potential for releasing toxic fumes and starting accidental fires. To be safe, always use properly seasoned firewood and approved fire starters.
If you need help improving the safety of your furnace, feel free to speak to an experienced pro.