Did you know that the type of wood you burn, the way you build the fire, and the type of appliance you have can make all the difference in how much heat you get from the fire and how much soot and flammable creosote end up in your chimney? It’s true! Safe practices and energy efficient appliances can make evenings by the fireside safer and warmer, and that’s what the EPA Burn Wise Program is all about — Burning the right wood, the right way, in the right appliance. Here are some tips to help you enjoy a safer, more pleasant fireside experience.
What You Can Do To Reduce Creosote Formation
Good news! The three biggest factors affecting creosote development in a chimney system are within our control!
What can we do to prevent the formation of creosote and get the most heat out of our wood? The most impactful actions we can take are to:
- Adjust our burning habits.
- Burn only dry seasoned wood.
- Replace older inefficient appliances with newer more efficient ones.
What Type Of Firewood Should You Use?
First things first, what’s the best type of firewood to use? Dry wood is the best wood. Wood that’s been stored outside, off the ground, and covered for at least 6 months if it’s softwood, and 12 months if it’s hardwood. This “seasons” the wood and allows it to dry out. We recommend splitting the wood into pieces a half foot in diameter and storing the wood split side down for faster drying. Click here to learn more about properly seasoning your wood.
Why is seasoning or drying out the wood so important?
The best burning wood has a moisture content of 15-20%. Wood any wetter than that won’t burn well and will produce greater amounts of smoke and creosote. And if you want to know how wet or dry the wood you already have is, a wood moisture meter is an inexpensive way to check the moisture content of your wood prior to use, and can help prevent the development and buildup of caustic creosote inside your system. We generally have these on the truck and can bring them to your home and show you how to use them.
In addition to making sure your firewood is properly seasoned, we recommend making sure it’s local as well, so you don’t have to worry about any non-native pests on your property.
What’s so bad about creosote?
- It’s corrosive and damaging to the chimney system
- It’s highly flammable
- It can be expensive and challenging to remove
Glazed creosote can be particularly difficult to remove from the chimney and requires the use of chemical treatments or harsh cleaning methods, and in some cases both. Because of its flammable and corrosive properties, creosote is even more dangerous if it’s not removed. What’s the worst that can happen? Creosote can eat away at your flue liner, and should you ever have a chimney fire, creosote can make matters worse by fueling the fire and causing it to spread rapidly (potentially outside the flue lining if its already been compromised and possibly into the structure of your home).
Additional Creosote Prevention Tips
- Have your chimney professionally cleaned and inspected annually by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep.
- When you dampen your fire down at night, be sure to burn it with your air controls wide open for approximately 45 minutes after adding wood to the firebox. This allows the natural process of combustion to turn the wood into giant chunks of dried charcoal, which decreases the formation of smoke, soot, and creosote within the system after shutting it down. If you dampen your wood stove down on freshly added wet wood, it just smolders through the night, produces a heavy wet smoke with low flue temperatures, and slowly coats the inside of the chimney flue with creosote.
How To Get The Fire Started
Now that you have your properly seasoned wood and know how to prevent creosote production and buildup, what’s the secret to getting the fire going? We recommend starting the fire with some newspaper, kindling, or natural fire starters. Another great option is to have a log lighter installed in your masonry fireplace. Some code compliant fireplaces can be hooked up to a gas line (natural gas or propane) with a log lighter so you can enjoy the convenience of a gas start in your wood burning fireplace. Never, under any circumstances however should you use kerosene, charcoal starters, or gasoline to get the fire going.
Things You Should Never Burn In The Fireplace
There are some things you should never burn in your fireplace, like these top offenders:
- The inks, chemicals, and other elements in and on cardboard, foam, magazines, boxes, plastics, rubber, and other household items are not meant to be burned and inhaled. It’s best to play it safe and save these things for the recyclables or the trash.
- Wood that’s been painted, pressure-treated, or coated with polyurethane or another coating has no place in the fireplace! Once again, you never know what types of chemicals and noxious fumes can be released when this type of wood is burned.
- Wet wood, rotted/moldy wood, diseased wood, plywood, particle wood, wood with glue on it, etc. should not be considered firewood. If it’s not locally sourced, properly seasoned firewood, don’t use it to build or feed your fire.
Other Fire Safety Tips
What else do you need to know about safe wood burning practices?
- Keep any flammables 36” or more away from the fireplace opening or wood burning stove.
- If you’re using an artificial log, make sure it’s 100% compressed sawdust. Check the operating instructions for your wood stove or insert before using one of these artificial logs, as they aren’t recommended for every type of appliance.
- Aside from those moments when you’re stoking or feeding the fire, keep your wood burning appliance’s doors closed.
- When cleaning out the ashes in your fireplace or stove, be sure to keep them safely stored outdoors in a metal container that has a lid.
- Always have a fire extinguisher nearby when enjoying a fire in your fireplace or stove.
What Makes Modern Energy Efficient Appliances The Smart Choice?
You may be wondering, would switching to an energy efficient, EPA-certified appliance really make that much of a difference? The answer is yes! Energy efficient appliances can save you money in more ways than one and can even make cleanings easier and evenings by the fireside safer for you and your family. Here’s how:
Energy efficient appliances burn wood more efficiently and thoroughly and produce less smoke and creosote than older appliances. What does that mean for you? Well, if your appliance isn’t producing excess creosote, your chimney sweep will be able to get your chimney cleaner, without using harsh chemicals and cleaners. Additionally, should you ever have a chimney fire, it may not spread as rapidly or be as damaging as it would be if your appliance produced a lot of creosote.
Ok, so energy efficient appliances can reduce the risk and extent of chimney fire and reduce your reliance on harsh chemicals and cleaning products, which means a safer, healthier home. But how do they save you money?
Because these modern wood burning appliances burn wood more efficiently than older appliances, you’ll get more heat using less wood, which means you’ll save money on firewood and waste less time hauling, stacking, and loading firewood. In fact, you can expect to use 1/3 of the wood for the same heat you’re currently getting from your older wood burning stove or fireplace.
Call The Chimney Doctor To Learn More
Are you interested in switching to a new EPA-certified or EPA-qualified appliance? Give us a call at 970-234-3330 or reach out to us here on our website. We’d be happy to talk with you about the options and benefits and help you decide what’s best for your home heating needs. Give us a call — we’re here to help!